By Sasha Christian/Red Sports


Soh Keng Chuan is at his first SEA Games in Myanmar. (Photo © Sasha Christian/Red Sports)

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Soh Keng Chuan, 29, is at his first Southeast Asian (SEA) Games with his judo teammate, Benny Tan.

The duo will be the first Singaporeans compete in the Nage No Kata event.

We catch up with Keng Chuan to find out more about his judo journey.

Sasha Christian: challenges have you faced heading into the SEA Games?
Soh Keng Chuan: It’s not been easy for Benny and myself, having to juggle sporting commitments with full-time work duties. Our ability in time management is constantly honed. Heading down to train after a workday with accumulated fatigue, both mental and physical, has always reminded us of our passion for Judo, which is why we signed up for this in the first place.

What do you hope to achieve from this SEA Games?
Keng Chuan: It would be good to use the event as a springboard to promote Kata specifically and Judo as a whole within the local community. To date, not many outside the field are aware of Kata as a competitive event in the sport of Judo.

The uninitiated tend to have the mentality that my role as Tori (attacker) is more “glamorous” since I get to execute the techniques while my partner as Uke (receiver) merely is there to get thrown, but it’s really far from the case. Uke’s attack has to be real and intense, to provide Tori with adequate material to work with.

Only through a collaborative effort from both parties, would the technique as a whole be brought out to its full extent.

What do you hope to achieve at the SEA Games?
Keng Chuan: A podium finish would set the stage in our preparations for SEA Games 2015 on home ground, and also wrap up the year for us on a high note.

What was your training like in the lead up to the SEA Games?
Keng Chuan: We have trained together for three years as equals on the mats in this event, developing a level of mutual understanding and respect necessary for this event. More often than not, we find ourselves in agreement about our opinions on how certain portions of our performance went, before even having discussed it.

Due to our work commitments, we plan our training schedule on a monthly basis, around our respective work schedules. It’s not always been easy, but we have done all we can to constantly keep our eyes on the prize.

What were your previous results?
Keng Chuan: Coming in tops for the second year running at the Thailand International Judo Championships 2013 was a great experience and for us to hear our national anthem from the podium.

We were thrilled to have made the finals (top 6) at the continental level in the Asian Judo Kata Championships 2013.

It was an eye-opening experience to compete at the world stage in the World Judo Kata Championships 2013, where we finished ranked 15th among the very best in the world.

How many times have you been to the SEA Games?
Keng Chuan: This is the first time we will be going, and it is also the first time that Singapore is competing in this event. On both accounts, I hope it’s just the beginning of greater things to come!

Who is your role model?
Keng Chuan: Each and every Judo senior in Singapore whom I have encountered is a role model in his or her own way. I constantly endeavour to learn to emulate the good points, and also avoid the less favourable ones. This makes every senior a teacher to me, in one way or another.

At the end of the day, we’re all human and no one is perfect but the quest towards self-perfection is one of the higher ideals in Judo that we are taught to strive towards.

When and how did you get started in your sport?
Keng Chuan: At the age of 13, I was certain about wanting to join a sports-based CCA. Judo was never among my selected choices, but getting drafted in was the beginning of this journey that has led me here to where I currently am.

Which school did represent?
Keng Chuan: I represented Raffles Institution, Raffles Junior College and National University of Singapore. I regard the first six years as my most accomplished in the Shi’ai (combative sparring) event, where I was physically at my best as a fighter.

I count myself as honoured to have had some of the best judo athletes of my time among my teammates, as they had constantly driven me to push my own limits. It is this experience in Shi’ai which currently serves as the technical foundation for my pursuits in Kata.

What is your best school sport memory?
Keng Chuan: Winning the team event in the National Schools A Division Championship, a nail-biting set of five bouts that went right down the line. My team was trailing 1–2 before the last bout, and this was to be the very last match for my team together after six years. It was won by my teammate with a massive throw, which decided the tie in our favour due to a higher grade of winning points with the final score tied at 2-2.

If you did not do Judo, what other sport would you do?
Keng Chuan: Along the way, I found another interest in goalkeeping – soccer, floorball, handball, whatever. Serving as the very last line of defence takes a certain amount of confidence and requires one to stand up to a fair amount of scrutiny under pressure. Then again, I only developed the confidence to dive for the ball and land comfortably from Judo, so I would never know if I might enjoy it as much without it.

Any pre-event rituals?
Keng Chuan: The song “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack. I would play it on headphones, and envisage the Kata performance playing out in my mind. The even tempo throughout the song helps me to focus on the minute details I need to pay attention to. To date, even hearing the song by itself brings the image of Kata to my mind!

What is your biggest motivation?
Keng Chuan: To bring back the first SEA Games gold medal since 1989. I’ve heard my fair share of stories about the heydays of Singapore Judo during the era of the SEAP (Southeast Asian Peninsula) Games. It would really mean the world to be able to bring success back to our scene and raise the profile of Kata and ultimately Judo in Singapore.

What is your favourite food?
Keng Chuan: Japanese tenzaru soba. Now you know that the training stints in Japan aren’t the only part of the itinerary I look forward to!

Soh Keng Chuan bio
Full Name: Soh Keng Chuan
Age: 29
DOB: April 26, 1984
Height: 1.73m
Weight: 72kg
Event: Nage No Kata, Judo
Significant Achievements:
World Judo Kata Championships 2013 – 15th
Asian Judo Kata Championships 2013 – 5th
Thailand International Judo Championships 2013 – 1st
Current Occupation: Medical Doctor

All of us at Red Sports wish Keng Chuan and Benny all the best at the 2013 SEA Games! Do drop them a note of support in the comments section if you can. We’re sure they’ll appreciate it. You can also upload photos showing your support of Keng Chuan and Benny on Instagram using #ourteamsg, or on the Team Singapore campaign’s website: