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Fiji Time: 12:09 AM on Tuesday 22 April

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The hapkido granny

Rashneel Kumar
Monday, December 17, 2012

SHE may be not as swift as Steven Seagal but Apolonia Fong continues to fight in life every day.

While aikido instructor cum actor Seagal is arguable one of the best in the Japanese martial art, Fong cannot be overstated in saying that she is the top local female student in hapkido — Korean martial art.

And the 58-year-old grandmother is not any ordinary hapkido enthusiast.

She is a first dan black belt holder in the art which continues to gain interest among the locals in the country.

Fong demonstrated the skills she learnt throughout this year at the graduation of hapkido students at the Young Men's Christian Association of Fiji (YMCA) Gym in Suva on Saturday.

YMCA hapkido head instructor Sensei Jare Lalakai said: "Apolonia is a persistent participant and regardless of her age, she continues to attend training (twice in a week)."

How it all started

One morning in 2001, a day before the start of new school term, Apolonia's son Rick Edward Fong, then 11-years-old, left his Rewa St home to buy some stationery.

With $40 in his pocket, Rick paraded through Rewa St with his expensive Nike attire only to be attacked by a group of street kids.

"He was attacked by a girl and two boys on his way to the shop," Apolonia recalled.

They stole Rick's $40 and his branded flip flops leaving the poor fellah bruised in a heartless manner.

Rick returned home bleeding and Apolonia wasn't able to bear the sight of blood dripping from his body.

Apolonia made up her mind to take Rick to hapkido classes to teach him some self-defence techniques.

She ended up taking the art along with her son and continues to do so today.

Rick is now a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) student in Cuba.

Break from hapkido

After starting hapkido classes in 2001, Apolonia went to Savusavu to start a nightclub business.

She then went on a holiday visiting families around the world before returning home in Suva after almost four years.

During her time out from classes, Apolonia continued practicing hapkido.

"It (hapkido) keeps me coming back here," Apolonia said.

"It has become a part of my life now."

What's so good about hapkido?

While the initial idea was to teach Rick some techniques for self-defence in times of danger, Apolonia found out the art gave more than that to its practitioners.

"It taught me a lot about discipline and harmony. Hapkido helps me to keep myself in control," she said.

"It helps with my breathing and eating habits. It keeps me fit. Self-defence is just one benefit of hapkido, it's more about the teaching to overcome the hurdles in life."

Call it a coincidence or fear of retaliation, Apolonia adds that thieves haven't tried to break into their house since she started practicing hapkido.

"They do attack our neighbours but we haven't been raided for a long time," Apolonia said.

"I think our neighbours should take up hapkido as well," she jokingly added.

Spreading the gospel of hapkido

With age catching up, Apolonia has no plans to retire yet.

However, she has started grooming her upcoming generation to keep the dynasty, which she and her son set, going.

"My daughter who lives in Malaysia has brought my grandchildren to Fiji so they can be brought up in the Fijian way," Apolonia said.

"Children were not allowed to attend hapkido classes before I brought my grandsons to YMCA on my own responsibility.

"Now we have four children attending classes and they are enjoying it."

Apolonia urged people to take hapkido and use the art associated with it to live life in harmony.

"It's not deadly like the Steven Seagal movies. There are other things hapkido teaches which will bring peace to your life," she said.

"Those self-defence techniques are only for situations where you are helpless."

* According to Wikipedia, hapkido is a form of self-defense that employs joint locks, techniques of other martial arts, as well as kicks, punches, and other striking attacks.