The motto of ONE Championship Chinese featherweight star Li Kai Wen is a simple one.
“Be strong, and become strong,” he says.
“If circumstances are against you and you wish to change that, then do everything in your power to make that change.”
The man known to his fans as “The Underdog” suffered at the hands of bullies during his youth and has since resolved to become a positive role model for those who find themselves in a similar position today.
He wants to inspire those people to rise above the hate, and flourish.
A shy boy growing up, Li found himself on the wrong end of bullies’ taunts at Hunan Sports Vocational College, even though he was a promising member of its wrestling team.
“I was hazed and bullied for the first four years of my stay at the school,” he recalls.
“I stood up for myself the very first time when it happened, but I was beaten up, hence I learned to give in and follow their orders.
“I was bullied both mentally and physically, and my emotions were affected. It was a rough time for me. I constantly told myself during that time to be strong, and become strong.”
Some of the bullying came from people tasked with looking after Li. The senior members of his team were tasked with taking the younger teammates under their wings and teaching them the ropes. However, it often resulted in bullying, which at times escalated into violence.
Li suffered in silence, hoping it would stop, but it did not.
“I was woken up in the middle of the night during winter, and had to go out and buy noodles for the older kids, otherwise, they would beat me up,” he remembers.
“Many times I thought about retaliating, but somehow, I was able to calm myself down and let my anger pass.”
The bullying only ended when his older teammates graduated and left the team. That elevated Li into their position.
Now in a leading role, he was adamant he would not allow the same thing happen to the young team members under his watch.
“When I became the captain of the team, I was also given the authority and responsibilities to handle the younger kids. But I can say that I was more empathetic to them,” he says.
“The hazing was toned down in general, and I even stood up for my younger teammates against the other older kids.”
He credits his martial arts training for his more empathetic approach, with the core martial arts values of respect and honour helping him stay grounded and treat his young charges more fairly than he experienced as a youngster.
“Martial arts will give its practitioners confidence, and that confidence will be visible to others so they can avoid becoming the victim,” he explains.
“Aside from that, martial artists are not instigators, but rather the evaders of confrontation. Some of the most important values in life are learned through practising martial arts, like honour, respect, perseverance, and determination.”
Li has also developed into one of the most talented athletes in a stacked ONE featherweight division.
He will look to showcase everything he has learned when he takes on Rodian “The Redeemer” Menchavez at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER on Saturday, 23 June in Macau.