Rachel Tan (pictured right) is just like a lot of fighters in the sport. She came into it wanting to try something different and ended up getting hooked. Taking up martial arts helped her overcome some shyness, and bolstered her confidence. She went from karate, to Muay Thai, to now jiu-jitsu at the 10th Planet gym, being coached by Kim Ferguson. She is finding the move beneficial.
“Kim Ferguson (pictured left) is one of the greatest training partners. Some of them inspire me with their amazing stories and that drives me accomplish my goals,” Tan states. “I find that it helps makes me strong and be able to take care of myself. Not only that, but I learn more and more about myself. I would have never thought I had it in me the whole time. It opens my eyes to appreciate such small things. What more, I get to meet such wonderful people.”
For Tan and Ferguson there is a special hurdle they are conquering. Tan is deaf. It is not something new to martial arts, as mma star Matt Hamill is hearing impaired. Tan sees him as an inspiration to her community.
“Matt Hamill is a great role model for the deaf and hard of hearing. I’ve seen and heard a lot of deaf guys who have wrestled when they were young like Hamill, but I’m not sure if they continued to practice Martial Arts.”
A slow influx of fighters with different degrees of deafness are starting to come into martial arts as it gains popularity. Tan is seeing some of the obstacles before her and is trying her best to catch up with the hearing jiu-jitsu students.
“I still feel left out when instructors tell details to everyone in the classes, and other important information,” Tan admits. “All I have to do is watch and observe. The instructors would correct me once they see the mistakes. I get frustrated sometimes because I usually get things really fast but now I’m learning more advanced movements that involve detail.”
“Moreover, my boyfriend, Jason always tries to interpret for me, but it is difficult for him to keep up so he ends up summarizing. I want to know word by word because I loathe missing out on a lot of news since I am extremely motivated and committed. It has been difficult for me, but I don’t give up and attempt to find another way to enjoy it.”
Ferguson has been helping bridge the gap.
“We all at the gym learned a lot of sign, and we make up signs for each of the moves,” Ferguson explains. “Eddie (Bravo) has some crazy names for his moves, so we have to make up signs for her.”
The biggest problems happen during tournaments according to Tan.
“You know how competitors are able to listen to their coaches while competing in tournaments? I know many of my supporters, teammates, and coaches would yell while I compete and I get frustrated because my weakness is when I get nervous, I don’t think clearly. Therefore, I make several mistakes or miss the greatest opportunities for submissions. My next step is to figure out my own game plans in different situations. I’m pretty much alone out there on the mat during competition. I have no choice but to figure it out on my own. I can look over from time to time at my coaches but it’s hard because I can be positioned to where I can’t see them. Nevertheless, I do see some of them attempt to make efforts to work things out with me and I appreciate that.””
Ferguson says she is hoping to make a difference when it comes to hearing impaired people in competitions.
“We are just now coming into the coaching difficulties with coaching her, so next time we wanna talk to the refs and see if we can get one of the coaches to walk around the mat so she can see them, because she needs an eye view of them to be able to get any coaching from them.”
Tan does see herself as less of a fighter, but someone who has to conquer a few more battles. When people see she is involved in jiu-jitsu, she hopes they see her as a martial artist first, and everything else is just secondary.
“When I tell them that I am in jiu-jitsu, they find it hard to believe with a puzzled look because first of all, I’m female. Secondly, they keep telling me that I’m such a small person. Lastly, but not least, the fact that I’m deaf. Mostly they just ask about my deafness. How do I learn in jiu-jitsu class, and so on.”
“I don’t want everyone to have pity on me because I’m deaf. I’m working hard on this art and sport. I want to be treated equally.”