“There’s no cure for Tourette syndrome; no medication. It’s like an itch that you can’t scratch. You have no control over your body. The condition causes you to twitch or fidget or make involuntary sounds.
For me, the condition peaked when I was 13. It was really bad, you know? I didn’t have any friends. People made fun of me a lot. They said I was retarded. I was already having a hard time dealing with the condition and being mocked made it worse.
I wanted a sense of belonging. I wanted to be cool and fit in, so I ended up mixing with the wrong crowd. I was fighting under HDB blocks because I thought that if I did what the other boys did, they’d accept me; but, I found out they were making fun of me behind my back.
I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to quit school because I didn’t want to face the world. But one day, my dad sat me down and told me that as a man, you have to face your fears. Life will toughen you up. Everyone has a different journey and this was mine.
When he found out I was fighting at void decks, he said, ‘If you’re really interested in fighting, why don’t you learn properly?’ That’s when he signed me up for Muay Thai. Ever since then, I’d go to the gym everyday after school. I was there 24/7. It’s like I lived there.
I felt at home because no one looked at me differently or judged me for who I was. No one made fun of me or teased me. I think that’s how people in martial arts are, generally. You can be rich, poor or suffer from any condition in the world; but, no one cares.
People turn to martial arts to find themselves. Everyone is going through something; everyone has issues that they’re trying to solve. That’s why no one judges you for dealing with your issues. They just want you to train hard.
Training helped me focus. With Tourette’s, you shake your head a lot and your eyes tend to look in another direction. You’ll get punched in the face if you do that in a fight, so I had to stay focused. I wouldn’t say fighting cured my condition, but it did help control it a lot.
When I was in secondary five, I decided to pause school. At the time, mixed martial arts (MMA) was on the rise and I wanted to go to America to get some exposure. No one in Singapore was learning MMA and I wanted to be ahead of the competition.
My mom wasn’t so accepting of my decision but my dad was okay with it. He bought my plane ticket and put me in school so that I could get my high school diploma. It was definitely an experience living by myself at 17.
I was living at a gym in Louisiana and learning all aspects of MMA. In my three and a half years there, I competed in amateur competitions as well. When I returned to Singapore for National Service, I joined Evolve and was approached to fight for ONE Championship.
I felt very blessed for the opportunity but I was only 19 then. I trained hard but I wasn’t thinking long-term. I was just going with the flow. But now at 25, I’m married with a kid and striving for world champion status. I’m pushing hard for it. I believe I can do it one day.
There are challenges. I lost a world title fight at the end of 2018 and lost two more fights in the earlier half of 2019. Getting knocked out for the first time was definitely the most heartbreaking experience. But it was my mistake for rushing from one fight to the next.
Imagine a relationship where you get your heart broken. You just want to get over the person and quickly jump into another relationship. Then you get your heart broken again. That’s how I dealt with my losses. I didn’t sit down and reflect on what I needed to fix on.
After three straight losses, I wasn’t in the best state of mind going into my last fight. When you’re on a losing streak, everything comes into play. You feel like your family is looking at you like their husband or dad is some kind of loser. You start doubting yourself.
But the thing that scares you the most, that’s what you have to do. You just have to face your fears and that’s what I did in my last fight. I had a plan and executed it. It wasn’t the kind of exciting performance that fans have come to expect of me, but I’m still glad I won.
When fighters or athletes in general lose, they dwell on their loss no matter how happy they are in other aspects of their lives. I just came back from a six-week family vacation in Spain and what I’ve learnt over the break is to not let your fights dictate your happiness.
Now, when I go for a fight, I’m treating it as a sparring match where I’m blessed with the opportunity to fight with a high-level opponent and test my skills. That’s all. Whether I win or lose, I’m still the same person in real life.
That’s what life is about. It’s about winning and losing. And if you do lose, it’s about how you overcome the failures to prove your self-worth. Never give up. If there are obstacles in life, just face them. Getting through them will make you stronger than you ever were before.” – Amir Khan, 25, MMA Fighter with Evolve fighting for One Championship
Interview by: Arman Shah