Asia's martial arts capital is ... Singapore?
Singapore is renowned for its strict laws, clean streets and rapid urbanization. Martial arts? Not so much.
But that's fast changing. Over the years the city-state has quietly been building up its credentials to emerge as the fight capital of Asia.
Here's a fistful of reasons to put doubters into submission.
The rise of MMA
Mixed martial arts (MMA) combines several different fight styles, and is one of the fastest growing sports on the planet. Giving the sport further legitimacy, the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation was founded in Sweden earlier this year.
Much of Singapore's current martial arts success is owed to the efforts of two Asian entrepreneurs who chose to base their MMA businesses in the city.
Filipino Canadian Victor Cui is behind ONE Fighting Championship, Asia’s biggest MMA promotion.
The other, Chatri Sityodtong from Thailand, is the owner of Evolve MMA, arguably the most successful martial arts gym in Asia.
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Chatri, a Harvard graduate and wealthy Wall Street investor, decided to turn his business talents to martial arts in 2008. He was a veteran of numerous muay Thai fights who held a blue belt in Brazilian jiujitsu so the decision to take his entrepreneurial flair and apply it to martial arts came naturally.
“I have always been passionate about martial arts but when I first came to Singapore there really was nothing here, it was difficult to find anyone to even train with personally," says Chatri.
"I decided to set up Evolve MMA not just because I saw it as an investment opportunity but because people in Singapore seemed to live very sedentary lives and I wanted to give them somewhere they could come to stay healthy and to learn something new.”
Chatri would not have made his millions on Wall Street without being able to spot a trend and Evolve MMA has grown to the point that it is already regarded as being the top fight training facility in Asia.
Famous fighters from the United States such as former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight champion Rich Franklin and Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren will travel halfway across the world to train there and, according to the founder, membership is booming.
“Singapore really hasn't had a culture of sports historically, let alone martial arts but in the last four to five years the martial arts scene in Singapore has skyrocketed," says Chatri.
"Judging by our growth rates at Evolve MMA, the MMA industry in Singapore has grown eight to 10-fold during that time frame and new martial arts gyms are opening all the time.
"In the past I would have said Tokyo was the martial arts capital of Asia but now it is Singapore. Even the UFC is looking to establish its Asian headquarters here.”
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Vegas-style fight nights
Cui believes that the country he calls home has already established itself as the martial arts capital of Asia, but there's definitely room to grow.
“Singapore has always been a commercial hub but martial arts has really helped to establish it as a tourist destination too because people from all over the world will travel here to train MMA or to take in an MMA show," he says.
"Asia will always be the spiritual home of martial arts but Singapore has become its epicenter with the biggest live shows and the best training facilities.”
ONE Fighting Championship’s next show in Singapore is taking place on October 6 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and will be headlined by legendary Japanese fighter Shinya Aoki. For more information visit www.onefc.com.
A simple desire to get fit
The scene in Singapore is not just about world-class fighters competing in enormous arenas.
Most people who train in martial arts aren’t looking to slug it out in the ring or the cage but to lose weight, get fit or do something a bit different.
There are plenty of places in Singapore catering to everyone from beginners to experienced competitors. Here's a quick list of some of the most popular.
Evolve MMA is home to some of the best MMA and muay Thai fighters in the world such as Shinya Aoki, Rafael Dos Anjos, Orono Wor Petchpun and Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, and is regarded as the top martial arts training facility in Asia.
But you don't have to be interested in an MMA career to train at Evolve MMA. There's an enormous variety of classes at all times of the day that cater to students of all abilities.
Sessions include everything from boxing to muay Thai to Brazilian jiujitsu and the trainers are all world champions with very impressive credentials. There are two locations, one is in Far East Square and the other at POMO Mall.
For more on classes and schedules, check out www.evolve-mma.com.
SA Judo Academy
The SA Judo Academy was founded in 2003 by fifth Dan Judo black belt Tang Soon Onn. He was formerly a coach for the national team and represented Singapore in many competitions including the World Judo Championships and the SEA Games.
Adult classes take place at the SA Budo Academy at SAFRA in Tampines on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays and children’s classes take place at the same venue on Saturdays and Sundays.
There are also classes held in four separate locations. Visit www.sajudo.com for more info.
Vanda Boxing Club
The Vanda Boxing Club offers both boxing and muay Thai and is best known for training professionals from all walks of life for its "white collar boxing" competitions.
Often with no previous boxing experience participants will embark on a 12-week program that culminates in an amateur fight in front of a live audience.
Boxing and muay Thai classes take place every day of the week except Sunday and are held at a variety of times. There are also sessions for children and classes reserved exclusively for ladies.
For more information visit www.vandaboxing.com