A sporting chance
Violence in the ring does not translate to violence in the home, retired professional muay thai fighter Eddy Lee says.
The head trainer at Lee Gar Legacy Gym in Glenfield is committed to supporting Child Matters, a non-government funded charity set up to prevent child abuse.
An event he organised on February 9 saw fighters including former muay thai champions from here and overseas come together to support the cause.
Mr Lee says anyone questioning the link between child abuse and what appears to be a violent sport must understand the discipline and culture behind muay thai.
"We are professional sportsmen, just like rugby players, and we are fighting in a controlled environment.
"We all have amazing families and kids. We would never dream of beating our children.
"But child abuse is happening in our neighbourhoods and we are not just going to turn a blind eye to it."
Thai kickboxing has been the escape Mr Lee says he needed from his broken home.
"Throughout my career I have dealt with a lot of scars from my childhood. I have changed the cycle with lots of support and by learning to forgive."
He says muay thai gave him an outlet to vent his aggression and keep him off the streets.
"If it hadn't been for muay thai I could have gone in the opposite direction and ended up in a very dark place."
Mr Lee found his haven in a muay thai gym at age 12 and had claimed every national title within two years.
He flew to Thailand to stay in a muay thai camp just before his 17th birthday.
"To start with it was hell. The Thais felt strongly against letting foreigners in on their traditional sport.
"They threw me in the ring with the six-time champion and we sparred for five rounds. I then had to spar with all 29 fighters at the camp for three rounds each.
"It was an initiation to see if I had the heart. It took me two weeks to recover but I noticed a huge change in the way they treated me. I had their respect."
Mr Lee spent three years in Thailand winning multiple international titles and travelling the world on the professional circuit.
He opened the Lee Gar Legacy Gym 17 years ago with the aim of serving his community.
He now works with police to give troubled youth a brighter future.
"I see myself in them," he says.
"The sport saved me so I want to give them the same opportunities."
Go to childmatters.org.nz to support the cause or leegarlegacygym.com.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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