SINGAPORE: A Singaporean mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter who was teased at school because of his Tourette’s syndrome says the condition is no disadvantage as he aims to kick and punch his way to the top.
Nineteen-year-old Amir Khan was once embarrassed by the tics and twitches caused by his disorder, but his classmates would not be laughing now.
The rangy, 180cm (six foot) featherweight, a specialist in striking with his knees, feet and fists, has already two pro fights under his name— and one day hopes to be a world champion.
Khan wowed the crowd with a quick stoppage of opponent Waqar Umar in ONE Fighting Championship at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday. Khan landed a vicious right hand after a brief moment in the clinch. Umar dropped to the mat as Khan landed a couple more strikes for good measure before the referee stepped in to stop the fight in Round 1, awarding Khan the knockout victory.
During an interview with Agence France-Presse, Khan largely has his Tourette’s under control, a result he says he has achieved through the twin disciplines of martial arts and meditation.
“After I did martial arts, partly because I look better and mentally I feel better as well, I have more confidence,” he says, after one of his twice-daily workouts at a downtown gym.
“So everything helps me, martial arts and meditation.”
He adds: “Whenever I’m nervous I twitch more. But I learned to control it over the years. As long as I keep my heart-rate low and I breathe properly and keep my mind clear, I can control it.”
Khan is not the only athlete with Tourette’s, a neurological disorder which causes twitches and, in rare cases, verbal outbursts.
Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, who pulled off a record 16 saves in the United States’ World Cup match against Belgium this year, has said Tourette’s has given him faster-than-normal reflexes.
Khan says he’s not sure if his condition makes him quicker, but it does help by putting off his opponents who lose focus when they see him twitch during a fight.
“I have quick reflexes but I’m not sure if it’s because of that [Tourette’s]. But it’s not a disadvantage at all, that’s all I can say,” he says.
“Some people say they get distracted, because they wonder what I’m doing, so that’s what I think may give me a slight advantage.”
‘Just own it’
Khan says he took up martial arts to gain confidence after a difficult time at school, when his Tourette’s was at its worst.
“When I was a kid at primary school, I always did it ,” he says. “Of course I got teased, I was young and I was embarrassed because my friends would tease me behind my back.
“So I didn’t really enjoy my school days. After a while, I gained more confidence and it subsided. I felt more confident and I wasn’t embarrassed about myself.
“I don’t really care now. But I don’t think they would tease me now.”
Now Khan alternates between sessions in muay thai kickboxing, wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. His eventual goal is a world title, and his advice for other youngsters with Tourette’s is clear: “own it”, and don’t try to hide.
“You can’t be ashamed about yourself. You don’t have to be ashamed—own it, don’t fake it or hide it,” says Khan.
“Some people say ‘I just have a cough’ or something. But just own it and meditate, eventually it’ll subside. Just be patient.”