The Good Fight
Kapap Academy’s chief instructor, Qin Yunquan, can easily throw an aggressor twice her weight, and has high hopes of arming 100,000 women and children in India with an arsenal of self-defence skills.
BY DESIREE KOH
s martial artists, we should see ourselves not just as practitioners of the art but modern warriors of justice. This was a tweet by 29-year-old Qin Yunquan, who was named The Straits Times “Singaporean of the Year” in 2017.
The former mixed martial arts competitor and national wrestler is also the chief executive and instructor of Kapap Academy. The martial arts school provides free self-defence classes for disadvantaged seniors and victims of rape and domestic violence, alongside training in the Israeli hand-to-hand combat sport it derived its name from. Sounds like someone who is not to be trifled with, but there was a time where Qin felt less than self-assured. As a 19-year-old grappling with self-esteem and body image issues, she suffered from anorexia. The teenager was only jolted into getting healthier when her doctor cautioned that losing an additional 2kg could end her life.
As part of her recovery process, she picked up kapap in 2007. Qin was mentored by Teo Yew Chye, who founded the Kapap Academy after his brother was killed in a violent attack. As a former psychologist, Teo had counselled victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Hearing about their traumatic experiences and then meeting a growing number of young victims of sexual assault, Qin realised that most of them had a tendency to keep silent for years. Filled with a sense of moral outrage, she was spurred to become a social activist and self-defence instructor.
“I cannot let evil just happen, knowing that I have the ‘how’ to pull those who need help out of their shell and find a different way of dealing with their hardships,” she shares. “Overcoming my own adversities helps me to better understand victims, and impart skills for addressing potential dangers they may face.”
Starting out in a profession dominated by men was not easy. Qin faced objections from her family, who felt that her new passion did not conform to the traditional Asian ideals of femininity. She also doubted her skills in martial arts, but soldiered on with dogged determination. This included training at renowned Brazilian jiu-jitsu school Gracie Academy in the US, whose founders have been credited for establishing the sport.
Qin’s hard work paid off, and she eventually became the first woman in the Asia-Pacific region to be awarded a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Today, she is also a certified Executive Bodyguard, proving gender stereotypes to be redundant.
Recognising his protégé’s talent, Teo asked Qin to take over the reins of his academy in 2013. The pair recognised that some 80 per cent of their students were female, and that many Asian women who trained with them lacked the athleticism and psycho-motor skills required in several martial art forms.
Thus they co-developed Modern Street Combatives (MSC), a fighting style that blends kapap, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, American catch wrestling and other martial arts, among others. Designed to help people of all ages, fitness and strength levels become more alert and mentally prepared for real-life attacks, MSC involves identifying pre-attack body cues and de-escalating potential conflicts to avoid danger.
To date, Kapap Academy has taught MSC to more than 50,000 students from schools, multinational corporations and non-profit organisations.
“I felt it was essential to learn self-defence, as safety is of utmost importance. Very realistic scenarios were re-enacted during the classes I attended, and the moves taught involved useful and simple skills that do not need years of training to execute,” shares Natalie Teh, a student at Kapap Academy.
Qin also works with local women’s rights advocacy groups such as AWARE to equip victims of domestic abuse with self-defence skills, while providing counselling to victims pro bono.
For her work in equipping vulnerable groups with self-defence skills, Qin was named one of the winners of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award 2017. Open to selected Commonwealth nations and established by the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, the award recognises exceptional people or organisations that are making a difference to improve ordinary citizens’ lives.
“When Iʼm 70 or 80 and MSC is still around, and someoneʼs learning and doing good stuff with it, Iʼve done my job. Iʼve done what I want to do in this world.”
Qin Yunquan, chief instructor of Kapap Academy
“I see myself as a messenger going places to spread what I know,” says Qin, who spent the past year interacting with winners of the Award from other Commonwealth nations.
EMPOWERING LIVES OVERSEAS
The plucky instructor now has her sights set on empowering women and children in developing countries like India. Recognising that the key to success is having a trusted local partner who can best identify the most disadvantaged groups, Qin has connected with an Indian female entrepreneur who shares the same goals, thanks to an introduction by a mutual friend.
Next, she plans to personally train instructors in India in MSC, and eventually set up a school offering self-defence classes to organisations there. With the income earned, she hopes to offer free classes to those who can’t afford them.
Qin envisions a pay-it-forward ecosystem where experienced instructors will teach the same skills in new areas, thus reaching her goal of empowering 100,000 people in India. Having personally trained with coaches from across several continents, she explains that the key to her upcoming project’s success is adaptability. “Cultural differences are very real,” says Qin, who foresees that the Indian women from traditional villages may be resistant to body combat. “I have to be mindful about customising methodologies that address gender sensitivities.”
Agreeing with her is Hong Yiying, one of her kapap students from Singapore who brought MSC to the village of Gong Feng in Gan Su Province, China as part of her volunteer work. “Village children are more vulnerable to abuse, and might not even realise they are entitled to protect themselves from mistreatment by adults such as parents and teachers,” says Hong. With that in mind, the children were taught MSC techniques that were modified to suit their needs. These did not require much physical strength, and were aligned with lessons on situational awareness, body boundary protection and sex education. The results were encouraging. “It was heartening to see them practise the drills more actively and asking questions. This reinforced my belief in helping them with MSC, so that they can become a force for change for a better future in their communities,” she says.
As Qin looks to a potential end-2018 kick-off for her India campaign, she reflects on this new direction in a career driven by sporting excellence. “The accolades aren’t the most important,” she says. “When I’m 70 or 80 and MSC is still around, and someone’s learning and doing good stuff with it, I’ve done my job. I’ve done what I want to do in this world.”
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2018 . Issue 2
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