When model Mia Kang started talking about her body issues, it was a given the topic would attract attention due to the nature of her work.
What made the Hongkonger’s story so unique was the fact she decided to battle those issues, which included health problems caused by constant weight fluctuations, with the help of the ancient Asian combat sport of Muay Thai.
Today Kang admits she is still surprised by the reaction she gets when people learn that when she is not posing in front of the cameras, she is most likely to be found pounding away in a gym with knees and elbows, fists and feet.
“Sometimes I guess I just don’t realise that what I do is a such a bizarre combination of things,” Kang laughs down the phone from her base in New York.
Bizarre maybe, but inspiring just the same. Last year Kang fought professionally for the first time (winning by third-round technical knockout) and she is keen to climb into the ring again.
“Absolutely,” says Kang. “But it’s hard. People don’t get how much time and effort is needed in fight camp, and when you are working full-time it’s tough, but I am still on that path. There’s so much I want to learn, there are so many fights I want to have and I want to learn about myself. I want to learn about more martial arts and I am definitely still on my journey.”
It must be cause for some nervous lip-biting in the offices of her major clients – which have included Chanel, Guess Jeans and Nike – when Kang talks about the punishment she is dealt and delivers during her training. But these days, Kang says, that is just part of who she is.
Given the nature of Kang’s day job, her clients keep a close eye on what she is doing – but she has found a way to balance both sides of her life.
It’s funny being on the other side of the pads because I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that that was me
“Just last week I had a client ask me to stop [training],” she says. “It’s generated quite a bit of attention in the fight community also, which is weird for me. I’m not trying to become the next [MMA star] Ronda Rousey or the next [Cris] Cyborg.
“For me, it’s still my hobby that means a lot to me and I want it to always be that way. I don’t want to feel like I have to do it, if that makes sense. It brings so much to me mentally and emotionally, that it’s just something that is very special to me.”
Another step on that journey will be taken when Kang joins forces with the travel agency 109 World for a retreat on the Thai island of Koh Samui, to be hosted at Absolute Sanctuary from April 12-17.
The idea came following Kang’s first experience of a similar retreat at Phuket towards the end of the year, when she was invited to share some of her passion for Muay Thai and some of her moves. Kang admits she was slightly sceptical going in.
I want to do it again, says a battered and bruised Mia Kang after the swimsuit model wins her first Muay Thai fight
“I’m not really a ‘kum ba yah’ kind of person and I was expecting that I was not really going to enjoy it,” says Kang. “It was yoga oriented and it was all women and it was one of the most empowering things I have ever done in my whole life.
“It was so much more than I expected. It was like-minded women who had travelled all that way by themselves, and everyone was just so open. We would talk about things we have all been through but never talk about.”
The people at 109 World and Kang started talking immediately afterwards about a retreat that would focus fully on body positivity. Kang had overseen a few Muay Thai training sessions during that November retreat, and was keen to do more.
“It’s funny being on the other side of the pads because I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that that was me,” says Kang. “I get very excited because you watch people enjoying themselves and you’re standing in front of someone and you can see that they are so in to it. It’s addictive, a little bit.
“My Thai trainers saw pictures and videos of me and teased me, saying, ‘So you think you’re a trainer now!’ But I’ve still got a long way to go.”
Kang will be joined on the trip by popular Hong Kong yogi Chaukei Ngai and there will be a mix of Muay Thai and yoga on offer.
“There’s an itinerary, but everything is optional,” explains Kang. “There are campfire sessions. I don’t want to tell people what it is, or what it should be for them; I want people to take from it what they want. Whatever it is that you want, you take from it, and there is so much you can take from it – and it’s different for everyone.”
Part of the 109 World ethos is that every retreat it organises must give something back to the local community, and Kang has ensured there is a connection being made with an initiative that deals with matters close to her heart.
The Wor. Watthana Muay Thai Gym in northeastern Thailand was founded by Frances and Boom Watthanaya and gives impoverished and often abandoned kids the chance to train in Muay Thai, as well as supporting them in matters pertaining to everyday life. A clip of one of the gym’s young female orphans working out grabbed Kang’s attention.
“I saw a video of one of their little girls hitting the pads,” says Kang. “I got in touch and asked how I could help these girls, how I could collaborate, and this is the first thing we are doing together. I love what Frances is doing.”
The money raised will go towards helping stage an all-girl Muay Thai fight card on April 19 as the Watthanayas continue to use martial arts training as a means through which these kids can find both stability and strength in their lives – something that resonates with Kang through the journey her own life has taken.
“I think it’s beyond the body stuff and more about insecurities that men and women can relate to,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me they want their kids to get into martial arts because there is so much you can learn as a person, as a human being, because we all struggle with this stuff.”
For more on the retreat, go to 109world.com.
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