Chew On It: Mentors


I have had some wonderful mentors. Including my mum and dad. From my mother, I learnt hospitality, generosity and humility. She also taught me patience through her actions. She was always calm and patient, even during simple tasks like cooking. My dad showed me that commitment and diligence are the keys to success, as I often saw him working into the early morning hours. He was an orphan and a self-made businessman, and his achievements were a result of his total commitment to whatever he chose to do. But he also expected to same from others, and this would lead to him losing his hot temper.

In the 1980s, he organised a karate tournament in Penang, and one of his students went to the airport to pick up the international guests, but he came back empty-handed. Dad lost it at him. I mentioned to my father that the guy was a volunteer, but Dad said that part didn’t matter, it only mattered that he didn’t get the job done.

I learnt that losing your temper has a negative impact on relationships and decided it was not the direction I would take. There were other positives I learnt from my dad, like the continuous pursuit of excellence and precision. Fortunately, I inherited his entrepreneurial genes. Unfortunately, I did not inherit his amazing discipline.

Many people often do not appreciate how much their parents sacrifice and invest in their wellbeing. My parents were my first mentors before I came to Sydney at 11 to board at Newington College, as they remained in Kuala Lumpur. Before arriving in Australia, I was a fat and lazy kid. In a fifth-grade cross-country race, I came second last. And only because there was a kid even heavier than me.

I was a terrible student in Malaysia. My schoolwork was nearly non-existent as I was always out socialising. Thankfully, my wonderful class teacher at Newington in year 6, Ralph Sadler, took me under his wing, encouraging me to do well at school. He was also the primary school’s rugby 1st XV coach, and he promoted me to the team.

There was a 100-year centenary game versus Kings School that stuck in my mind. The ball was passed to me by mistake. I started running towards the opposition. A path opened for me as all the boys on the other team feared I would fall on them. The parents on the sidelines were in hysterics. A memorable day!

At the end of the season, I was awarded Most Improved player. I was so bad at the beginning of the season that it was impossible not to improve. But I remember how proud I was of myself when I was able to run a whole lap of the oval without stopping for the first time.

Ralph Sadler was the catalyst to massive positive changes in my life. I even became really good at mathematics, but I am Chinese! Years later, I was a lost soul doing a maths major science degree at UNSW. I dropped out in my final year due to a lack of discipline. Fortunately, and serendipitously I discovered the fitness industry in 1979.

Herb Barker was my amazing coach in high school for rugby and basketball. He played rugby for Australia and threw the hammer at the Commonwealth Games. He constantly encouraged and challenged me to discover new boundaries.
I made the firsts basketball team under his tutelage, and he prepared me to play in the rugby firsts when I was in year 10. Herbie transformed a lazy obese kid into a committed athlete.

When I first came to Sydney, I was thrust upon my brother, Tony, by our dad to look after me. Tony did so with aplomb even though he was only 21. I was always forced to do karate as a child. Then one day, prior to a karate class that he was teaching, Tony gave me the option to train or do my own thing. The choice Tony gave me was the most powerful gift ever. It was the turning point that led to my enjoyment of training and excelling.

Tony passed on his Sunday class for me to teach when I was only 15. As all his students were adults, I had to act maturely and develop my teaching skills so that the grownups would accept being taught by a young teenager. I discovered that I am the best student when I am the teacher. Incredibly and gratefully, karate gifted me Australian citizenship when I represented my country of choice at the World Karate Championships.

At 17, a karate student of mine, Ray Hatton and his wife Susie, took care of me like an adopted son. Their kindness meant so much to me. After I left Malaysia, I had to learn to survive and thrive without parental support. Ray even taught me to drive and helped me buy my first car, a $700 Valiant Chrysler that was older than me.

I am eternally grateful and thankful to the people above. They have inspired me to mentor several people myself in the world of karate and fitness. I did my best to encourage and challenge them to excel. More importantly, I believe that I instilled in them the importance of humility and integrity.

There is no more importance than mentoring and guiding your own children, which I have had mixed results. It is a pity I did not have the insights I have now back when I was a young parent (I was 24 when my eldest son was born).

Since I cannot change the past, I can ensure I do my best now while heeding the words of W. Edwards Deming: ‘It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.’