Under the GBSG Scope #2: Kon Hui Quek

From VHS Tapes to World Champion: A Jiu-Jitsu Story
By Audrey Kua

Kon Hui Quek, Singapore’s second Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt.

Kon Hui Quek is the second Singaporean to gain his Black Belt in BJJ, a nearly impossible task on an island where the martial art hardly existed back when he first started pursuing it in the 90s. The Abu Dhabi World Pro Gold Medalist takes us back to the beginnings of BJJ in Singapore, and reveals his decision to settle down in Gracie Barra SG.

It’s a hot day outside, and Kon is sitting on the mats in a crisp white t-shirt and jeans. It’s not what we usually see him in, which is mostly shorts instead of jeans, or his gi, of course. It’s his workwear, Liz who works at the front desk of Gracie Barra Singapore, points out.  She’d already been chatting with him before I came in for the interview.

I sit down next to him, and admit sheepishly that I feel a little strange interviewing him in such a formal way. He laughs and tells me he’ll get back to me in a minute as he finishes off an email he had been typing out on his phone. Kon is the only BJJ black belt in Singapore who has a day job that doesn’t involve Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and is still actively competing in the martial art.

The interview means a lot to me, not just because Kon is a personal friend, teacher, and training partner, but because he has been in the BJJ scene in Singapore since the beginning of it’s coming to in this country. I have myself been training for almost six years, and the scene has changed so much from my own start till now, that to imagine someone picking it up in the late 90s is fascinating to me. But more than that, like me, he also juggles work, family, and training.

Kon puts down the phone. He’s ready.

Let’s start.

The Beginning of Something Special

“When I started training in the late 90s, early 2000s, there really wasn’t much of a BJJ presence in Singapore, so I started messing around with a couple of friends in open spaces. I think most of the instruction came from the internet, and I ordered video tapes and eventually, DVDs,” Kon divulges.

Abu Dhabi World Champion, Kon Hui Quek, rolling at Gracie Barra Singapore in his GB Legacy Pegada gi.

“I was practicing martial arts like Kung Fu before BJJ, and when the UFC came on, it made me question a lot of the authenticity of what I was doing. It was like magic, this guy (Royce Gracie) was beating men twice, three times his weight. And that kind of led me down the rabbit hole of learning jiu-jitsu.”

In addition to Kung Fu, Kon trained competitive Judo for a number of years, and since there was quite a bit of crossover, he convinced a couple of Judo friends to spend more time on Newaza, which is essentially the ground aspect of Jiu-Jistu, outside of normal judo classes. Around the same time, he also participated in local grappling tournaments, which he describes as having “no proper rules or referees”. Such was the local BJJ scene in Singapore then.

Eventually though, Kon would find a more stable learning environment when he moved to the States around 2011 for graduate school. The first official BJJ school he trained at was Ralph Gracie’s in California.

Second from the left, Kon poses at the Marina Barrage with some of his Gracie Barra Singapore team mates.

The Deciding Factor

While living in the US, Kon took the opportunity to compete in prestigious tournaments, including the Pan Jiu-Jitsu IBJJF Championship in 2013 where he came in third place as a brown belt. While medalling at the Pan Ams (as it is more commonly referred to) was a huge deal for the Singaporean, it wasn’t until his return home that Kon began training for what would be the tournament he is proudest of participating in.

“The defining moment came around 2015, at the Abu Dhabi World Pro, not just because I came home with a Gold Medal, but it had a lot to do with the preparation leading up to the competition, and the team I had with me,” he begins to explain.

“Professor Bruno (Amorim) had set up very good competition training, and he was someone who gave 110 percent to his students. He’s one of the GB black belts that inspire me the most, both as an athlete and as a coach. I have had very many people in my corner over the years, but nobody has ever coached me the way Bruno has. Now, I have found that same structure in Gracie Barra Singapore – a solid team and black belt, and good training.”

BJJ Gracie Barra Singapore

Kon stands up front with Gracie Barra professors, Alisson Braga and Diego Colino.

Settling Down

Now that Kon has planted himself as a Gracie Barra Black Belt and he has found a BJJ home, he’s started to give back to the BJJ community by teaching some classes whenever he can. Pivoting between his job in finance, teaching and training, and a family (a five-year-old and another baby on the way!),  Kon tells us that he manages to do all these things because of his supportive family and work partners.

What’s Next?

There have been rumblings of the making of a Singaporean National Jiu-Jitsu Team for the Asian Games in Jakarta this year (the first ever Asian Games with Jiu-Jitsu as a sport), which Kon himself has put forward his name for. In the meantime, Kon plans on competing in Tokyo at the end of March for back-to-back IBJJF tournaments. In fact, when asked if he was open to a super fight in the Dumau competition happening locally that same month, he indicated that he was more than game.

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