Wrestling with perception
She’s training overseas with some of the toughest and fiercest fighters on the planet in an effort to qualify for Australia’s GC2018 wrestling team, but Uyen Ha admits her mother is the scariest person she’s ever faced.
The 20-year-old Melbournian moved to Phuket a year ago to pursue a career in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), to be surrounded by battle-hardened warriors and to live and breathe fighting.
While she revels in the physical and often painful nature of her pursuit, it was a conversation with her mum that was the toughest of all.
"I actually didn't tell my mum I was moving to Phuket. I didn't have the heart or guts to tell her I was leaving," Ha told GC2018.com.
"I told her I was doing 'martial arts' which sounds super tame and zen so she was all for it, when she found out it was MMA and cage fighting she was so shocked and was not a fan.
"My mum really disapproved of my training when it started getting serious. So it was hard for her. But now she's proud of me and supports me with my endeavours."
Ha only picked up MMA four years ago when she was 16, but it wasn’t until she travelled to Thailand after finishing school that she realised it was her life’s true calling.
While her primary focus is on becoming one of the most ferocious and reputable MMA fighters on the planet, she is also passionate about wrestling and harbours a dream to wear the green and gold. She’ll get her chance to qualify for GC2018 in November at the national wrestling trials in Melbourne.
It is why her move to Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, a renowned gym where UFC, Bellator, WSOF and One FC fighters are constantly training, has been so beneficial to her development as a fighter.
When she talks to GC2018.com, she’s just finished a gruelling wrestling session with ONE FC flyweight world champion Kairat Akhmetov. It’s elite company.
"He slaughtered me, but it was good fun," she said.
"What we do in MMA wrestling is the fundamentals of Olympic wrestling.
"Wrestling is constantly challenging me to think differently and is so important for MMA. I still have a long way to go as I'm still getting my head around the whole thing. But it’s so good to train with such high level people to see that standard. The way they move and the way they train."
To the uninitiated, Ha is something of a paradox.
Fighting, blood and violence goes to the very core of what makes us human, she rationalises.
She speaks with great passion about the beauty of fighting and the human spirit’s primal instinct. Mike Tyson is her idol because of the power and intensity with which he fought.
On the other hand, she is a part-time university student, studying a double degree in Law and International Relations. Before she moved to Thailand to pursue a career in MMA, she was travelling 18 hours by bus from Melbourne to Canberra and back to study every week.
She doesn’t do anything by halves. It’s all or nothing.
But what looks like a double-life on the outside is due to a common misconception about fighting. Something outsiders to the sport rarely comprehend.
"People who aren’t in combat sports, even some family members and friends don’t understand the concept of combat sports," she explained.
"It seems violent. Painful. Even distasteful to some. They don’t understand why we would willingly ‘hurt’ someone else and vice versa, getting hurt.
"But in the combat sport community, it’s a lot more than that. It’s not about hurting others, but more so about yourself and constantly challenging your abilities.
"The martial artist is collected and skilled in their art. And training martial arts gives you the confidence and endurance that allows you to excel in other facets of life.
"Even if you’re not training on an a professional or Olympic level, combat sports is a lot more than what it looks on the surface. It really is a beautiful community.
"Often violent or egotistical people come to a martial arts gym, and they are humbled very quickly. They either quit or become a better person.
"Fighters and wrestlers are probably more peaceful and calm than the average person.”
It’s hard to imagine that Ha was once a really shy kid prone to stuttering. She would avoid eye contact at all costs.
Fighting and the MMA community has brought a newfound confidence to the diminutive star.
"It forces you to tackle things head on, it takes away so many boundaries that would considered not okay in real life, like close body contact," she said.
"The contact that MMA, wrestling and jujitsu require, it’s part of human desire to be in such contact with others.
"I love MMA and specifically wrestling because of that body to body physical contact. I find it gruelling but satisfying.
"When I’m in the ring or cage I am aggressive and fully focused on the task at hand. Outside, I’m just a normal friendly girl from Melbourne."
Ha knows she is fighting a battle to qualify for the Australian Commonwealth Games wrestling team.
The selection trials in November will pit her against some of the best wrestlers in the country including Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games representative Carissa Holland.
But battle is what Ha does best.
"She’s a great wrestler and has been wrestling a long time.
"I’ve never wrestled against her as this is my first year in my new weight class, but it will certainly be a challenge."
Tickets to GC2018 Wrestling are still available.