Martial arts can be a great healer in many ways. Children and adults who take up various disciplines often cite their new athletic endeavor as the reason for positive changes, both in health and in life.
Singapore’s Amir Khan found he went from a quiet kid who was picked on for his Tourette Syndrome, to a more confident young man after discovering Muay Thai at the age of 13.
A keen golfer following in his father’s footsteps, his path changed when he first came across combat sports. Immediately, he began to see positive changes in his social environment.
“When I was younger, it was really, really bad. When I was in school, the other kids would pick on me and imitate me (and my Tourette’s). It was tough growing up with it,” the 22-year-old admits.
Just a year into his Muay Thai training, Khan fought in his first competitive match. Soon, the mood around him started to change.
"People started to say, ‘This guy knows how to fight,’ and they just talked a lot. They seemed more interested in me.”
The confidence it instilled in him allowed him to stop being the butt of jokes. Beyond that, it helped him to cope with his ailment.
One of the symptoms of Tourette’s is motor tics, which are involuntary movements caused by the neurological disorder. Khan had these in his eyes and facial expressions, in particular. There are methods to try and keep these under control, but for the ONE Championship lightweight, he found martial arts to be the one for him.
“After years and years, I believe martial arts has helped me through it. Whenever I felt like I could not control my Tourette’s, then I would go to the gym and I would sweat it out. I felt relaxed and better after each session.
"In martial arts, you cannot take your eyes off your opponent when you are sparring with him. You have got to really focused, or else you will get hurt, so it definitely taught me how to focus, and I was able to bring it over into real-life situations.”
Although it is not something that can be totally eradicated, the coping mechanisms martial arts have provided Khan have allowed him to have more success against the disorder. Now, he can stand proud as an ambassador for those in a similar position to him, the kids who feel marginalized by issues out of their control.
When thousands take their seats to watch him in action at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES inside the Singapore Indoor Stadium on 26 May, they will realize it makes no difference to the man, and athlete, he has become.
If anything, it has further built his character, helping him to become one of the top lightweight prospects in the world.