Lessons that stay true beyond the mat: Judo Coach Low Chee Kiang and Xuan Yi
23 November 2017
By Nicolette Mok
When TeamSG judoka Ang Xuan Yi felt lost and disheartened after falling short of a gold medal at the 2015 SEA Games, her coach encouraged her to take a break, instead of training harder.
The silver medallist, once so set only on her sporting goals, was tasked with finding a job and transferring her “judo spirit” into her new career.
It is a given that high performance coaches want the best for their athletes in the arena. They demand utter focus and dedication; they are constantly reaching higher, pushing further.
Coach Low Chee Kiang (third from left) keeps a close watch over his charges in training. Photo: SportSG
Xuan Yi’s coach Low Chee Kiang, however, considered a picture beyond the playing field.
While the national coach maintains high expectations and standards, it is the care that he displays for his athletes’ lives outside of the mats that sets him apart. Where necessary, he makes the decision to call time on the pressure.
To Low, teaching judo is far more than simply imparting decades worth of skills and techniques. It is a holistic upbringing; the instilling of values and life lessons through the martial art.
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“In judo, we learn how to be disciplined. We endure, we’re committed, we’re hardworking. You can use all these in your work. In fact, you should be successful if you apply the judo spirit into your career development,” the 63-year-old explained.
“If you give me a hundred trainees in a group, I can’t make a hundred gold medallists. There might only be one or two who will make it. The rest still need to live their lives. I always tell [my athletes] to [bring] their judo spirit into their work so that they can succeed in their careers, in their lives – rather than just in judo competitions,” he continued.
Team Singapore Judoka Ang Xuan Yi. Photo: SportSG
With some 45 years of coaching experience under his belt, the former national judoka, who has competed at regional, continental, and world levels, took over the reins of TeamSG in 2012. Xuan Yi, a 28-year old SEA Games veteran, has been training under his guidance ever since.
She shared: “After the 2015 SEA Games, I was a bit lost. At that point, I was thinking, should I go for another SEA Games? Another two years? Two years might sound okay, but it’s another two years of training, two years of hard work, two years of sacrifice. [Low] told me, why not look for a job? Why not look for a boyfriend?”
Adding that high-performance athletes chasing an Olympic dream often lived in their own “one-sided bubbles”, Xuan Yi appreciated Low’s encouragement toward her developing a career outside of judo, and it has certainly helped her to open up her perspectives.
Xuan Yi with her coach Low Chee Kiang. Photo: SportSG
The dedicated coach mentors his athletes beyond the arena as well, sharing a strong relationship with them and offering advice. As Low relates: “The relationship between Xuan Yi and me is that of student and instructor. But off the mats, it’s a different thing. We’re equals!”
“I can tell that he [Low] wants the best for us. He can just do his job here between 9-11am and then we’ll go off and that’s the end of the relationship. But he makes the effort to understand us; to talk to us,” she expressed, quipping that Low always reminded her of Yoda from the Star Wars franchise.
Indeed, for the wise and practical veteran, there is much more than just the sport and the results. It is the judo spirit that he hopes his athletes will understand and apply to their lives.
“He [Low] tells me that whatever it is I have to do at any one point, whether it’s sport or work, I need to do my best,” Xuan Yi remarked.
“We’re judo athletes and we have tenacity and discipline [in all things],” she concluded.