In the past few years, Singapore has been experiencing an obvious martial arts craze sweeping through its tiny city state. MMA gyms are sprouting up everywhere offering classes to all, regardless of one’s martial arts background. When you pass those gyms on any given day, it is likely you will hear shouts and grunts of aggression along with sounds of smashing pads and bodies tumbling across mats. Whether you’re training to be competitive or simply looking for a full-body workout, MMA welcomes all.
It follows logically that local universities in Singapore would begin embracing MMA clubs that are born out of a similar interest and passion for the sport. However, unlike other sports clubs like Tennis, Touch Rugby or Swimming, it seems like the amount of support given to the clubs were somewhat lacking.
FightGeek interviewed the SMU (Singapore Management University) Muay Thai Club, the NTU (Nanyang Technological University) MMA Club and the NUS (National University of Singapore) Muay Thai Club to figure out how exactly have Singapore Universities been holding back on supporting the next biggest sports trend.
We first caught up with SMU Muay Thai President and Vice President, Benjamin and Kenneth, to have a little chat.
Hi Benjamin and Kenneth, thanks for having us! Tell us a little more about SMU’s Muay Thai Club.
The SMU Muay Thai Club is the longest running Martial Arts club in SMU, and we have the highest number of sign-ups among all the other clubs. We were also granted official varsity status, something that NUS and NTU hasn’t been able to achieve.
Recently people have been catching onto the whole MMA wave, so our clubs are getting even more popular. Due to that, we’ve been more active in seeking support from the Amateur Muaythai Association Singapore (AMAS) and they have agreed to organise Muay Thai competitions for local universities to participate in.
As an established club in SMU, we were reputed in the past to be competitively focused. But ever since Kenneth and I took over the leadership roles, we have been pivoting our focus to be a more inclusive club. We wanted to create a culture for our members that is more socially engaging and academically supportive of one another, and I think we have been able to achieve that.
Would you say your university has been supportive of the SMU Muay Thai Club, with its increase participation in external competitions like the IVP (Institute-Varsity-Polytechnic)?
Frankly, they started intervening around the end of 2016. At first, we were free to choose our own coaches, but now that AMAS has stepped in, they want to control more of the curriculum. They’ve cited safety issues and claims of legitimacy. It’s definitely more governed in recent times. But Kenneth and I have been actively talking with the school to get more involvement and support from them.
With all the effort you’ve put into reaching out to the school, what have you seen in return with regards to support for your club?
Well everything is still in discussion and the support from the school is slowly, gradually growing. Our varsity status has been approved since as a Muay Thai club, our competitions have safety gear, but the MMA Club is facing more push back due to the safety concerns raised by the school. We’re definitely still looking for more support from the school, of course. In our case, we took the initiative to step up to the school with a well-thought-out plan first to get the support, as we aren’t as well-known as niche sports like Dragon Boat or the Arts in SMU, and we think that our initiative has been proving pretty effective. Additionally, if we have a competition, such as the IVP, and we have a lesson that coincides with the competition, our professors are understanding of the situation and allows us to attend make-up classes.
In what areas do you think the university could better support the Muay Thai Club?
When it comes to practice sessions, we don’t have a specific training space that is guaranteed, so we use the shared spaces that we have to book in advance. We also don’t have a space to hold equipment like a boxing ring, should we ever get one. But regarding finances to book spaces for competitions in SMU itself or to buy a boxing ring and other equipment, that’s what we feel the university could support us more in.
Thank you for your time, Benjamin and Kenneth!
We then talked to the NTU MMA Club, where the President (Ethan Lim) heads the Muay Thai team, the Vice-President (Jerome Tan) heads the Brazilian Ju-Jitsu team, and there’s an MMA Events Director (Kian Boon) that handles everything in between. Best of all, when FightGeek went down to meet the Club leaders, we were lucky enough to see their inter-team BJJ competition!
Hi guys, great to be here!
So we’ve heard that the NTU MMA Club is a combination of the Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and the Muay Thai Club. How did that come about?
Initially we were 2 separate clubs, but around 2013 the presidents of both clubs decided the merge it together due to the growing interest for MMA in Singapore. The presidents felt that being an MMA Club rather than the 2 separate clubs would help member growth and support from the university.
Would you say your university is very supportive of the MMA Club?
We would say we have support, but we have to work really hard to get financial and status support. So we have different tiers for clubs in NTU, and a club with a higher tier would have more benefits such as hall points. Right now, we’ve just been promoted to a tier 3!
How do you think the university can better support your club?
Definitely more financial support would be great. For example, for new equipment like mats and gear, we would request for support from the university and in return, we would get partial financial benefits. However, this is very dependent on the tier-level the club holds.
Also, priority for training space would be great. While spaces are allocated for clubs, as we have only just been granted tier 3, we are not given too much of a priority for training days.
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us!
Lastly, we talked with the President of the NUS Muay Thai Club, Natasha Mastik. Their training was held in a private gym on a Saturday morning.
Hi Natasha, thank you for speaking with us! Tell us more about the NUS Muay Thai Club.
The inception of the club was about a decade ago. Our club is split into two parts, recreational and fight teams – the recreational side changes every semester, but we typically receive 160-240 sign ups depending on the semester. Our fight team is currently around 30 people strong, but our NUS alumni return from time to time to train with us.
We know that SMU, NUS and NTU are all part of the IVP. How would you describe your university’s support of the Muay Thai Club considering that it’s supported by AMAS?
Even though we participate in the IVP every year, we are still currently under trial status to be an IVP club. IVP clubs are treated more seriously, receive proper recognition from the school and are usually better funded by them. We’ve worked hard to come to this trial status, as previously our participation in competitions weren’t recognised by the school.
So late last year my Vice-President, Ching & I, sat with the school and managed to convince them to be on our side. The school is now trying to support us more, both in terms of financial and general support.
How else do you feel your school could better support the Muay Thai Club?
I guess the school could always help by facilitating good communication with us, to ensure that expectations are clearly set, and by being receptive to our input in certain matters. Currently they’re doing a good job, but I’ll also like to see it maintained for subsequent batches!
From our talks with the SMU, NTU and NUS clubs, it seems that there is a consistent lack of financial support and guaranteed allocated training space from the university’s end. While the leaders of each school’s clubs cite the need for personal initiative when gaining support from the university, it also seems like the effort required just to establish awareness of their club in the eyes of the university is a bigger hurdle than others.
To only be considered a tier 3 club after 4 years in NTU, to have no place in SMU where they can store their training gear and equipment, and to not even be acknowledged for their annual participation in the IVP, it seems clear that the universities are not playing a big enough part as they can in supporting their own Muay Thai and MMA Clubs.
Perhaps this is an issue of false perceptions of violence and brutality in martial arts, with issues of safety concerns constantly popping up in our discussions with the Club leaders. Or perhaps there is an unwillingness for the school’s name to be associated with a combat sport over other clubs that could receive better national and even global admiration and attention. Either way, we think that local universities should be more supportive of their martial arts clubs, without forcing their students to jump over an intensive number of red tape and hurdles just to appear on the university’s radar.
Martial arts is more than what Hollywood paints it to be. The values of honour, respect and virtues of hard work and discipline are embedded deep within all martial arts culture and teachings. Much to the extend that when one enters a martial arts program with grandeurs of violence and bravado, the same person is more likely to come out of it enlightened, humbled, respectful and more at peace than before.
In our opinion, martial arts deserves more respect and recognition from the major Universities in Singapore. And while perceptions are slowly changing, it is heartening to see the young leaders of these clubs rising to the challenge in campaigning for their beloved sport and pursuing their passion. The future of MMA here is beginning to look promising!