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Chance interview turns journo into kickboxer

Mar 3rd, 2010 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News, Sport

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HIGH KICK: Jai Manager Leong Su-Lin demonstrates Muay Thai technique with head trainer Wimbledon

The journalist-turned-kickboxer at the helm of Wellington’s newest boxing club credits her career transformation to a chance interview with one of CLEO magazine’s most eligible bachelors in Singapore 10 years ago.

Leong Su-Lin says she had never considered trying a sport like kickboxing before the fateful interview in 2000.

Su-Lin opened the doors of JAI Thai Boxing Gym in Victoria Street in November with the help of Thai professional boxer ‘Wimbledon’.

She says: “I was a journalist for 10 years, and started out working in Singapore for CLEO magazine where I did the ‘CLEO’s Most Eligible Bachelor’ story”.

“One of the guys I interviewed happened to be a Muay Thai fighter, and he convinced me to take up the sport for fitness,” she recalls.

It didn’t take long for Su-Lin to become hooked. Four years later, when she left CLEO to work on The Straits Times newspaper in Singapore, she continued to train seriously.

“Because I was in journalism I worked quite long hours, and as a result I was able to accumulate a lot of leave. So three times a year I would go off to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand to train.”

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WIMBLEDON JAI: Veteran of over 200 professional Muay Thai fights

It was during her training in Thailand under the tutelage of Wimbledon – a professional kick boxer since the age of seven with 200 professional fights to his name – that Su-Lin, a former Wellingtonian, thought of setting up a club in New Zealand.

“I wanted to move back to New Zealand and spend more time doing Thai boxing, but in New Zealand there was nowhere that  I would feel comfortable or happy training,” she says.

“I wanted Thai-style training – not necessarily for fighting as such – but fight level training, as in with proper technique and so on.”

Wimbledon agreed to move to New Zealand, arriving four months ago to take up the position of head trainer at the gym. Finally Su-Lin’s dream has been realised, but the process wasn’t without its setbacks, she adds.

“It was difficult getting Wimbledon over due to immigration regulations. They wanted to see paper credentials, and what kind of qualifications he had, and it was difficult conveying his fighting pedigree in those terms,” she says.

“I was initially forced to advertise locally and nationally to see if there was anyone here [in New Zealand] that would be suitable as a trainer. But while I had quite a few applicants, not one was at a standard suitable to be a head trainer – I set very, very high standards here, because that’s how they train in Thailand.”

Su-Lin says that one of Wimbledon’s strengths as a trainer is that he has already had a lot of experience in training foreigners.

“While he was in Thailand he trained a lot of foreigners like me who wanted to learn to fight. I also asked him to come and work in Hong Kong for three months, but the people over there really train for cardio as opposed to fighting – it’s more of a vanity thing.”

New Zealanders also have a unique style and approach to training, she says.

“People in New Zealand may or may not be training to actually fight necessarily, but they train with a lot of heart, or ‘jai’. Jai is Thai for strength of heart, mind and body – and that’s what we try and symbolise here.”

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TEAM JAI: Leong Su-Lin and Wimbledon

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is a Multimedia Journalist. After spending several years in the UK working in finance and administration, he returned to NZ last year to study Journalism. He has a keen interest in music, travel, economics, politics and literature.
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