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Rika Ishige hopes to be pivotal in growing the popularity of women’s martial arts in Asia

July 18, 2017 Sports No Comments Email Email

If Rika Ishige were in a room full of people, she would incontestably stand out because she is the epitome of a true Asian beauty. Ishige is a certified eye candy that can grace on the cover of a top fashion magazine, sashay down the catwalk with the latest apparel, or endorse high-end beauty products in a television advertisement.

However, Ishige is more than a pretty face because deep within, she is an authentic martial artist. The 28-year-old beauty is of Thai and Japanese heritage and comes from a family of martial artists. Her late father was a judo practitioner, and her older sister who is now a medical doctor trained in Taekwondo. Heavily influenced by her father, Ishige began her martial arts training at the age of nine with Aikido, Karate and Taekwondo.

“I started martial arts at a young age,” she revealed. “It was to challenge myself. I did Karate, Taekwondo and Aikido together.” As is often the case, life got in the way of training, and Ishige had to put martial arts on hold while she was studying.

Although she was not able to give her time to training, she did maintain her interest as the growing sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) began to be televised and available on the internet. Fascinated by the showmanship and the sport’s competitive nature, she found the time to resume her martial arts training.

Unfortunately, karate and aikido were not enough to satisfy her growing hunger to learn. Simply put, she wanted something more. Ishige went on to hone her skills as a martial artist by incorporating different combat disciplines and eventually transitioning to the multi-faceted field of MMA.

Known by the moniker “Tinydoll” due to her svelte physique, Ishige is set to make her third outing under the ONE Championship banner as she will square off with Filipino newcomer Jomary Torres at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS, which takes place at the glamorous Cotai Arena of The Venetian Macao in Macao, China on 5 August.

“It is my honor to be a part of one of the biggest MMA promotions in the world like ONE Championship. Not everybody gets this chance. I will do my best for my family and also for my countrymen,” Ishige said.

By strapping on a four-ounce MMA gloves, Ishige sees it as an honor and privilege to represent Thailand in ONE Championship, which is widely considered as the sport’s premier organization in the Asian region.

“At first, I didn’t feel any pressure of being the first female Thai fighter to step into an MMA cage because I believe in myself and in my ability. In my mind, I thought I could handle it. All of sudden, I started to attract attention. I can’t pretend that everything is easy anymore,” she shared in jest.

“It’s a must-win fight for me right now. My family is going to watch. Not only that, the whole country will be watching. But for sure, I will do my best,” Ishige added.

Ishige does not expect any problems continuing her venture into the constantly-growing world of MMA as she believes that she is fully equipped with the task at hand.

“Martial arts is my passion. I’m really happy when I share and learn new things about martial arts with others. I’m surrounded by people who support me in training. It makes me stronger. I am ready for this upcoming fight,” she guaranteed.

Although her sights are set on pulling off her third-straight victory as a prizefighter, Ishige is likewise standing up for women’s empowerment by breaking down gender barriers.

Ishige stressed that her third professional MMA stint should also serve as a springboard for women to understand they can truly do anything if they put their minds and hearts into it.

“Martial arts is not only for men. In Thailand, there are many Thai women who have competed in different martial arts like Muay Thai, Taekwondo, Karate and many more. If you look at me, I am the living proof that women can do it,” she stated. “Whether you are a child, old, short, or tall, everyone is welcome in the martial arts community.”

“Most people do not understand mixed martial arts. They think it has no rules, and barbaric,” Ishige explained further. “I want to show them it is not like that. It is a real sport, and me, I am a small girl, but I can fight in a world class organization. It is not brutal. It is about technique.”

Ishige is excited to work with the likes of ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela “Unstoppable” Lee, Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi, Istela Nunes, Gina Iniong, Jenny Huang and Ann “Athena” Osman in growing the women’s MMA scene in Asia “Recently, female fighters in Asia have been given several avenues to showcase their skills and what they are capable of in a world-class organization such as ONE Championship. Angela, Ann and others paved the way for other female fighters like me. I am here to continue what they’ve started,” she said.

Even if gender parity continues to be a serious hot-button discussion, Ishige believes that martial arts is a great starting point to bring down the barrier.

According to Ishige, seeing a woman succeed in a sport wholly dominated by men for the past 20 years is just an example of what is possible.

“I would like to continue this campaign for everyone who doesn’t understand the beauty of this sport. Martial arts is not about fighting. Its real aim is to empower both men and women. We’ve

already seen what women can do inside the cage. It’s a high time to unleash our full potential in this sport,” she asserted.

Over the past decade, women’s MMA rose from relative obscurity to noticeable heights that many could not fathom in such a short span of time.

The once male-dominated sport has been infiltrated by women equipped with equal prowess to engage in high-testosterone action, at times even with more gusto than their male counterparts.

After years of being told that they “just weren’t good enough” and that there “wasn’t enough girls to form a legitimate bracket”, women are finally gracing the biggest stage of the MMA world.

While the negative reputation of women’s participation in combat sports has declined inch-by-inch, Ishige pointed out that it still needs to be promoted for the stigma to totally diminish.

“It needs more opportunity. I think that there are young girls who are probably interested in getting into it, and we need support from men and women to encourage to let them go to the gym,” she conveyed.

As she continues to open eyes and introduces legions of already passionate enthusiasts to the burgeoning world of Asian martial arts, Ishige seeks to exemplify the utmost confidence of a woman on a global stage at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS.

“The important thing for success is self-confidence. The key to self-confidence is preparation, and I am well prepared for this fight. If I have good preparation, I can fight anybody. And for sure, I can walk out victorious,” she ended.

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