Matt Wong, Once Truant, Finds Discipline in Muay Thai
When she isn’t coaching kids at a commercial gym, she’s slamming bodies to the ground.
How did you get into martial arts? When I was 12, my parents were worried about me being exposed to bad influences—so they asked my sifu to take me in as his disciple. I began practising kung fu and lion dancing. I respect him so much that three years ago, I asked for his permission to learn Muay Thai before even I told my parents. He’s like a second dad. We organize a banquet and put on a lion dance show for him every year on his birthday.
What about your actual parents? We’ve been through rough patches. One year, I switched jobs three times. That got my parents really worried about my future. I’d dropped out of school when I was 15 and enrolled in evening classes, but got kicked out because I hung out in video arcades instead of going to class. After that, I handed out pamphlets, developed photos, sold burgers at McDonald’s, washed hair, sold sports apparel, waited tables and worked as a security guard. Then I became a barista. I spent six years at the job and eventually got to the rank of supervisor. I had to nag at my subordinates, so I guess that helped me understand and communicate with my parents better. Nowadays, I even take them to yum cha.
How do you deal with defeat? During one lion dance performance, I fell 16 feet from a pole. My teammates broke my fall, but still I busted my groin area so badly that it hurt to pee. After that, I didn’t even want to pick up the lion’s head. Taking my first hit in Muay Thai also sucked. But by failing, you learn how to strategize and climb back up.
Does being small put you at a disadvantage? Kids I teach at the kung fu center don’t take me seriously because they think I’m just another kid. A client at the gym didn’t take me seriously either at first, probably also because of my height. But when I put on the body protector before each coaching session, I’m a completely different person. I’m small, but I’m also nimble. When you fight, you’re really fighting against yourself: You have to learn how to control your temper and patience. Being anxious drains you. People are screaming all around you when you’re out in the ring, but you have to stay focused because you never know who you’re up against.
So how do you stay focused? Last month, I went to a Muay Thai training center in Thailand for 10 days to get into the groove for an upcoming match. There are too many distractions here in Hong Kong, with my job and lion dance commitments. I also recently broke up with my partner. Muay Thai fighters from all over the world go to the center for intensive training: We got up at 5am every day, then went on a 10km run at 6am. Then we began training. The gym is in an area with lots of garages and warehouses, and the people who live there are simple. After the 10-day “retreat,” I just left my relationship troubles behind.
What’s next for you? I’ve thought of settling down with someone but experience tells me there are no guarantees. Eventually, I would like to open a tattoo parlor that is also a café. But right now, my goal is to win my match in May so I can fight in the international arena.