Li Kai Wen never wanted to be perceived as vulnerable and weak. The featherweight star strives to be seen as a leader who stands up for himself, and protects those around him.
He explains that he lives by a simple philosophy.
“Be strong, and become strong,” the 22-year-old says. “If circumstances are against you and you wish to change that, then do everything in your power to make that change.”
Although “The Underdog” was victimized by bullies and hazing during his youth, he was determined to make a positive change, so others around him would not have to go through the same hardships.
Li was raised in Zhangjiajie, China, and began his martial arts education with his father – a martial arts instructor who taught him kung fu.
Despite learning some self-defense skills, he was constantly picked on by other children because he was shy and introverted. That abuse increased in severity in the years to follow.
After his parents’ divorce, Li – then 8 years old – lived with his father before he enrolled in the Hunan Sports Vocational College. He joined the wrestling team, and devoted all of his energy into training.
While he experienced success on the mats, garnering a 50-8 record in the sport, the environment was unbearable for the aspiring superstar, as the senior wrestlers made his life a nightmare.
“I was hazed and bullied for the first four years of my stay at the school,” he admits.
“I stood up for myself the very first time when it happened, but I was beaten up, hence I learned to give in and follow their orders.
“I was bullied both mentally and physically, and my emotions were affected. It was a rough time for me. I constantly told myself during that time to be strong, and become strong.”
The coaches told the wrestling team’s senior members to look after and manage the squad’s young recruits.
However, they routinely abused that power. Instead of watching out for their fellow team members, the seniors would test the newcomers, embarrass them, bark orders at them, and threaten them with violence. Sometimes, they delivered on those threats.
Li was forced to endure this volatile behavior, but despite his trials, he learned to control his emotions and turn the other cheek.
“I was woken up in the middle of the night during winter, and had to go out and buy noodles for the older kids, otherwise, they would beat me up,” he recalls.
“Many times I thought about retaliating, but somehow, I was able to calm myself down and let my anger pass.”
The physical and emotional abuse finally ended when his tormentors graduated.
Suddenly, Li found himself in their position. He was now one of the seniors, and the captain of the school’s wrestling team, and he was given the responsibility to take charge of the new recruits.
Unlike his predecessors, “The Underdog” identified with the incoming rookie class, and used his influence to make a positive change.
“When I became the captain of the team, I was also given the authority and responsibilities to handle the younger kids. But I can say that I was more empathetic to them,” he explains.
“The hazing was toned down in general, and I even stood up for my younger teammates against the other older kids.”
Li helped lighten the burden for some of the new recruits, and he credits the values he learned from training as the catalyst for his behavior.
He believes martial arts and its values can help those who feel weak and vulnerable. In addition to equipping people with self-defense skills, they can also give people a virtuous and positive outlook on life.
“Martial arts will give its practitioners confidence, and that confidence will be visible to others so they can avoid becoming the victim,” he explains.
“Aside from that, martial artists are not instigators, but rather the evaders of confrontation. Some of the most important values in life are learned through practicing martial arts, like honor, respect, perseverance, and determination.”
Macau | 23 June | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast