Members of only arm-wrestling club pumped up for a show of strength

Singapore Armwrestling captain Mr Low (left) and vice-captain Tay Jia Jun fighting it out at a training session. Mr Low is Singapore’s most successful arm-wrestler with about 30 gold medals to his name.
Singapore Armwrestling captain Mr Low (left) and vice-captain Tay Jia Jun fighting it out at a training session. Mr Low is Singapore’s most successful arm-wrestler with about 30 gold medals to his name. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Members of only arm-wrestling club here train weekly in Yishun

On Sunday evenings, a group of men would gather at a residents' corner in Yishun Street 21, ready to flex some muscles.

This is no bodybuilding session - although it is equally sweaty - but a contact sport where each man tries to strong-arm the other into submission on a hip-high table.

As others cheer, two men would grapple with each other, their biceps straining and trembling.

He who is first to pin his opponent's hand onto the table wins the bout.

It is all part of the training at Singapore Armwrestling, the only such club here. Its 15 members, all men and mostly beefy, gather to train every Sunday from 4pm to 7pm.

Set up in 2011, the club is headed by Mr Valen Low, Singapore's most successful arm-wrestler with about 30 gold medals to his name.

The 22-year-old's fascination with arm-wrestling started at Whitley Secondary School, where he competed with friends for fun.

"Whenever there was a chance between classes, I would arm-wrestle with everyone. Sometimes, it would get chaotic and noisy," he said.

"The teachers didn't like it. They felt like they couldn't control the class and tried to ban me from arm-wrestling," he said.

But Mr Low's passion for the sport has continued to grow.

As there are no arm-wrestling coaches here, he trained by watching YouTube videos.

Apart from doing exercises like bench press to increase his upper body strength, he learnt specific gripping techniques.

He said the sport is not just about who has the biggest biceps.

He said: "As you progress, you'll find there's more to arm-wrestling, such as set-up, grip, intelligence, confidence, speed, reaction time and versatility. At professional levels, it doesn't matter whose arm is stronger or bigger."

The club's youngest member is Mr Joshua Tay, 17, who joined in 2014 after hearing about it through a mutual friend of Mr Low.

The Institute of Technical Education College West student said: "I started to like arm-wrestling because my friends and I would always see who has stronger arms.

"Here, I get to test my strength with people who are older and of different sizes."

His oldest opponent at the club is senior project manager Dave Hum, 50, who says arm-wrestling strengthens his confidence, endurance and fighting spirit.

He said: "In Secondary 2, I would grab people to arm-wrestle with me. When I was in the army and now in the construction industry, I would also do so with my colleagues." A founding member of the club, Mr Hum had met Mr Low through the only local arm-wrestling competition - the Shin Min Arm Wrestling Challenge - in 2010.

While arm-wrestling may seem a tad uncouth, Mr Low put it down to a lack of exposure.

"I think for the typical Singaporean mindset, it might be a little 'beng' (Hokkien for loud and uncouth).

"But if you learn more about the sport, you'll find that it's a very professional and organised sport with proper sporting bodies," he said.

Mr Low has competed in 50 competitions in countries like Malaysia, China and Australia, and won about 30 gold medals.

Mr Low, who is ambidextrous, has even won first and second place for right- and left-handed arm- wrestling respectively, at the Asia Armwrestling Championships 2014 in Japan.

The biggest prize money he has won was $1,400 from a competition in China.

"If I win first place, it is usually enough (to cover expenses)," said Mr Low, who studied health management and promotion at Republic Polytechnic, and is waiting to be enlisted for national service. "However, some competitions do not have prize money, so flights and accommodation can cost an arm and a leg."

The World Armwrestling Federation is the sport's world governing body and the next World Armwrestling Championship will be held in Bulgaria in October.

Andrey Pushkar from Ukraine is currently the world's top-ranked arm-wrestler.

Although there is no official body for the sport here, Mr Low hopes to make it a national sport and win a gold medal at the World Armwrestling Championship.

"I want people to see Singapore as having a world-class arm-wrestling scene one day," he said.

"I don't think I will ever stop arm-wrestling."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2016, with the headline 'Pumped up for a show of strength'. Print Edition | Subscribe