First establishing herself in the world of cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a keen photojournalist who is equally enthusiastic about fitness and sports. More of her at CherylTay.sg and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (cheryltay11).
In Singapore, it's something of a tradition for parents to sign their children up for taekwondo or karate classes (at the community centre), to help them learn self-defence as well as character traits such as self-discipline and respect for others.
But increasingly, more and more kids are taking up the grappling sport of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) as opposed to Asian forms of striking martial arts.
It is widely acknowledged that the beauty of BJJ is its ability to prove how a smaller individual can defeat a larger opponent with the right technique.
“BJJ is less violent, and teaches more about discipline and self-control,” said Professor Guilherme Mendes, one half of the famous Mendes brothers and a four-time BJJ black belt world champion.
“Kids are hyperactive and literally unstoppable, thus we need to slow them down and educate and teach them about discipline, respect and how to be good student and a good person," he added.
Mendes was in Singapore last month to conduct seminars at newly-opened martial arts school The Gentle Art, which hosts the only official Mendes Brothers BJJ affiliate programme in Asia.
The Mendes brothers are reputed for having the best children's BJJ programme in the world, with some of their little students clinching consecutive titles at the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Pan Kids Jiu Jitsu Championships over the last two years.
B.T. Kang, one of the owners of The Gentle Art, commented: “As there is no striking involved in BJJ, kids can safely spar at full pace and apply the techniques taught, under complete supervision of instructors at all times. Our children's programme is also developed in collaboration with a certified early childhood practitioner.”
Intake for The Gentle Art's kids’ BJJ programme will formally start in January next year.
Mix and match
Another Singaporean academy, Trifecta Martial Arts, which opened a little over a year ago, offers BJJ on top of traditional taekwondo classes. At present, it has over 60 active members enrolled in its kids' BJJ programme.
“Taekwondo is a striking and standing art best complemented by BJJ,” said Arlene Lim, founder and programme director of Trifecta. "BJJ is probably the most effective martial art for children to learn self-defence as it is less about conflict avoidance (which most martial arts can teach) but rather, how a child can defend himself in a really bad situation, such as a bully trying to choke him or pushing him to the ground. In a way, it’s the last line of defence."
“BJJ training tends to focus more on the effectiveness of each technique and how you can make it work for you, in response to the varying resistance of different partners. Taekwondo helps to develop speed, precision and agility, while BJJ develops overall co-ordination, spatial awareness and strength,” she added.
Naturally, Lim, a BJJ practitioner, has all three of her young children (aged 6, 8 and 10) enrolled in both taekwondo and BJJ.
Her eldest daughter is a multiple-time international and national taekwondo champion, while middle kid Alejandro is an enthusiast who trains in BJJ three times a week and taekwondo once a week.
"I hope more children will participate in BJJ such that eventually there will be opportunities for inter-academy competition and friendly training sessions," said Lim.
Asia and Singapore's largest MMA academy, Evolve MMA, has also been coaching children in both BJJ and Muay Thai since opening in 2009.
The Evolve Little Samurai Children's Programme helps bully-proof children and also produces champions both regionally and globally.
“Bullying can really affect a child’s confidence and self-esteem during their formative years," explained Almiro Barros, head instructor of the programme.
"This programme provides a world championship platform for children to inherit life skills like mental strength, agility, courage, focus, and of course, learn how to defend themselves against bullies."
One example is nine-year-old Kinaree Adkins, who started learning BJJ at Evolve two and a half years ago. She showed an early interest in martial arts and it was entirely her idea to take up BJJ.
Adkins enjoys the challenges in understanding and resolving the many permutations that result from the contact sport’s basic positions and movements.
She often competes against the boys, and holds multiple titles in BJJ such as two-time NAGA World Champion (Girls), US National Champion (Mixed), Australian National Champion (Mixed), Japanese National Champion (Girls), Pan-Asian International Champion (Boys) and many more.