From triad members to Muay Thai coaches: young Hongkongers find new life after gangs
Many local youngsters are turning their lives around at the MT LEGENDS gym at Sai Wan Ho’s Youth Outreach Centre
Former triad member Lau Tsz-Ching, 22, admits she used to be a very angry person.
As the daughter of a Hong Kong police officer, she says she often rebelled against her overly strict parents,and was frequently punished.
“This drove me away from them even more,” she says. “I would often come home late. But eventually, I decided to leave the triad because I didn’t want my family to worry anymore. It was around this time that I took up Muay Thai.”
Lau, who is fast becoming a formidable competitor on the local circuit, is among Hong Kong’s most vulnerable young people who are finding new strength in the ancient Asian combat sport of Muay Thai.
She trains at the MT LEGENDS gym in Sai Wan Ho’s Youth Outreach Centre, where hundreds of aspiring professional boxers, many from less privileged backgrounds, are benefitting from a Jockey Club sponsored boxing programme set up four years ago by coach Allan Chow Chung-ming.
The former handyman, who gradually established his gym by collecting unwanted equipment from other boxing gyms, says he launched the classes after being introduced to one of the centre’s social workers by a mutual friend.
He says he considers Muay Thai to be an ideal route to rehabilitation for some more wayward teenagers.
“Over time, the students begin to feel like brothers and sisters to me,” he says. “The biggest problem is their lack of discipline, which I have to instil in them. My goal is to help them find a goal; hopefully Muay Thai will lead them into a career.”
Recently, Chow has been working particularly closely with about 10 of his best students, who he considers to be capable of winning competitions and training to become licensed coaches.
Lau is among this elite group, and now works full-time as an assistant coach at the gym. Despite her success, she reveals she continues to face prejudice as a female fighter. When she first took up Muay Thai, she says she had to work especially hard to prove to Chow and other boxers that she could be a strong competitor, despite her skinnier and weaker frame.
Simultaneously, she also had to win over her family, who were concerned about her getting injured in competitions.
“I had to sneak out of the house to go to matches,” she says. “But eventually they have accepted my career as I have brought more and more trophies home. They still tell me to ‘try not to get hit’, but I always tell them that in Muay Thai, you are bound to get hit”.
Her perseverance has paid off; she has gradually made peace with her family while fostering a career in boxing.
“Nowadays, my parents and I can talk together more openly,” she says. “I used to be someone who did not have much self-esteem, and sometimes my emotions just erupted, but this sport gave me a way to control my emotions.”
Chow only has a few basic rules for his students; no foul language, respect your coach and dress appropriately for training.
He says he wants to give Hong Kong’s youth the opportunity to experience the benefits of Muay Thai as he did during his younger years.
“Young people need a purpose in life,” he says. “If they don’t, then they will lose their direction. My Muay Thai coach was my biggest inspiration, so if this is my calling, then I hope I can give this gift to others.”
Another programme co-ordinator, 24-year-old former triad member Johnny Ng Wai-ching, is full of praise for Chow.
“Alan is a person who is willing to make sacrifices for others,” he says. “He built everything from scratch.”
Ng adds he has enjoyed the chance to pass on what he has learned from his coach.
“When teenagers go through this programme, I see them go through the same struggles that I went through,” he says. “I can relate to them. The training is pretty tough. After a period of time, we start to fight — it makes you a stronger person both physically and mentally. They seem quite happy as they build up their strength.”
Other schemes for Hong Kong’s disadvantaged youth
The Hong Kong Police Force has been offering sports programmes through Operation Breakthrough. Since 2003, it has collaborated with Hong Kong’s first ever rugby international, Rambo Leung Yung-kit, to provide rugby coaching to young people it deems to be “at risk” of turning to crime. Other activities include boxing, hockey, soccer, sailing, judo, running, basketball, cricket, dragon boating and modern dancing.
InspiringHK Sports Foundation provides a variety of sports programmes for underprivileged youth. The local NGO’s fencing programme is a beneficiary of the Post’s Operation Santa Claus.
Charity Teach4HK sends teachers to resource-starved schools to help support students from poorer backgrounds. Teachers also run extracurricular activities for students, such as a junior reporter programme and design workshops.
The Hub Hong Kong, based in Sham Shui Po, is a youth centre providing musical, cooking and various educational classes to underprivileged children. The centre, which was established in 2012, caters mainly for those aged between six and 18. Its Australian founder Reverend Bill Crews collaborated with two Australian businessmen based in the city – David Boehm and Bruce Stinson – to develop a refuge in a relatively poor neighbourhood where children can study, meet their friends and “just simply play”.
One Magical Step is a non-profit organisation which teaches magic to children, including those with special educational needs. Founder Markus Mak has said he wants to bring “a positive impact to the local community”.