JOHOR BARU - Seventeen-year-old Alpha Chua Ye Jie recalled being resentful of his father when the latter signed him up for tai chi classes years ago because he thought he was being forced into learning martial arts meant for the elderly.
Back then, the nine-year-old Chua had set his sights on mastering the faster-paced xing-yi fists - a barehanded fighting technique, after watching martial art television shows.
However, after attending a few classes, to his surprise, Chua found out many other youngsters were learning tai chi. His interest in the martial art blossomed so much that he started taking part in competitions here and in Singapore.
"Tai chi actually involves a lot of detailed techniques, footwork and hand movements.
"I fell in love with the art and decided to pursue it seriously," he said when met here yesterday.
He recently took part in the 5th Singapore International Martial Arts Tournament where he swept six gold and a silver medal - beating opponents from Australia, China, Indonesia, Russia, Singapore and Malaysia.
He has won at least 30 gold medals so far from various competitions.
Chua, who was awarded the third Dan ranking out of nine levels in tai chi at the age of 14, said that entering competitions helped him overcome stage fright as he used to be afraid of performing in front of an audience.
"This helps in my studies as well. I am not shy to stand in front of my peers during presentations in college," said the Sunway College Johor Baru foundation year student.
The youngest of six siblings trains once a week now compared with daily when he was in primary school and a few times a week in secondary school, as he had to juggle between tai chi and school assignments.
"I encourage more youngsters to take part in tai chi because it is a sport that you can learn throughout your life. It is also good for our health," he said, adding that he hoped to join another competition at the end of this year.