There’s more to martial arts than what we see in Hollywood action film fight scenes, says 16-year-old Alex Chan.
“Martial arts has been ingrained in our minds as a means to beat up our enemies,” says the Sha Tin College student, who is a member of the Hong Kong Junior Tae kwon do team. “But tae kwon do is really quite the opposite; it’s an Olympic sport based around mind games. It’s a lot like chess … with the occasional kick to the face.”
Alex has had a jam-packed year so far, winning gold in the Asian Cities Tae kwon do Championships, held in Hong Kong this April, while simultaneously revising for his schools exams. “The tournament was held during my exam period, so I’d wake up early for hour-long runs and prepare meals to maintain my body weight and energy levels,” Alex says.
His hard work paid off – the Canada-raised athlete defeated opponents from China and Nepal to clinch the top spot. Alex was relieved to see that all his intense pre-tournament preparation was worth it, but remained humble in spite of his victories.
“I’d tell my opponent to not be discouraged – he put up a good fight,” he says, adding that being able to represent Hong Kong was an amazing feeling.
Prior to the tournament, Alex and his coach worked on a game plan that favoured punches over the more familiar kicking motion we associate with tae kwon do. “The punch is my go-to technique because it is very versatile. At the start of each fight, my coach would yell at me to ‘make history with those punches’ – and that would boost my confidence,” reveals Alex.
But what Alex thrives in most are the mind games: “Every athlete has similar physical capabilities at the highest level [of sports]. Much of an athlete’s competence then is based on his or her ability to assess their opponent and outwit them.”
Alex has been practising tae kwon do for 11 years, but he can still recall his earliest memories of the Korean martial art. “I distinctly remember, as a three-year-old, sitting and watching my older brother train until he was drenched with sweat. One day, Grandmaster Son invited me to train with the class … he couldn’t have known that he was kick-starting my lifelong career,” says Alex.
World Championship gold medallist and tae kwon do hall of famer Grandmaster Son Tae Hwan has had a profound influence on Alex. “He showed me that tae kwon do doesn’t just involve physical movement, it involves our mind as well.”
Strengthening the mind was something Alex had difficulty with. “At first, I found it weird that people would shout and scream while striking. But shouting is believed to ignite the fighting spirit which we all have,” he says, revealing that the rush he feels when performing tae kwon do motivates him into practising everyday.
It’s not all been smooth sailing though. “It’s virtually impossible to not get injured in tae kwon do. I had to compete at the championships with a fractured finger. Luckily, my rigorous training helped me secure first place even though I, essentially, had no hand to punch with,” says Alex. Having said that, he says he wants to avoid being injured like that again, as the time needed to recover hinders development.
With his current trajectory, Alex appears well on his way to reaching elite level – and that’s exactly what he’s aiming for. “I want to medal in the Olympics and world championships. It won’t be easy, but I’m ambitious. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable goal [to set myself],” he says.
“It would also be a dream come true to compete at the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina,” adds Alex.
Hong Kong tae kwon do fans, keep your eyes peeled. Young Post has a feeling we’ll be hearing about Alex in the future.
What’s your favourite thing to eat before a big event?
Fruit. I have a sweet tooth and, apart from the delicious flavours, they provide me with plenty of energy for the day.
Do you have any pre-competition superstitions?
Well, I wouldn’t say it’s a superstition, but I say a prayer before each fight.
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company are you spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
I’m a shoe fanatic, with a soft spot for Nike runners, but 10 years is a long time, considering how often I’d be making sales pitches to my parents to buy me shoes before then. In all seriousness, I really do like the Nike brand. I’d love to help promote their products … but hopefully that would come sooner than in 10 years time!