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Before It Was Cool: What A Life of Martial Arts Looks Like

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

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Are the martial arts cool?

To the eyes of the public, it can seem like a glamorous sport, reserved for only the youthful and athletic. Martial arts have gained popularity in Singapore thanks to much media exposure. For us at FaMA - Fitness and Martial Arts, this is a great thing, for it has brought so many through our doors!

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Amongst our students is one man who is no stranger to martial arts. At 67 years of age, "Papa" James Chan has tried several disciplines over the decades.

This is his tale.

Schoolyard Antics, Bruce Lee Fads, and Flying Kicks

fama singapore muay thai kickboxing program
Papa James from his Tae Kwon Do days (1973).

Picture this: Two Singaporean youth learning judo techniques out of a book. They execute the techniques in a schoolyard with no professional supervision. Today, this is almost unheard of, if not, already stopped by the teachers. And yet, this was how James began martial arts at the age of 13.

There were no Instagram or YouTube videos to look at back then. So, James and his friend tried out Kodokan Judo techniques from a book found in a bookstore. Not long after, he joined his school’s new judo club, against his parents’ wishes.

The martial arts exploration continued into his polytechnic days when he joined Taekwondo. It was 1975, the year kung fu was popularised, thanks to Bruce Lee. “Be it Kung Fu, Karate, or Taekwondo… (dojos) received roaring business as a result of his movies,” James added.

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Then, the Taekwondo program was completely different from the way things are today. Getting his first-degree black belt required him to “perform destruction: punch through six tiles, side-kick through two wooden planks, and flying side kick over three human bodies!”. 

This poses food for thought to our parent readers: Would you enrol your children into such classes today?

The Payoff of Persistence: 3 Decades to 6th Dan

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Martial arts continued to find its place in James’ life, even as an adult. For a few years, he took up Karate but stepped away due to work commitments after receiving his brown belt.

Yet, he could not stay away. His relationship with the art was rekindled 10 years later, at age 40. It was then that he received his 1st Dan black belt. 

More than two decades later, at age 66, James received his 6th Dan in Goju Ryu Karate.

fama singapore muay thai kickboxing program arnis kali

For our readers who already engage in martial arts: Do you sometimes feel discouraged that you are falling behind due to other commitments, while your classmates charge ahead with stripe and belt promotions, along with better technical progress? Allow James to be the living example that it doesn’t matter how fast you go in your martial arts journey. The key is to not stop - and you will progress.

Not Done Yet: Muay Thai at 55

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Even with so many disciplines under his belt, James did not intend to stop at Karate. A new chapter began for him in his 50s, when he found Muay Thai. To this day, he continues to train under champion Muay Thai instructors. James enjoys Muay Thai because of its offensive approach and full-body contact. These are traits not found in Karate, due to safety reasons.

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Now retired, the life of the true martial artist continues, albeit with different goals. “When I was young, I trained in martial arts to be fit. Today, I need to be fit to continue learning martial arts.”

James passed through the doors of FaMA - Fitness and Martial Arts a few years ago, looking for a flexible program that could meet his need. He found that the FaMA Fit program fit perfectly into his training curriculum. Describing FaMA as “boutique”, he was also impressed with the clean and friendly environment, as well as the professional staff and coaches.

fama singapore fitness class sit through

Today, he is one of the most regular students at our FaMA Fit and Muay Thai classes. Though he is one of our older students, he is hitting bags and bringing on the sit-throughs and burpees better than most.

It is so inspiring to see a tenacious spirit like Papa James in FaMA. He has exemplified that martial arts, like many other areas of life, is a journey to be relished, not rushed. May his story encourage you to enjoy the ride.

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FaMA - Fitness and Martial Arts Established in 2016, FaMA is a world-class martial arts academy located in the heart of the Central Business District in Singapore. Walking distance from Clarke Quay and Fort Canning MRT stations, FaMA’s main goal is to help people improve their lives through martial arts regardless of age or athletic capability. Our Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), Muay Thai Kickboxing, Kids Martial Arts and Fitness programs are led by experts in their respective fields. So, whether it is weight loss, a fun workout, camaraderie, competition training, or just to break a sweat, FaMA has something for the whole family.


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