Fight and fit club

She's petite but deadly.

Mrs Lila Evrard is a guro (instructor) Kali Majapahit.

Kali Majapahit is a system founded by her husband, Frank, who has 14 black belts and instructor certificates for 11 styles of martial arts, back in 1998.

With knives whirring, the 35-year-old former lawyer from Tahiti shows off a graceful combination of moves that can incapacitate an attacker.

Kali Majapahit combines different disciplines like muay thai, escrima, pencak silat and Bruce Lee's jeet kune do.

It has been gaining popularity in pop culture, with the realistic, gritty fighting style being employed in movies like the Book of Eli and the Bourne series, says instructor Ben Boeglin.

There are now schools in Tahiti, Japan, Belgium and Singapore. Located in the Clarke Quay area, the Singapore school was opened in 2006 and is run by the Evrards.

The couple, who have lived in Singapore for more than five years, see up to 200 students of all nationalities - locals, Russians, French, Germans, Filipinos.

They even conduct classes for children as young as three years old. Mrs Evrard describes these classes as more acrobatic in nature, with children being taught rolls and jumping kicks.

Adults learn to work with sparring sticks as well as knives (called the daga), which helps improve coordination and precision.

"Sinawali, which is the use of double sticks, is one of the best ways to improve coordination and therefore balance both cerebral hemispheres," explains Mrs Evrard.

"We should always remember we have a right hand and a left hand. Both must work. The whole body is connected."

Mr Boeglin, 28, says most students start off struggling with coordination, but become more ambidextrous after six to eight months of Kali Majapahit.

One thing that sets Kali Majapahit apart from some other forms of martial arts, the instructor says, is that students get to pick up so many different disciplines in a short time.

Usually, Mr Boeglin explains, most martial arts are taught system by system, with students dedicating months or even years to perfecting just one system.

"Here, we let students try them all and rotate between systems each class," says the Frenchman.

"There's a very strong link between different styles. The techniques you learn from stick-fighting help you in empty-hand combat.

"It helps you learn easier in terms of natural movement and posture."

Each class lasts one hour, and students learn three systems for every 31/2-month cycle.

They can pick up a host of different disciplines, like kadena de mano (empty-hand combat) or panuntukan (Philippine boxing).

Changed her life

This appealed to Kali Majapahit student Lee Yee Han, 25, who started practising Kali Pajahit in late 2008. She had tried out different martial arts schools, but moved on after a few months.

"What made me stick around here is they teach things very cohesively. We do so many different systems in one class. It's comprehensive, and it keeps things exciting," she explains.

Ms Lee says Kali Majapahit changed her life.

"There are the health and personal development aspects. It's so old-school. The old idea of the martial arts practitioner as someone perfect in every way. Self-discipline, eating properly, sleeping well - this is a school where they focus on it as a lifestyle, instead of just a hobby. I am much happier with myself and with my life now."

This sentiment is echoed by Mr Alexander Presto, a 33-year-old Filipino working in the IT industry. He travels from his workplace in Tampines all the way to the school at Carpenter Street four times a week.

"There's a lifestyle aspect our guros try to instill at the end of every class. We discuss the environment and ecosystem, and Guro Lila supports many charities and causes," he says.

"It taught me the true meaning of discipline. I was a smoker when I started. But I've since quit."

Some people just come for the physical benefits, but Mr Boeglin estimates about 30 per cent of their students now lead healthier lifestyles, eating better and giving up smoking and drinking.

And for the instructors, their best reward is seeing these changes take shape.

"Students join Kali Majapahit for martial arts training, but they end up with so much more that will improve their everyday life," says Mrs Evrard.

"Lots of students became vegetarian. Or they're happier. They learnt how to improve their diets and lose weight.

"Personally, that's why I love this job so much more than being a lawyer. Like one of our masters used to say: Changing people's lives, one black belt at a time."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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