Singaporean ‘supermum’ is a BJJ fighter, businesswoman and single mother all in one

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Think being a mother is hard?

Try being a single mum to three young kids while running three martial arts schools and a martial arts equipment firm – and winning medals as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) fighter at regional- and global-level opens.

Such is the life of 37-year-old Arlene Lim, a former Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regular who was the first local female armour officer.

Granted, the BJJ blue-belt (second rank) and third-degree taekwondo black-belt does get some help: two of Lim’s academies are operated by their respective head instructors, while her mother watches the kids when she can’t.

But there’s no denying the frustrations and struggles behind solo motherhood, said Lim, whose marriage to taekwondo practicioner Santos Rivas fell apart in 2011.

“Unfortunately, my relationship with my ex-husband is not quite as congenial as Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘conscious de-coupling’ from Chris Martin,” she revealed. “So there are times where I would scream bloody murder. When that happens I just breathe and let go!”

Above all, it’s martial arts that keeps her sane and keeps her children close by. The trio of Isabel, Alejandro and Sofia Rivas all started training in taekwondo and BJJ from the age of three, and 10-year-old Isabel is already a six-time national taekwondo champion.

One fight to another

Along with her female friends, Lim first decided to pick up taekwondo at the age of 23, after her roommate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology was mugged.

Under the tutelage of Grandmaster Jae Hun Kim in Boston, US, she blossomed and subsequently represented Singapore in major tournaments such as the US Open and Asian and Southeast Asian championships.

She later returned home in 2000 to serve an eight-year bond with the SAF. When that was done and dusted, Lim and Santos – who was Grandmaster Jae’s top disciple and protégé – set up the JH Kim Taekwondo Institute and expanded it to seven locations islandwide.

After her divorce in 2011, she underwent a self-imposed hiatus from taekwondo for nearly two years.

“My whole life revolved around taekwondo and I just wanted to get away from it all… at all costs,” said Lim. “So I went to Evolve Mixed Martial Arts to pick up a new martial art. I did Muay Thai for a month but got bored, then I found Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.”

“BJJ gave me perspective and a chance to start things afresh,” she declared. “It helped me to clear my mind, focus on the tasks at hand… leave behind my worries.”

Lim added, “When you start something new and are completely engaged… you let go of things that bother you.”

She took to BJJ obsessively, training twice a day, every day, until she was good enough to compete.

Going for tournaments gave her a new goal to focus on, and by the end of 2013, she set up a new academy in Balestier, Trifecta, which offers lessons in taekwondo and BJJ.

All growth

Trifecta adopts a family-oriented approach, offering a safe and friendly environment for both adults and children. It became an instant hit, attracting about 150 active members in its first four months of operation.

Parents can send their kids from as young as three for Trifecta’s PowerTots class, or sign up for family sessions with their kids. All classes are kept small, to a maximum capacity of 10, so all students are given dedicated attention from instructors.

“We are not the swankiest gym, we are not macho or hardcore with world champion fighters as instructors, but what we sell is that journey of growth that we want to take with you,” Lim explained.

“Martial arts encourage personal growth, helping to expand our minds, as well as strengthen bodies and spirits. Everyone has different objectives for taking up martial arts and (they) also take away different lessons.”