We Asked 3 Real-Life Martial Artists What It Takes To Be A True Fighter

"There's no money and nobody is gonna support you until you're at the top. So you need to be in it for the love of the sport."

Cover image via DR Fotografi/Facebook

We spoke to three incredible martial artists to find out what it really takes to be a fighter:

1. Shem Rock went from being on the wrong side of the law to becoming a professional MMA fighter

Shem grew up in a rough part of Liverpool and admits to being a rebel. Without positive role models in his life, Shem was often in trouble with the police and ended up getting kicked out of school.

Unable to complete his studies, Shem's older brother offered to bring him to Malaysia, where he'd been living for the past 5 years. Shem took the trip, fell in love with the country, found martial arts and Monarchy MMA (a mixed martial arts gym), and has never looked back.

Image via Shem

As a professional MMA fighter, Shem trains in multiple disciplines three times a day, six days a week. A self-proclaimed grappler, he leans more towards wrestling and jiu-jitsu, but also adds MMA, boxing, Muay Thai, wall wrestling, and other martial arts to his training regime.

"The man I am today and the lifestyle I lead are so different compared to who I used to be. Now I'm able to inspire others."

Professionally, Shem lists winning the Malaysian Invasion title as his biggest achievement. But to him, the greatest achievement happened off the mats.

Since turning his life around, Shem is proud to teach others and guide them on their journeys. He spends his days at the Monarchy MMA gym, both training and teaching.

"To prepare for fights I wake up early every morning, go to sleep early every night, abstain from sex, always stay in shape, and eat a clean plant-based diet all year round."

Image via Shem

As for the reason why Shem chooses to fight? "I just like to fight it’s that simple for me." He adds, "the people I inspire keep me going daily. The support and love I get is unreal. My greatest achievement is the man that I've become." 

Shem's advice to aspiring fighters? To know that it's not going to be easy. "There's no money and nobody is gonna support you until you're at the top. So you need to be in it for the love of the sport."

He adds that it's important to work with legit coaches, always give your all in every session, take advice from seniors, don't be close minded or stubborn, and to find your weaknesses and make them your strengths.

Follow Shem's journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat.

2. Penang-born Colleen Augustin first joined a gym three years ago to learn self-defense, and is now a full-time athlete specialising in Muay Thai

Colleen has lived in KL since she was 8 and has a very close-knit family. From the time she was little, Colleen hiked with her family, played basketball with her dad, learned several martial arts, and competed in sports year-round. Now as an adult, she continues to practice Muay Thai and Obstacle Racing with her brother.

A graduate of an American homeschooling programme, Colleen is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and soon-to-be SGX Certified Coach. From working as an English teacher for refugee students to an assistant web content manager at a church, her portfolio is as diverse as her many talents. Colleen is currently a part-time personal trainer and a full-time athlete.

Her evolution into martial arts started three years ago in a rather unexpected way. Colleen first joined Monarchy with her family to learn Krav Maga as self-defense, but ended up learning Muay Thai under her coach, Conrado Furlan. Over the years she grew as a fighter and added other martial arts to her regime; Brazilian jiu-jitsu with Professor Bruninho Barbosa, wrestling with Coach Mehdi Bagheri, boxing with Coach Jonathan Clemons, and MMA under Agilan Thani.

When asked why she trains and fights, Colleen replied, "My teammates and coaches... always push me to be better every day." When it comes to competing, Colleen says it's the adrenaline and thrill that gets her going. As for the hardest part of it all? "When your body & mind are against you."

"I train hard and try to train smart. I go for my physio sessions at least once a week, more than once if needed. Mentally, I envision myself in the fight and what I would do to achieve the outcome I want."

Leading up to competitions, Colleen trains three times a day, having her meals and resting in between. She's a vegan and follows a whole foods/plant-based diet throughout the year.

For Colleen, her greatest achievement in the sport is being blessed with solid teammates and a team of coaches behind me. She adds, "I know that if I have them, I can go far."

Colleen's dream fight would be against UFC Fighter Rose Namajunas, "because to be in the cage with her would just be an honour... She is so strong mentally and physically. I strive to be at that level."

As for her top tips for those interested in getting into the sport, Colleen says, "Don’t think you have to 'get in shape for the sport' to start doing the sport. You WILL get in shape by doing the sport itself. You don’t get fit before going into the gym, you go to the gym to GET fit. Same principles apply."

Follow Colleen's journey on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

3. Khye Shern Chong works full-time as a research supervisor and trains in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling five to six times a week

Growing up in the small town of Jerteh, Terengganu, Khye Shern moved to Penang in 2010 to further his studies in USM and currently works as a research supervisor.

Training for the past three years, Khye Shern loves Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and any of the grappling arts, while incorporating striking arts like boxing and kickboxing to supplement his fighting style. He tries to train every day of the week as he's only able to do one session a day, unlike full-time athletes.

"I guess the hardest thing about training and competing would be the mental resolve required to actually show up to train every day or to commit to a competition or a fight, but the laziness usually disappears after I step into the gym."

"To me, mentally preparing for a fight would be to gather the courage required to step into the cage, and to turn any nervous or negative thoughts around and use them as a drive to train smarter."

Leading up to a competition, Khye Shern's normal day looks a lot like... a normal day. "I literally just go to work at my job in the morning," he says. After which he trains in the gym straight after work. Depending on the day of the week, Khye Shern works on striking, takedowns, or BJJ.

When it comes to diet, Khye Shern allows himself to eat anything as long as it's within a set range of calories and amount of protein.

Despite his growth personally and professionally over the past three years, Khye Shern states that the one person he always returns to fight is Woon, from his home gym Penang Top Team. He adds, "no matter who I fought and competed against, as soon as I return and train with him, I will be reminded of what a long journey I have ahead of me."

For Khye Shern, being able to train and compete constantly is his greatest achievement. "A few years ago, I would have not imagined myself to be doing what I am doing today, so I would say the more I grow in this sport the greater the sense of achievement I would have."

Khye Shern's advice for people who want to get into the sport is to be patient and enjoy the process. He adds, "There is rarely instant gratification in learning martial arts and one can never stop progressing."

Follow Khye Shern and his team's journey on Facebook and Instagram.

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