Cover Constance Lien (Photo: Evolve MMA)

The recent Tokyo Olympics 2020 changed the conversation of mental health in sports. Meet Singapore’s jiu-jitsu world champion Constance Lien, who contributes to the important narrative

When former competitive swimmer Constance Lien first tried Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), she never thought she’d take it this far and discover a new‑found confidence on the mat. After all, it wasn’t her first choice of martial arts. She had previously dabbled with muay thai and boxing, but was only nudged into BJJ by her friends, who also made the switch at that point. “Martial arts in general really intrigued me, and I chanced upon Evolve MMA when I did my initial research on Google. When I first signed up, I was pretty hesitant to try BJJ, but I also thought: never say never.”

Five years later and she is glad she’s made the switch. For the first couple of years at the martial arts academy, her time was split between swimming and BJJ competitions. That was when she won her first two medals as a white belt holder and those milestones proved to be a turning point in her career. “The biggest highlight is winning the World International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championships in 2019. It’s every BJJ athlete’s dream to win at the Worlds, and winning it helped me prove to myself what I’m capable of and that this sport is meant for me.”

For a long time, the martial art form has been viewed as a rough and gripping sport. This tends to put athletes off—females in particular—from trying. This cannot be further away from the truth. Lien admits that she had once shared the same thought due to the sport’s nature, resulting in more contact. She also didn’t want to embarrass herself on the mat. But one trial session slowly became two, and she has since grown to love the art of BJJ during her time training and competing. “I love that it is celebration of individuals of different shapes and sizes. There are different weight categories that encourage athletes to embrace their bodies, and allow them to perform their best.”

The switch to take her training to the mat was no easy feat. Having spent a bulk of her teens swimming competitively, she realised that she had slowly started to lose her passion for it, and with the change, comes a completely different training routine to get used to. “You need to put in the hours and dedicate time to swimming every day, with maybe one day of rest. However, with BJJ, rest is crucial, and my coach always reminds me that it’s the quality of training that counts.”

See also: Home Workouts in Singapore: Top Tips and Training Advice by Fitness Experts and World Champions

Like many professional athletes, moments of doubt are common where you start to question your own potential and strength. And it amplifies louder when qualities such self-worth and confidence are tied to personal accolades and achievements. “I’ve always struggled with self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth since my swimming career and I carried over that baggage to BJJ. But I realised that I was hungry for achievement for all the wrong reasons. Winning is never constant and as athletes, we should never hang onto that.”

Today, she attributes her success to her tribe she surrounds herself with. Her coach, Teco Shinzato, who also happens to be coach to Singapore's national jiu-jitsu team as well, is an inspiring role model for this rising athlete. “He's always been there for me and is very empathetic to my mental health, physical health, my training, and my achievements in the sport,” she says. 

“One thing I always stand by is to never short-change yourself. I’m all about breaking limits and achieving the best version of ourselves—whether it’s in mental or physical health. The former has always been seen as a negative topic due to its surrounding stigma, but it is as important as the latter.”

See also: National Para-Swimmer Toh Wei Soong on the Importance of Inclusion in Sports

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