Mulan's spirit lives on

Mulan's spirit lives on

Young tai chi talent Juanita Mok Uen-ying does not let even painful injuries get in the way of strenuous training

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Juanita Mok Uen-ying performs some skillful tai chi jian moves with a sword.
Juanita Mok Uen-ying performs some skillful tai chi jian moves with a sword.
Photo: Nora Tam
Hua Mulan seems to have been reborn in a 16-year-old Hong Kong student. Just like the legendary heroine, Juanita Mok Uen-ying is tough as nails.

Juanita is a reigning tai chi junior world champion and a member of the Hong Kong junior tai chi team. Before the World Junior Championships in Singapore last year, she fractured her left ankle. She didn't back down and, despite her injury, went on to win two champion's crowns in the women's 24 forms of tai chi quan and tai chi jian.

The Form Four student from Holy Family Canossian College says she can't live without tai chi. Not even an injury will slow her down.

"It was painful but I didn't want to stop training," she says, adding that she went through a course of physiotherapy to help her recover fast enough for the championships.

Juanita's devil-may-care attitude sometimes worries her mother, Maria Chan. "I'd like her to take a rest sometimes, but I know my daughter," Chan says. "I fully stand by her, whatever decision she takes."

Her father, who is also a tai chi fan, says Juanita was tough even as a young girl. "When Juanita was eight, I took her to learn basic wushu skills. Her body was not supple enough yet, and during a warm-up, she began crying because she was in pain. But she persisted," he says.

The girl's first coach was famous tai chi master Li Fai, who saw potential in her. Soon enough, Juanita went on to win a team champion's title with other beginners in a local competition.

When we think of tai chi, we can't help picturing elderly people doing morning exercises in parks. Few of us associate tai chi with vigorous training.

Juanita says her classmates, too, found it hard to picture tai chi as a competitive sport. "I explained to them that there were huge differences between the exercise and my sport."

Tai chi quan involves competitors showcasing their skills with their bare hands, while in tai chi jian they use a sword, she explains. Both forms of the sport involve plenty of vigorous activity - and Juanita trains hard.

She won the Zespri Outstanding Junior Athlete Award late last year. She was also selected recently to be one of four Hong Kong athletes for a sports and cultural exchange programme in New Zealand, where she performed at a demonstration. "It was fun seeing the students surprised to see me do a split during my warm-up," Juanita recalls.

Last year, she was awarded the Most Outstanding Junior Athlete title. This month, Juanita went to Tianjin for short, intensive training for the Games. "I met some very competitive athletes there. My target is to beat them and win a medal for Hong Kong," she says.

True to her word, Juanita has redoubled her training efforts. She practises for four hours every day after school. "With my coach's help, I have refined my skills and reached a much higher standard," she says. "What I want most is to recover from a thigh injury and return to top form."

Mulan would be proud.

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