Packing a punch at 57: A retiree finds physical, mental and social benefits in Muay Thai

RICHARD Wee looks every bit like a professional Muay Thai fighter with his broad shoulders and toned biceps.

In fact, watching him deliver forceful kicks during training, the 57-year-old retiree does not look his age.

The former managing director of a regional supply firm has been an avid gym-goer for the past 10 years, but he only picked up Muay Thai last July.

“My gym workouts were getting very boring. It’s the same routine, and I’m doing it by myself. There wasn’t a lot of variation to the programme,” he said.

Wee added that he had another reason for picking up Muay Thai: He hopes to bond better with his 18-year-old daughter Randee, a polytechnic student. The pair attends many Muay Thai classes together, sometimes up to three sessions a day.

“With teenagers, it helps to have a common thing to talk about,” he said.

Outside of his Muay Thai classes, Wee spends much of his time volunteering at Boy’s Town, where he conducts fitness classes. He also found a way to blend his volunteer work with Muay Thai: He works with Evolve MMA to sponsor Muay Thai lessons for selected boys.

According to Wee, he believes that through the programme, the youths will not just learn martial arts, but also values such as humility and discipline. This initiative is part of Evolve’s community outreach programme, which aims to impact underprivileged children and orphans positively.

Evolve MMA, founded in 2008, is a mixed martial arts academy with instructors who are champions in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Boxing and Submission Grappling. They hope to bring mixed martial arts to the man-on-the-street through comprehensive lessons.

According to Evolve MMA, Wee is one of the few mature students it is working with. While Evolve MMA sees more in their 60s joining their classes, they are still a minority. At other major martial arts academies such as Jagsport and SA Judo Academy, students aged 60 and above are practically non-existent.

Dr Roger Tian, a sports physician at the Changi Sports Medicine Centre, is not surprised. He observes that most full contact martial arts practitioners in Singapore are in their 20s to early 40s. Coaching staff make up the bulk of those in their late 40s.

For seniors keen on taking up full contact martial arts, Dr Tian advised that they should first go for a health check.

“They should take up the sport only if they are given a clean bill of health,” he said. “That means no brittle bones, degenerative joint disease or heart disease. They must also have been active for most of their recent adult life.”

Dr Tian added that seniors suffering from age-related eye diseases – such as senile glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic eye disease – and conditions affecting their reaction and stimuli processing ability should give high contact martial arts a miss. He recommended that they consider less strenuous martial arts activities such as Tai-Chi and non-contact Karate and Taekwondo.

Martial arts academies Today spoke to said that besides getting a health check before starting classes, all students are required to attend an introduction class which will evaluate and place them in an appropriate programme.

Gerard Lim, principal instructor at Jagsport, which holds classes in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo and other martial arts, believes instructors should be flexible enough to execute training sessions that take into account the needs of all participants.

While high-intensity mixed martial arts is not always recommended for some mature participants, Wee takes extra precautions to ensure that he does not get injured. For instance, while he pushes himself during training, he is careful to perform a move the right way with the help of his instructors.

“And if I feel tired, I will take it easy. It’s all about listening to your body and knowing what you cannot do,” he said.

Wee has benefited tremendously from his martial arts training and sees no reason to stop. He lost about 20kg in one year and his body is now leaner and more toned. His endurance has increased as well.

There are mental and social benefits too, he said. According to the retiree, Muay Thai has made him more disciplined and focused; and his social circle has grown to include fellow practitioners, some as young as 14 years old.

His biggest gain so far? “Since I took up martial arts, my relationship with my daughter has been just fantastic.”