When I decided to interview Nurshahidah Roslie – Singapore’s first professional female boxer, I thought that it would be most appropriate to do it in a ring.
So, on a Thursday evening, I find myself climbing up the stairs to Juggernaut Studio – a training/fitness initiative started by Nurshahidah, located in the Boat Quay area.
As I enter the studio, I’m welcomed by the pro boxer. I must admit, I was nervous and slightly in intimidation before meeting her. However, the minute I was in her presence, her warm welcome made me feel at ease.
I introduce myself and try to start the conversation but she says, “first class, then talking.” I quickly change and join the others to begin the warm-up session under Nurshahidah’s guidance.
Boxing With The Pro
Nurshahidah’s a patient teacher – she let me take my time and guides me repeatedly even as I awkwardly miss my stance. She then moves to teaching me various boxing styles. Towards the end of the one-hour session, I think I’m starting to get a little confident about my positions.
Then comes the most challenging part – a two-minute non-stop drill. The switches have to be fast and my moves have to be swift. From squats to straights, push-ups and jabs – we were to cover it all. The only rule was to not give up.
At Juggernaut, Men and Women Are Equal
During the two-minute drill, I’m assigned two male partners who seem to be doing much better than me. I look at Nurshahidah and say, “I don’t think I can”. She tells me: “Just because you’re a girl it doesn’t mean that you can’t be tough.”
My partners turned out to be very motivating. Daryl, one of Nurshahidah’s best students, showed me how to improve stances and told me that I could do it.
After the class, we take a water break and I get to know Nurshahidah a little bit better. Although I had a lot of pre-determined questions in mind, I couldn’t help but notice a magnificent belt lying on the studio counter right next to where we are sitting. I ask Nurshahidah about the belt and about the match behind it.
She tells me that this is the “Champion of Thailand” belt. It was her third match and she had won for Singapore in a foreign land. I then ask her what victory means to her – is it the number of belts or the fight?
“The match matters and so do the belts but for me, a win is a win when my coach is happy.”
“I may win a match and bring a belt home but that may not necessarily mean that I am happy. If I play well, irrespective of the result, I feel victorious because my coach is happy.”
It’s clear that Nurshahidah looks up to her coach – Mr. Arvind Lalwani, whom she met during the SEA Games in 2015. She says that in sports, if you do not respect your teacher – no matter how high you soar, you will fall to the ground eventually.
Birth of ‘The Sniper’
While growing up, Nurshahidah had to fight against the stereotypes commonly associated with women and sports. As a child, she learnt taekwondo, and later switched to boxing. Her friends and even relatives would comment, “Who will marry you?” or “How will you find a boyfriend?”Even for her parents, it took some time for them to come around too.
Nurshahidah needed an alias like all other boxers and she wanted it to start with an S. She reveals that this is because she’s a huge fan of Singaporean boxer Syafiq Bin Abdul Samad whose alias is ‘The Slasher’ – hence the obsession with the letter S.
She goes on to explain how her arms are much longer than other women and the way she boxes is unique because of that. Besides, “sniper” in military terms means one who operates alone.
“In every way, The Sniper made sense. Started with an S and suited my style”, she laughs.
“I Am A Feminist”
I’m intrigued as to what it was that drew her to combat sports as a child. She says that she always liked sweating it out. Even as a kid, she would find herself in soccer and basketball grounds while herfriends are playing with dolls. She adds that MMA movies also had an impact on her.
Eventually, at 14, she started learning taekwondo and wanted to play for the national team. “But what do you do in taekwondo after you get your black belt? I felt stagnant” she exclaims. After completing her degree, she came back to Singapore and decided to take up boxing as a career.
“You see, I am a feminist. The more people told me that women could not do any good in combat sports, the more I wanted to prove them wrong.”
“Losing at the SEA Games was a turning point. It led to my victories in 2016.”
Nurshahidah says that despite coming from a middle-class traditional family, she made it to the top – and so she believes that everyone and anyone who dreams, can. By becoming Singapore’s first female professional boxing champion, she hopes that she has paved the path for other women who want to take this up as a profession.
If only a few hours with this woman, inundating with passion and perseverance, convinced me to be more, imagine how much she can inspire the millennials in time to come.
To find out more about Juggernaut Studio, click here.