October 13, 2017

I am on my way. I am ready to go
Gotta go baby. I am ready.
Even if you hit me or step on me,
I don’t die.
Leave me alone.

These are the lyrics to a song that plays every time Song Ka Yeon enters the arena. Ka Yeon’s father passed away when she was 15. Yet, growing up in a single-parent family and living alone in multiple cities from a young age, built her resilience. While much of the media surrounding her focuses on how she went from being a ring girl to an MMA fighter, there is a lot more to her story than meets the eye. 

“My previous gym wanted to create buzz, so they covered up the fact that I have always been practising martial arts,” says Ka Yeon. This misrepresentation by the gym (one of the biggest in South Korea), comes alongside further allegations of sexual harassment and emotional abuse suffered by Ka Yeon, who has filed charges against them. Because of the controversy, no other South Korean training gym was willing to take her on. An invitation to train at Evolve Mixed Martial Arts in Singapore could not have been more timely for Ka Yeon, who is now based here.

In the flesh, Ka Yeon is at once ordinary and extraordinary. Unlike most girls her age who are busy piling on cosmetics, her face devoid of make-up is nothing but flawless, and her expressive hazel eyes remind me of why she is labelled as the “Beautiful Fighter”. The Korean native has only been in Singapore for 5 months, but her proficiency in spoken English is highly commendable and shows just how adaptable she is outside of the ring.


On breaking the stereotype:

I have trained in martial arts since I was a child, and always wanted a job related to martial arts. I attended a school for bodyguards, which taught me about protecting people and different martial arts styles. I wanted to go into the military from there, but about 5 or 6 years ago, I encountered many MMA pro fighters in South Korea. Their coaches saw potential in me and asked if I want to do MMA. I thought it was an interesting opportunity and I could still have a career related to martial arts.

Because I am a woman, people often wonder why I do MMA, and why I wouldn’t prefer to be in a dress. I don’t care. In Korean culture especially, if you are young and you are a woman, they look down on you. It happens at work—and everywhere too. When I was young, I always felt unable to express myself. But now that I am older, I don’t care about what people think of me, because I’ve realised that it is not important to me. 

On being a beautiful face:

I was a ring girl only once and honestly, I didn’t like the experience. The gym that I was with wanted to get attention by focusing on how I was a ring girl before debuting as an MMA fighter. It became my story in the news, and that hurt me. I learnt martial arts as a child, but everyone only saw me as a pretty face, which can be good marketing. I am grateful when people give me compliments and call me a beautiful fighter. It isn’t bad.  But it hides my abilities, and I want to be known for my skills as an MMA fighter.


On standing up for herself:

My parents knew even when I was a child, that if I want to do something, it’s impossible to stop me. I always prove myself to others through hard work and effort. Even though there is respect, I don’t listen to what people say, simply because I know I want to do. I ignore it when someone speaks to me negatively, and just go ahead. Sometimes, I realise my actions were wrong later, but I always want to do it my way first. 

On hardship:

It was tough growing up. My childhood was a lot more dangerous and stressful than most, but I felt that it prepared me to overcome challenges quickly. I am thankful for what it has made me today, and I accept my fate. When I come across a bad situation, it pushes me harder and makes me want to train harder to overcome it. I believe that as a survivor, because of my childhood,  I can make decisions on my own and fix them, if they are wrong. I have come to understand that if I don’t speak up, others will only look down on me even more. Now I have a lot of good friends and many good people around me.

The only thing I hate now is cardio exercises. I always wonder why I have to do it every time when I am training.


On spending time by herself:

Being with friends is nice, but sometimes I need time alone. When I am confused or feeling messed up, I need alone time to think. It’s normal to have low moments, but I catch myself quickly, and recover fast. If I leave it as it is, I get very drained and cannot focus on my training. I eat my favourite food, relax and think about other things, whenever I feel down.

On Singapore:

Korea’s MMA scene is really quite good, but I know it’s not the best. I’ve always wanted to learn more about other countries’ MMA scenes, and when Evolve contacted me, I came. I am not afraid of new experiences and I want to keep doing new things. I thought: If I can’t speak English, I can just learn. I like adventures and learning about other cultures.

So far, everything has been great in Singapore. When I am not training, I watch movies or read. I train Mondays to Fridays and sometimes on the weekend, so I want to avoid outdoor activities. I love the food here: I like fish ball noodles, chicken rice and chill crab. Evolve brought me to try chilli crab when I first came to Singapore, and now my Korean friends always ask where I had it.

And I also love the weather here. Unlike Korea where there are four seasons, it is hot here, all year-round. It is hard to train when the weather is cold. Warm-ups take a longer time and you tire out more easily. I am very adaptable.

On dating:

I am currently single. My ideal other half is similar to many other female fighters. I only wish to find someone who can understand me. A lot of guys don’t understand my schedule—why I am always training and can’t spend time together like normal couples do.

I have never heard of Tinder, but it seems scary.  (I tell her about how some of our local celebrities found their other halves on Tinder.) Really? What?! Now I need to download that. My bio will probably just be “I am SKY (for Song Ka Yeon).” That will be it.

On the future:

I have never really thought about it. I don’t think about the near future because I always focus on the now. I still get production teams contacting me to go on shows but that takes up a lot of time. You need to spend a whole day shooting. For now, I want to work on myself as a fighter and I’m happy with what I am doing.

In this world, there are many musicians who can sing very well. But only a few are popular. It is the same for fighters. There are many good fighters, but only some can find an audience to express themselves. I hope that when I am in the cage, people can feel my happiness, like when a dancer goes up on stage. I want people watching it to be happy as well, and realise that it is not just a fight. At the end of my career, I hope to be remembered as a smart and aggressive fighter—I want to be recognised as a real martial arts artist.


Images Credits: Evolve Mixed Martial Arts