After dinner one day, Ivan Mok went for a walk with his family around the estate. Along the way, his younger brother spotted a banner promoting taekwondo classes. Motivated by his love for fighting movies, the brother had been wanting to learn martial arts and was keen to take up taekwondo.
On the day of the class, his brother persuaded Ivan, then aged 13, to join him. Despite his initial reluctance, Ivan eventually relented as he knew his brother was shy and did not like being alone.
Little did Ivan know that the experience would be the start of an illustrious career in taekwondo.
“We learnt a few basic commands and techniques, but what caught my attention was the lightning speed of the kicking techniques. My idol is Bruce Lee and this fast-and-furious technique expressed his martial arts style well,” he recounted with a smile.
The Early Days
From that day onwards, Ivan was hooked on taekwondo. After achieving his First Degree Black Belt two years later at the age of 15, he went on to learn, train and coach in various places until he became a professional full-time coach with a local taekwondo institute at the age of 24. Along the way, he took up a diploma in sports education and coaching. Seven years later, he was promoted to Lead Instructor to manage a school in Woodlands.
Ivan also teaches kummooyeh, a unique martial art developed from the ancient Korean elite warrior class, who dedicated their lives to the study of the sword in the protection of their country. On top of being an internationally recognised instructor of the World Kummooyeh Federation, he is also a certified referee for kyrorugi or taekwondo sparring.
Living the Dream
Not content at being an average taekwondo instructor, Ivan scored the chance to participate in multiple national championships.
He took his competitiveness to the next level when he decided to join an elite international multi-sport event that is part of the Olympics, becoming Singapore’s first taekwondo fighter to do so. Egged on by his boss and coach, he was keen to seize the opportunity to gain exposure for his taekwondo talent.
However, he faced an initial hurdle from the sports council, which was not supportive of his plan to enter the competition and declined to support him financially. Undeterred by the turn of events, he persevered in his quest.
“I continued to prove that I was the best player to participate in this competition by going through the selection and was eventually selected. It was one of my biggest dreams to participate in the international event,” he recalled triumphantly.
The martial arts instructor would go on to represent Singapore at the international competition for a few more years, raising his profile in the process.
“My most memorable experience was when I scored three consecutive points (considered a good score in taekwondo terms) in the 2009 contest. It was pretty challenging because my opponent was physically bigger than me, and I lost the match due to point differences. However, it was an amazing experience to be able to showcase my abilities,” he shared.
By all accounts, Ivan has had an amazing career, one that has been inspiring the next generation of martial arts practitioners since he started.
It is more remarkable when you think about the fact that he is deaf.
A Fighting Spirit
Ivan was hearing impaired at birth. After his condition was diagnosed at the age of two, he started wearing hearing aids, but that was not without its challenges.
“I often misunderstood what people were talking about, and sometimes, only caught the conversation later. There were occasions when I repeated an earlier topic and was told that it had already been brought up. I ended up feeling a bit embarrassed, so I decided to keep quiet and focus on listening more. It was very challenging for me to keep track of conversations, especially when I was outdoors and the environment was noisy,” explained Ivan.
About six years ago, Ivan suddenly lost full hearing in his right ear while on the way to work.
“Active verbal interactions are required to teach my students. I had to try my best to listen and communicate with the students,” he recounted, calling it one of the biggest challenges he has faced since he was diagnosed.
This prompted Ivan to use a cochlear implant (an electronic device that partially restores hearing) in his right ear.
“It was not easy using it at the start because there was discomfort due to the surgery. But gradually my quality of life began to improve as it reduced the misunderstandings and miscommunications among family members and colleagues. You can say it resurrected my life,” he shared.
A winning mindset
They say winners are made, not born. This is certainly the case with Ivan, who has made it his mission in life to succeed in whatever he set out to do.
Such was the case with the Deaflympics, which he was determined to join despite the lack of initial financial support. It was also a real tough test for both body and mind.
“It was mentally torturing and physically exhausting to have to push my body out of its comfort zone to achieve peak performance. I struggled because I had to teach during the day and train at night almost every day. Even before I started working, I had to do physical strength training for conditioning.
“I did not have much time to spend with my family, and almost gave up chasing my dream many times,” he revealed.
Spurred on by a strong will to succeed and support from his taekwondo practitioner brothers, Ivan pressed on.
“I would always motivate myself positively and tell myself that I can do it. I made a mental switch to be someone ready to play the game and face the challenges. I told myself that at the end of the day, I would be happy to have had a wonderful experience.
“At the same time, my two younger brothers who have had competition experience told me not to give up. They said I should not let all my efforts go to waste because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of something like the Deaflympics,” he elaborated.
Although the Deaflympics pitted Ivan against hearing-impaired martial artists, he has also joined many other contests where he fought opposite hearing individuals. These, he said, have provided good platforms for him to improve himself.
On a Personal Note
When not in the fighting arena, Ivan, now 36, enjoys the occasional game of bowling or golf and reading self-development books.
He is also very much the family man who enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, aged two and six. The couple has been married for seven years.
Although he has had to sacrifice family time to build his career, he has no regrets and plans to keep doing his best.
“I hope to lead the school with dignity and honour for as long as I can. I want to inspire many generations of students under my guidance. When it is time for me to retire, I hope to do so on a high note,” he said.