SINGAPORE - For three months, Sim Kai Xiong trained hard for his first jiu-jitsu competition without his parents' knowledge. He was worried that they might force him to stop if they knew.
But about a week before the bout in February, the Nanyang Junior College student had to come clean when his training session clashed with a family dinner.
"I was afraid that my father would get angry. He did get upset, but I explained that I had to train to compete. He understood in the end," the 17-year-old recalls.
That was his first foray into combat sports.
As interest in these sports, including mixed martial arts (MMA), grows among teens here, some youngsters are finding that they have to fight an emotional battle against their worried parents before they can throw the first punch or kick.
Most mums and dads blanch because of safety concerns.
Mr Joshua Sim, Kai Xiong's father, says: "I told him, 'You've got to be careful. It's your passion and you can enjoy it, but if you get seriously injured, the people around you will suffer too.'"
But the 57-year-old, who is self- employed, eventually came around.
"If I stopped him, I would be preventing him from reaching his potential," he explains.
Kai Xiong went on to win his debut match - and his parents' support. In April, he won two boxing fights as well as his first mixed martial arts bout.
Gyms here say interest in mixed martial arts, in particular, has spiked among the young in the past three years. For example, Juggernaut Fight Club, an MMA training gym in Boat Quay, has seen the number of teens at its facility jump by about 40 per cent since 2011.
Most people who practise the sport are boys, although the number of girls is rising.
Clubs here attribute its growing popularity to the fact that more competitions are being held here, which raise the profile of MMA.
For example, the Ultimate Fighting Championship held its inaugural show in South-east Asia, UFC Fight Night, here in January.
One Fighting Championship (FC) holds matches here every year. Started in 2011, One FC, whose headquarters are in Singapore, is said to be the biggest MMA organisation in Asia.
Its most recent competition was held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium last Friday, featuring 20 top fighters from around the world.
Their children's safety is the top concern for parents, and sports clubs here say they take this very seriously.
Mr Arvind Lalwani, 34, head coach at Juggernaut Fight Club, says those who want to pick up contact sports should look at a club's training facilities and the credentials of its instructors.
"A good MMA gym will have an instructor who knows what he's talking about and will teach things like how to break your fall," he says.
Sports doctors advise parents not to be unduly concerned.
Dr Fadzil Hamzah, resident physician of Changi Sports Medicine Centre in Changi General Hospital, says studies have shown that while cuts, bruises and strains are common, critical injuries are not.
The concerns might stem from the fact that MMA seems to be about hitting an opponent repeatedly, he says.
But he points out that it involves other techniques too, instead of just striking the head with heavy blows.
MMA referees will also stop matches the moment one party is unable to defend himself.
Some parents are also concerned that pursuing these sports may affect their children's studies.
This is why some parents expect their teens to maintain their grades or they will be made to give up their combat sport.
Mr Sim, for instance, says Kai Xiong "should employ the same discipline in his studies".
He expects the teen to maintain his grades or he would have to cut down on his training time.
Undergraduate Tan Shi Yin is one youngster who has managed to juggle her love of muay thai and her studies.
The 20-year-old picked up muay thai five years ago. She faced objections from her mother initially.
"But she let me do it as long as it didn't affect my studies," she recalls.
Her mum, housewife Quah Show Woan, 54, did not want her daughter to take part in competitions or train every day after school. But she had to give in when Shi Yin persisted, and the girl eventually did well enough in her A levels to make it to the National University of Singapore's arts and social sciences faculty.
"She leaves me no choice and is very determined," says a resigned Madam Quah.
The teens do consider their parents' feelings though. For example, most of them do not want their parents to watch their competitions live as they are worried their mums and dads might get upset.
Says Kai Xiong, whose elder brother cheers him on instead: "Even though you can take the hits, your parents might feel the heartache."
This article was first published on MONTH DAY, 2014.
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