Twenty-two years ago, Sarawakian Bernard Radin was a problem child who picked fights with his schoolmates for teasing him about his Iban background.
His life changed, however, when he took taekwondo classes at the age of 14.
Instead of using his newfound skills to thrash his tormentors, Ber-nard surprisingly found himself able to control his anger.
Each time, he managed to walk away before he could get into a confrontation.
“After that, I never had problems in school again,” said Bernard who recently emerged champion in the state-level Ultimate Warrior martial arts championship at Sta-dium Indera Mulia, Ipoh.
Today, Bernard, 35, is the founder of two martial arts training centres in Perak – a taekwondo academy in Bandar Baru Medan, Ipoh, and a muay thai academy in nearby Tambun.
Having competed in taekwondo, muay thai and Chinese kickboxing tournaments over the years, Bernard uses his experience to manage the academy gymnasiums with his wife Surina Adnan.
He met her in the 1990s at a taekwando competition where she was also a participant.
His students include entire fami-lies, children and even elderly men.
The couple is also gaining a repu-tation in the community for encou-raging ‘troubled’ children to take up martial arts lessons, and perhaps in time, learn discipline as well.
“I wouldn’t call them problem kids. To me, they are kids who just need more help than others from trouble-free backgrounds,” said Bernard.
“I like working with them. I feel that if I can change just one person, he or she can change another,” he added.
One of his charges, whom Ber-nard declined to name, was a Henry Gurney School student who used to get involved in “everything from vandalism and motorcycle theft to gang fights”.
The father of three children is used to the hard work required from his art, especially coming from a military background.
His father was a VAT 69 com-mando while his uncle was a practi-tioner of kuntau, a traditional Iban martial art.
His parents split up when he was a child and he went to live with his grandmother at her long-house.
When he was 12, Bernard left to live with his mother in Ipoh.
There, he first took his taek-wondo lessons run by the VAT 69’s forest police unit in Ulu Kinta.
In just two years, Bernard earned his taekwando black belt, but he eventually sought out other martial arts.
Among his string of victories were the SEA Games bronze medals for Chinese kickboxing in 1999 and 2001, and he was Malaysian kickboxing champion in 2001 and 2003.
In 1994, he won a bronze in the International Taekwando Federation championship and later a silver in 1999. He started teaching martial arts in 1997.
As state champion, Bernard is expected to represent Perak du- ring the national-level Ultimate Warrior martial arts championship in Bukit Jalil Stadium on Sept 1 and Sept 2.
Asked about his chances, Bernard said all he hoped for was a chance to promote martial arts to the commu-nity.
To this day, he remains grateful to the commando instructors who taught him about self-respect.
“I hope to do the same for other youths,” he said.