Former martial arts fighter Ann “Athena” Osman may have been a champ in the fighting cage, but her school life was marred by bullies who mocked her for speaking English.
“I lived overseas when I was younger, and when I returned to Malaysia I was bullied for not knowing how to speak Malay,” said Ann, who will be giving a free self-defence demo with Peter Davis at the #StandTogether Carnival on April 15.
Ann was luckier than some because she had someone she could turn to: her mother.
“I told my mum about the bullying, and she helped me understand why the bullies did what they did. It helped ease the pain, and gave me the courage to tell the bullies off.”
It worked – but as an adult, Ann experienced a scary road bullying incident while driving home alone from work. She was tailgated by a group of men late at night and although they stopped following her after a while, she was left shaken by the incident.
“I then realised there wouldn’t always be someone to protect me, so I wanted to learn how to defend myself,” she said.
Ann started learning martial arts: the rest, as they say, is history.
Although she’s now retired from fighting, Ann still believes martial arts is the key to ending bullying.
“I’ve seen a lot of people who were timid at first, but then become confident over time as they train because they know they can defend themselves if something happens,” she said.
“It’s a wild world out there, and it’s important for teens and young people to learn how to defend themselves to build confidence and become physically and mentally stronger.”
In an industry where you win in the cage for being “brutal”, she stressed that outside the cage, martial arts actually teaches human values.
“Martial arts teaches people kindness and also about being a team player,” she said.
“Even though it looks brutal, among the athletes, we respect and are kind to each other,” she said. “Outside the cage, we value and practise kindness.”
Ann, who is now an athlete relations and talent recruitment manager at One Championship, Asia’s largest global sports media, stressed that having a good personality is highly valued, even in sports.
“The type of athletes we look for aren’t just people with great skills in the ring, but also someone with great stories and who embodies all the values we talked about,” said Ann.
That’s why Ann has committed herself to being an advocate for ending bullying in schools as an ambassador of the #StandTogether campaign.
The campaign, organised by R.AGE and SP Setia, advocated for a national kindness week in schools every first week of April. The inaugural National Kindness Week saw students from 300 schools nationwide organising various programmes and activities to promote kindness.
The #StandTogether organising committee counts Unicef Malaysia, Teach For Malaysia, Digi, Study Hub Asia, 100% Project, and developmental psychologist Dr Goh Chee Leong among its members.
As part of the campaign, 120 schools submitted “kindness project” proposals. Thirty schools have been selected to win cash grants of RM1,000 to carry out their kindness projects, and the top 10 received school visits from celebrity ambassadors such as Lisa Surihani, Harith Iskander and Ismail Izzani.
Ann visited winning schools SK Kampung Contoh, Penampang and SMK Sanzac in her home state of Sabah last week to check out the students’ projects such as a Kindness Photo Booth and “Act It Out”, a student competition to produce videos about cyberbullying.
“We all want to be the best and to be number one, but there is a gap in teaching values to our children,” said Ann.
“It is great to see schools who are open to do these projects as parents can be too busy and forget they need to educate and encourage students to do more.”
The #StandTogether campaign will culminate in a celebration this Saturday, where Ann will also be facilitating a live session on self-defence. Three martial arts fighters – Agilan Thani, Saiful Merican and Gianni Subba will also be co-facilitating.
The carnival will take place at the Setia City Convention Centre in Shah Alam from 10.30am to 6.30pm with carnival games, music performances, workshops for parents, a blind football demonstration and more. It is open to the public, and admission is free.
Ann promised that the self-defence session would be useful for everyone, not just for kids or women.
“There were men who attended my clinics and said afterwards that they didn’t know they could do that,” she said. “It’s never too late or early to learn how to defend yourself.”
It will be an interactive session and she encourages everyone to be hands-on, as they will be partnered up and learn from the experts themselves.
“I will be teaching very basic but very important drills. Seeing and explaining is not going to help people learn martial arts. They need to try it to learn, and also we can help correct them as well.”
She encouraged parents to bring along their children, even those as young as five.
“Martial arts helps teach children to be coordinated and learn respect. Having these values instilled from a young age will help curb bullying,” she said.