Joanna Yap – From writer to fighter

Winner of Sports Reporting Award
Kenyalang Journalism Awards 2016

By Danielle Sendou Ringgit
[email protected]

IF YOU GREW UP during the late ’80s or ’90s, some of you might be familiar with the computer game Street Fighters. Made out of numerous fighting characters with their own special skills and strength, the game was undeniably addictive.

For Joanna Yap Yen Ching, who just won the Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA) quarter finals on June 13, the game was one of the factors that ignited her interest in martial arts when she was younger.

Joanna (right) won June 13 quarter finals against Sabahan Mardiana Mohd Maulana by unanimous decision. -Photo from Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA) Facebook page.

Joanna (right) fighting fit during her June 13 quarter final fight against Sabahan Mardiana Mohd Maulana. She won by unanimous decision. -Photo from Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA) Facebook page.

“When the Street fighter game came out, I was still in primary school. I was a bit of a tomboy growing up and mostly the ones I hung around with were guys. So, what do guys do? They imitate the game,” said Joanna.

How it all started

Joanna Yap

Joanna Yap in her workclothes as a feature writer at The Borneo Post.

“I have always been somebody who is very physical and I had always wanted to learn martial arts since school but for some reason I never took it up. And my next encounter in martial arts was in college but it was nothing serious,” said Joanna of her previous experience in martial arts.

With a background in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), Joanna admitted that after college, she was not involved with martial arts until Studio 23 opened and offered a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) based program about four years ago.

“It started out with a boxing BJJ-based program but I did not really start into BJJ until about two years ago. By that time I was already in my 30s.” said Joanna, who works as a feature writer at The Borneo Post.

While it is common for most fighters to have started training while they were younger, Joanna did not let age get in her way.

“That was because the program was there and it was available. I do wish I have started earlier, but the circumstances weren’t there for me to start earlier,” said Joanna. “A lot of people are thinking, you are in your thirties, why do you want to do this kind of thing?”

“To that I say, I am in denial. This is what I want to do at this point of time and the opportunity is here. If I don’t take it in five years’ time, I would be five years older and the opportunity would be harder for me to take, so I might as well take the opportunity now when things are right,” said the 36-year-old fighter.

Aside from BJJ, Joanna also started to take up muay thai classes at SS Fighter Muay Thai Gym a year ago although admittedly it was not as frequent as she like it to be due to her conflicting work schedule and her BJJ program.

Grateful for the opportunity


When asked who her dream fight match would be, Joanna said that it would be her next one as she is grateful for the opportunity given to her.

Making a good use of the opportunity given, for Joanna, MIMMA is a good resource to find out where one need to improve.

“If you want to find out where you need to improve, the fastest way is to put yourself in competition settings. Like right now what would happened in the MIMMA round is the accumulation of what people had been doing for the previous years or months,” said Joanna.

“The MIMMA competitors have different backgrounds like muay thai, karate or taekwando and they have been doing this things for years. So what you seen on MIMMA is the reflection of all the training they done beforehand. So, one thing competition does to you is that it accelerates your learning and your growth,” she added.

Like the previous MIMMA seasons, the third installment never fails to create excitement among the spectators. Held for the second time in Kuching last March, the anticipation seemed to have doubled since MIMMA opened up a Women Catchweight Division and a foreign category.

“The match was very exciting. You have people who have had their eye on MMA for a while and at the same time you had people who only know, especially the women and the opportunity is there. So, you have a very nice mix and spread. So for me, that was very exciting,” said Joanna.

Being one of the 16 finalists in the women category for the ladder match held on May, Joanna managed to beat out fellow contestant, Chan Jing Man from Johor by unanimous decision.

“During the match, my aim was this; when I go into the cage, I want two things; either the referee is going to call a technical knockout (TKO) or the other person is going to tap out. And I was trying really hard to do those two things to her, but she did not,” she explained.

“So after my match against Chan Jing Man, I feel very grateful because I had the chance to fight with somebody who is willing to give it all. I have only won one match so far and hoping to make it all the way to the finals,” she added.

A fighter’s worst fear

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Practicing martial arts is not without risks. For Joanna, she had her worst injury last year somewhere between June and July where she sustained a neck injury during a BJJ training.

“We were practicing throws in the studio. What happened was, someone pulled me and my neck was in the wrong position, so I landed on top of my head,” she explained.

While she was lucky that nothing was broken, for six weeks, Joanna could not go on a full training and admitted a nagging fear of what could happen. As she was informed by her doctor that head and neck injuries may only show signs some time later, she had to be constantly aware of how her body was feeling.

“I know that there are worse injuries out there, but there is a fear that what if I injured my spine? The worst case scenario is paralysis. And another one is that my body would not be how it used to be. It was very frustrating. I have always been a physical person and BJJ has been a part of my life,” she said.

Aside from that she also had well-meaning relatives hinting maybe she should consider stopping training BJJ for fear that she might sustain an even worse injury.

Six weeks later, Joanna slowly eased back into training but, somewhere between August and September last year during training, the left side of her body went numb and her fingers started tingling.

“Next day, I went to see a neuro specialist and found out I had a protruding disc as a result of an earlier injury. So, I was out for another six weeks,” she said.

Since the incident, Joanna paid special attention to her body by giving it time to recover to the best that it can and making sure she puts herself in a position where her neck is always protected and so far, the injuries have not returned.

What makes her stay

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Despite her past injuries and fears, Joanna did not let that keep her from pursuing her passion. Her motivation has been the opportunities that keep opening up for her to carry on with martial arts and also the drive to improve herself to move better and be a better fighter.

“Also it is for my personal satisfaction because I want to know where I stand. It is a bit of an addiction. There is no better feeling in the world knowing that you trained for something that is hard for you to get. But you keep doing it even though you feel that you suck.

“And finally, one day something clicks. That clicking feeling is very addictive. Because it is a challenge that you have wrestled for so long and when you finally get it, you feel that all the investment has been worth it,” she added.

What’s next?

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When asked would she be interested in making a career out of this, Joanna said that it would be nice to mix it into a full-time job.

“Right now this is a very strong interest or passion. I’m not a big fish, I only won an amateur match,” she said.

“There are a lot of good quality fighters in Malaysia. There are women who have been doing this earlier behind the scenes and what I would to do is to find out who they are so that they can be recognised for what they have done. What we see now for women’s MMA, somebody has to break the ground before and this happened way before out of the spotlight of the social media and newspapers because women’s sport seems to take a back seat,” said Joanna.

To those who are interested in taking up MMA and are actually interested in pursuing their passion, Joanna said that it is best not to be afraid, but instead look for those who can help you and have your best interests at heart.

“Because when you are a beginner, you don’t have the experience to tell which one is good or bad and you need somebody to show you. Look for instructors who has your best interest in heart. Because chances are, they are not only going to be looking out for you, but they are going to be looking out for all the students. And the culture would come down to the students. So that means you will have teammates who will be looking out for you,” said Joanna.

Photos of MIMMA tryouts and ladder match courtesy of YK Tang Photography.

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