Hong Kong arm-wrestling chief is going from strength to strength after starting with nothing
Tommy Kwong founded the Hong Kong Armwrestling Association in 2016 with just one member – himself. But the 23-year-old student is now looking to take on the world
Every Tuesday and Saturday Hong Kong student Tommy Kwong Tze-man goes to the gym and pulls weights, lifts dumbbells and does leg presses – and gets a little closer to his dream.
The visits to Optimum Performance Studio in Tsim Sha Tsui are part of his weekly training routines for arm-wrestling – something the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology maths student is still trying to master after more than a decade of fine-tuning his skills.
“Most people think that arm-wrestling is all about pure strength so that if you have bigger biceps then you’ll win but it’s actually a misconception.”
The 23-year-old founder of the Hong Kong Armwrestling Association says you don’t need arms like cartoon character Popeye the Sailor to be at the top of the game.
“Even with bulging arms, if you don’t know how to use the right muscles and apply the right techniques at the correct time, you will still lose to an opponent smaller than you.”
While anyone can arm-wrestle, not everyone can be good at it, Kwong says.
“It may look simple but it’s easier said than done. It’s more than just having a strong guy beating the weaker one at the game.”
Since establishing the association two years ago, Kwong has been coaching and training with its members.
“Nearly all of the muscles in the upper body can be used, coupled with some lower body muscles to give strength during a professional game of arm-wrestling,” he says.
His secret to winning is technique and speed.
“Arm-wrestling is more a competition of how well you can transmit power from your biceps to the forearm, then seamlessly to the palm and finger tips locking a grip to cause the opponent to lose their leverage,” he explains.
“Once you feel them slipping that is when you should tighten the ‘hook’ of your fingers to seal the deal.”
What used to be a playground pastime has now become an inspiration in Kwong’s life.
“Before arm-wrestling, I just thought I was an ordinary student who wasn’t really passionate about school. While I wasn’t sure about what kind of a life I wanted, one thing I knew was that I must do well academically because that’s what society, my family and friends expect of me.”
With the pressure to follow social norms, Kwong began to suppress his thoughts of wanting to walk his own path at his own pace until he found arm-wrestling.
“Stepping out of my comfort zone to start the association was the first step to realising my own dream.”
He started with a Facebook page, with just one follower – himself.
While that was discouraging, it was his love for the sport that kept him going.
“I was actually mentally prepared for that because I realised it’s relatively new for most in Hong Kong. I knew people knew what it was but they would doubt it could be played professionally,” he says, adding that it was already considered a professional sport in mainland China and Malaysia at the time.
With just him in the group, a lack of experience and no resources, he took a chance anyway.
Eventually, Kwong met a couple of others who also share the same passion so they joined hands.
“If you back down, you’ll never achieve anything. Together, we went from practising with just a regular table in the park to now, owning more than four professional arm-wrestling tables and a sponsored venue for training.”
Expanding from one member to more than 40 within two years, the association is thriving.
“This is a sport for all, unfortunately, all our members are men. This is definitely not a male-only sport, we want to see more women joining us.”
The last thing he wants is for woman to avoid the sport because they think it is not suited to them.
“I feel that a lot of women in Hong Kong are afraid of getting too big or that training for arm-wrestling will turn them into muscular hunks when, in fact, that is a misconception that needs to be lifted,” he says, trying to ease concerns that resistance training means becoming muscle-bound.
“The biological structure of women and men is different. The level of testosterone, which is a male hormone that helps with muscle building, is a lot lower in women than in men. In a way, that means no matter how much exercise you do, it will be very difficult to get arms as big as a man’s.”
Kwong explains that by doing arm workouts, it will not only help lose body fat but also gain a small amount of muscle which will tone one’s body.
Even having to juggle between university work and managing the association, Kwong is determined to continue to promote the sport with the big dream of gathering all like-minded enthusiasts in the city and go international one day.
“I know it’s not very popular right now but I have faith. And my hope is that we can compete as a group from Hong Kong and take on other international teams in the near future.”