MOTIVATION: Teacher helps troubled teens channel their anger positively through martial arts, writes Dennis Wong
Like most boys his age, Melvin Yeoh used to pick fights in school, not knowing how else to channel his teenage angst.
That was 14 years ago. Today, the 31-year-old uses his experience to help troubled teens by teaching them self-discipline in the octagon; the eight-sided ring used in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
Yeoh, who teaches Geography and Sports Science in a school in Johor, has been the head coach at his father's MMA gym since 2006.
"I used to fight a lot in school and often got penalised. Because of this, my grandfather enrolled me in a martial arts school.
"At first, I thought that learning martial arts would make me a better fighter in school. Instead, it taught me self-discipline. And I realised competition is the best place to channel all that angst," he told the New Sunday Times.
Born in Perlis, Yeoh was 13 when he first picked up taekwondo and later progressed to muay thai, where he competed in many tournaments and won a few titles.
However, his martial arts days were put on hold when he pursued his studies at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.
Upon graduation, Yeoh was posted to Johor Baru, but as there were no MMA gyms there then, Yeoh decided to start his own by gathering some troubled teenagers and taught them basic MMA.
"The lessons were conducted at the back of my house. But as the number of students increased, my father and I started the Ultimate MMA Academy JB.
"We just want to get these kids out of trouble and to channel their aggression into the sport.
"Slowly, more and more parents sent their kids to our gym."
Aside from self-discipline, Yeoh also teaches his students to be independent by doing some part-time work to earn pocket money.
"It is better to give them a chance to find a purpose in life. If they are neglected, they may end up in a life of crime and become a nuisance to the community."
Some of his students, aged between 11 and 18, have taken part in several MMA tournaments in Kuala Lumpur and Johor.
MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world with big events such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), K-1 World Max in Japan and Singapore-based One FC.
Unlike boxing or muay thai, MMA is not tied to one style of fighting but is a mix of two or more styles such as wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
In Malaysia, MMA is relatively new, although Malaysian exponents, such as Adam Shahir Kayoom and Peter Davis, have competed in international tournaments.
Yeoh will himself be fighting in the upcoming One FC event in Kuala Lumpur next month; he even got a personal call from One FC chief executive officer and owner Victor Cui.
With six wins and one loss, Yeoh's latest fight was during the Gods FC MMA Team Championship; where team Kuala Lumpur went head on with team Singapore.
Yeoh, who fights in the 64kg weight class, had to face an opponent who was a class heavier.
"He was bigger than me and I gave it my all during the fight," said Yeoh, who won the the match by a mounted triangle, choking the huge Singaporean into submission.
MMA comes across as a violent sport but to some, martial arts can change a person for the better.
"There are a lot of ways to educate people. Youths here are exposed to negative influences and when young people are lost and seek attention, they can easily be led astray by the wrong crowd.
"As a teacher, I'm aware that most of them want to be a hero. I was like that too, once. So, I brought them over here to train so that they can fight in the octagon and make a name for themselves.
"It's a win-win situation. They get to fight, legally and they get the attention they seek. Most of them turned out to be more disciplined after training.
"Some of my so-called 'bad' students are currently overseas pursuing further education and some are very successful in life now."
To be a good fighter, one needs to be fit and this means having a proper diet and strict training.
Yeoh sets a good example to his students both at the gym and school with his tight training regime. He starts his day with one hour of jogging from 8am and then does weight training till 11am.
"My school session is from noon till 7pm. After a short rest at home, I go back to the gym for another training session till 11pm. That is my daily schedule.
"It may sound tiring but in actual fact the training keeps me alert in school.
"Low carbs, high protein and fibre is what fighters need to fuel their body and I believe that with this strict regime, troubled teens will be disciplined.
"Without discipline, they might as well give up before entering the octagon."