Heidi Yeung learns that trying a new form of exercise improves all aspects of life

By Heidi Yeung

When Heidi Yeung volunteered for martial arts, some doubted whether this beauty fiend would be able to handle it. Turns out there's some fight behind that make-up and glowing skin

By Heidi Yeung |

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Young Post web sub-editor Heidi Yeung (L) can kick it (yes she can) with Mike Dacuno after a month at Versus.

There's a certain "just throw yourself into it" mentality at Versus Performance, with which I'd soon built a love-hate relationship during my month there. I'd signed up to learn Muay Thai, mixed martial arts (MMA), and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), none of which I'd tried before.

I'd trained in tae kwon do as a teenager so I knew I'd probably pick up Muay Thai the quickest. I also knew I was really out of shape, but it still surprised me when I needed two breaks during my first class. But I used that momentary weakness as inspiration, and that became the bar I set for myself: no more breaks because I can't keep up with the rest of the class.

After my gruelling first week, during which I discovered muscles I didn't know I had, the routine grew more comfortable. Tuesday, group Muay Thai class; Thursday, private training with Mike Dacuno; Saturdays, MMA and BJJ.

"MMA and BJJ on the same day? That's … intense." I heard that more than once from people who'd been training at Versus longer than I. Oh, dear …

I had a couple of trainers: 20-year-old Mike, who's studying sports and recreation management, was my primary trainer, while Quinton Arendse, the centre's co-founder and head trainer, taught MMA and BJJ.

Every now and then, 19-year-old Max Leali would teach me MMA on my own - I actually appreciated being taken out of class, not least because MMA involved quite a bit of people throwing themselves at me, and vice versa. Another, far more experienced client, Jamil Batcha (an American easily twice my size, but super friendly and kind) would join Max, encouraging me to just go for it, and then taking the time to correct me.

By the end of the month, I still wasn't comfortable with MMA, but I enjoyed challenging my sense of balance and coordination.

Meanwhile, BJJ was a complete mental challenge for me. Quinton insists on jumping straight in so that you feel what you're doing right and wrong. Part of me loves that he didn't differentiate between people of different levels, and just wants us to do our best.

However, each move can be broken down into lots of smaller movements, and that was like a maths equation for me. It just didn't click in my head.

By the end of September, I realised fitness is about more than a physical change.

Yes, it's incredibly rewarding to see I'd lost unnecessary fat tissue, gained muscle evenly all over my frame, and that my basal metabolic rate - how many calories you burn at rest - is improving. But there were two more rewarding results.

I see changes that have nothing to do with percentages, gains or losses. I feel better, and because I'm actually using my body for the first time in years, it's started craving foods that better meet the challenges of training. Every now and then I still crave crisps and cookies, but mostly, I want filling veggie dishes at meal times and fruit for snacks. I feel cleaner and stronger, and that's really lovely.

Also, I made friends I never would have otherwise, and they're part of why I've decided to continue training at Versus. It's not only a place that fosters fighters, it fosters friendships.

A month ago, I wouldn't have considered signing up for training twice a week - I'm sticking to Muay Thai, but decided MMA and BJJ just aren't for me - but now I get excited on training days. My neck and shoulders get so tight during the workday - though less so than in the past - and training gives me a chance to loosen up.

Oh, and for anyone wondering: yes, I wear my signature hot pink lipstick even while I train!