Strong is the new sexy and fitness is the new party. With society leaning towards health and fitness, Yahoo's #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to all inspirational women in Singapore leading active lifestyles. Know of any who deserve to be featured? Hit me up on CherylTay.sg and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (cheryltaysg).
Name: Caryl Lim
Occupation: Muay Thai kids instructor and private tutor
Diet: An absolute foodie who eats whatever she wants during off-season; carb load only in the morning with protein and veggie the rest of the day; drinks lots of water
Training: 5-6 days a week of Muay Thai at Impact MMA; strength training 3 times a week; interval training 1-2 times a week; 3-5km run followed by HIIT once a week
Were you always an active kid?
Interestingly, I was never an active kid until after I graduated from Junior College. In fact I was, and still am, a band geek through and through. I failed NAPFA tests since primary school, where I used to take a record-breaking more than 30min for 2.4km all the way to JC days. I am not kidding! The only real sports I ever tried in those days were netball and Captain's Ball during PE lessons. I had a minor stint in dragon boat at 20 years old for a year but I didn't enjoy it.
How did you know about Muay Thai and what made you go and try?
Even though I wasn't an active kid, I always had an interest in martial arts. My first encounter with Muay Thai was in 2009 at 19. I was working in my church's office as a general admin staff during my gap year and I just felt like doing something different to get out of the sedentary lifestyle. I had to stop after five months due to financial constraints but I'm glad I resumed Muay Thai as a recreational CCA in SIM University at 22 under IMPACT MMA. Eventually, I got ‘talent-spotted’ by my coach to train competitively. I never stopped since then.
How was your first Muay Thai experience?
What amazed me initially was how quickly my cardio improved in such a short amount of time! I particularly love how there's so much history and culture embedded in the sport, and that to me, is the beauty of Muay Thai. The art and science behind the techniques are so intriguing and I never cease to learn something new everyday, even after two years of consistent daily training. Plus, it is a pretty badass sport.
Did you try any other martial arts? Why Muay Thai?
I do a little Brazilian Jiu-jitsu here and there, as well as some boxing to supplement my Muay Thai game. I enjoy Muay Thai firstly because it's suitable for my small stature. It is a fast paced sport that requires speed, agility and lots of power.
Beneath all that, it is also a very humbling sport which requires a lot of heart and courage to be able to endure hard training sessions and to eventually step into the ring. Many people don't understand how I'm able to withstand hard trainings, getting punched in the face repeatedly, and sustaining huge patches of bruises on my thighs.
There are definitely days full of fears and doubt, but part and parcel of the sport is to overcome barriers. So it's safe to say the fight game is primarily a test of mental strength. Not only does Muay Thai train overall fitness, it strengthens your mental tenacity as well.
When was your first Muay Thai competition?
My first Muay Thai competition was in March 2013. It was a national open invitational competition and I fought in the novice category. I was the pioneer fighter to represent my university and the first female Muay Thai fighter to represent Impact MMA, so there was definitely a lot of pressure.
Other external pressures I had to deal with included having to juggle lectures, assignments, training and managing the Muay Thai club since I was the President of the club at that time. I also had a hard time convincing the CCA-in-charge to allow the club to field a competitive team.
I recall training daily for six months, working very closely with my coach Shawn, before registering for the fight. Since it was my first real athletic experience, I didn't know what to expect and I was extremely scared! My coaches called this the baptism of fire: just putting myself out there as a test of skill and standard, otherwise we would never know how much I've progressed. Even though I lost the fight to a more experienced opponent, I am thankful for the entire experience as it only motivated me to become better and stronger.
Which competition was the most significant for you?
All my fights so far are equally significant in their own way as they define my progress and growth as a fighter, a leader, and a person. Each fight allows me to understand more about myself, my motivations, and coping mechanisms.
If I really have to choose, I'd say the most significant one would be my third fight in March 2014. It saw my first win after two consecutive losses and it was the very first time my university team fielded a team of four. I was made Team Captain then.
What made it so significant was that I learnt to appreciate the sweet taste of victory after losing twice in a row. It also made all the struggles, obstacles, strenuous trainings, and bruises all the more worth it as the journey for this gold medal and formation of the fight team hadn't been an easy one.
The satisfaction and sense of achievement after slogging for so long just for this small breakthrough was an absolutely indescribable feeling. Thereafter, I know I have left my mark in the school team, paving the way for the next generation, while moving on to something bigger and better at Impact MMA.
What are some misconceptions of Muay Thai?
Most people perceive Muay Thai, and combat sports in general, to be a violent, unsafe, and a bloody activity that only thugs engage in. Some revel only in the glamour and fame of the winners. But what people fail to realise is the immense amount of heart, courage, and sacrifices it takes for a fighter to make it into the ring.
The blood, sweat, and tears that goes into the daily grind; the desire and passion to be better than you were yesterday. It's a very humbling sport because the moment you get complacent, that's when you start to fall. Combat sports demand a high level of discipline and the sacrifices that fighters have to make to be successful is something that I truly respect.
Fighters never stop seeking improvement, and because of this, the true competition is not the man (or woman) in the other corner, but the fighter himself/herself. Besides, there is always something to learn with every success and failure in or out of a fight. Interestingly, aren't these qualities applicable in our daily lives as well?
Why should girls not be afraid of taking up Muay Thai?
Fear of bruises and pain aside, I feel that learning Muay Thai, or any combat sport in general, definitely gives you a sense of empowerment. Especially in this age where feministic ideologies are permeating society, empowerment should come from within yourself, and not from subjugating men; expecting our male counterparts to display acts of chivalry just because ‘we girls demand respect’. That's just self-entitlement.
If girls truly want to be on the same level playing field as men, then the least you can do is to learn to defend yourself. And of course, Muay Thai is a sure-fire and inexpensive way to get in shape. All you need are a pair of gloves, get your butt off the couch, and get kicking!
What are some of the challenges you face being in Muay Thai?
One of the main challenges is definitely my size. I am particularly short, so I have a reach disadvantage. Being small also means less knockout power against someone bigger. It's also difficult to find opponents that are my size so chances of having a fight in any event is pretty slim.
But like what Mark Twain once said, ’It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog’. I'm constantly working on strategies with my coach to overcome this disadvantage so adaptability is key. I remember always being the smallest only girl in sparring class against bigger and better guys, so if there's one thing I know I'm good at, it's that I'm real hardy in taking hits!
Have you ever not been confident about your body and why?
Of course! I'm thankful that I have been slim my whole life despite being terribly unfit. But I have gotten harsh comments about my tanned skin and how hairy my arms, legs, and upper lip are since young. I also know I'm no prom queen material in terms of my looks, especially since I was a nerdy girl with glasses and all (only experimented with contact lenses at 22 years old). It's not until I got exposed to the fitness industry that I became a little more self-conscious about my body because I'm obviously far from being ripped and lean.
Did you try to do anything to improve your confidence?
I did – I replaced my glasses with contact lenses and waxed off unsightly body hairs. But I would say for most parts, I'm pretty comfortable in my own skin. That's why I never bothered with cosmetic products, nor spending huge amounts of time and money dressing up to the nines daily.
I'm completely happy being barefaced, decked in tank tops, shorts and slippers. When I train, I train to be functionally strong and to kick ass. When I start to work out, positive aesthetic changes would definitely come along so that's an added bonus! I believe true confidence is exuded when you are completely happy and healthy both physically and mentally, coupled with a good heart and a genuine character.