SINGAPORE - When Ms Cindy Seah was 22, she joined her sister for karate classes to be her sparring partner.
Little did she know that it would lead her to not only a life calling, but also a life partner.
Now 61 and with close to 40 years of experience under her belt, Ms Seah is a 6th Dan karate instructor and likely the oldest female karate teacher here.
She has won awards in various competitions including the SEA Games.
One of her notable achievements was upstaging a Japanese opponent to win gold in the women's below 53kg free-sparring event at the 5th Asian Shitoryu Karate-Do Invitational Championships held in Singapore in 1989.
However, Ms Seah's journey was not an easy one.
When she first enrolled in karate classes in 1981, her parents were not supportive as they saw it as a tomboy pursuit.
"They did not come for my matches and even asked why I brought home the medals and trophies," she says. "I ended up keeping them in the storeroom."
The year she started karate, she met the love of her life, Mr Robert Tan, 61, who was then her instructor. They married in 1985. They have two sons aged 33 and 26, and a daughter, 30.
Ms Seah had to juggle her responsibilities as a young mother while training for competitions.
"My girl was only five months old so I had to hang a sarong for her to sleep at my training place," says Ms Seah, who was training for the 16th SEA Games in 1991.
"When she slept, I trained. When she cried, I rocked the net. It was a sacrifice. Luckily, my husband was very understanding as he does karate as well."
Besides having to juggle training with the responsibilities of being a mother, she would also get picked on because of her gender.
According to her, there were not a lot of women in the karate scene in the 1980s, so she would often have to spar with men.
"They would say things like, 'You are a woman right? Try me,'" says Ms Seah, who sustained a rib injury from a kick by a male karateka on one occasion. "I had to go all out to train to be better so that I could defend myself."
But these days, Ms Seah believes that mindsets have changed as she sees more women joining the martial art. "Most women now are very strong and well-educated, they know what they want and they stand up for themselves."
When she was in her late 30s, she decided to take a step back so that younger karatekas could shine and switched to teaching the Japanese martial art full-time instead.
With 36 years of coaching experience, she opened a school, Shitoryu Singapore Karate-Do Kai, with her husband in December 2015.
Despite suffering injuries such as a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2014, she continues to practise karate as it keeps her "healthy and strong" and is "healthy for the mind".
"It does not mean you're useless when you're in your 60s. You still can do a lot of things," she says.
"I still can do a lot of movements that involve speed and strength."
As an instructor, she enjoys meeting people from different walks of life and learning how to deal with students who have different strengths and weaknesses.
"When I see my students achieve great results in their tournament, that is my happiest moment," she says.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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