Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai and Rika “Tinydoll” Ishige are an endearing Bangkok couple who have been lighting up the arenas of Asia with their dramatic cage entrances and exciting in-cage performances
It is well-documented how their passion for martial arts has helped them maintain a strong bond, but it is also the reason they became acquainted, and that shared temperament has helped them every step of the way.
Their journey from strangers to couple was not a ‘love at first sight’ fairytale, however. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It was a slow burner that lay dormant for several years, before chance intervened and set them on a new path.
Wiratchai first encountered Ishige when she was the emcee at a local aikido event. In true modern fashion, he waited until he arrived home, and sent her a friend request on Facebook.
“I knew some people at the aikido school there, so I just looked for her on their friends list, and added her. No conversation or anything, just an add,” the 29-year-old Thai shares with a laugh.
“I was not sure how to meet her again. I am not very good at flirting with women. We had no contact except for a chat on a local martial arts group a couple of years later.”
Needless to say, it certainly was not a burning flame. It was not even a spark, because unknown to him, Ishige actually blocked him on social media. At best, there were the potential elements to start a fire, but the different parts needed to come together to give it a chance.
As part of his cross-training, Wiratchai was training in judo when, suddenly, one day he was informed that a new girl was coming to train.
Though the female martial artists of ONE Championship are helping to change things, the mats of most gyms are still weighed in the favor of men, and so there was lots of intrigue at the visitor.
“She was new to judo training, and she got thrown around a little and got tired, so I did not really recognize her,” he recalls. “But my friend said she wanted to train for martial arts [competition]. I had just started my new university team, and I did not want to focus on teaching anyone else, so I said maybe it was not for her, and carried on sparring.”
It was a little bit of ego that forced Wiratchai’s hand. “Tinydoll” continued her search online in the martial arts groups they were both members of, and he saw others suggesting she should check out different gyms.
“I thought if I could bring her here, it would be better than her going to other groups,” he reveals. “So I just sent her a message saying to come and train the following Monday, and she said okay.”
This seemingly innocuous invitation served as the catalyst. Now, “OneShin” could not wait until that Monday. He invited her to kendo training on the Saturday. Ishige took him up on the offer, and Wiratchai jokes how that was their “first date.”
They trained, ate, and met again at Wiratchai’s gym two days later.
“She showed heart the first day,” he recalls. “She was tough, and loved martial arts.”
It was all relatively platonic. The pair were training alongside one another in different martial arts disciplines, and putting the pieces of the puzzle together in Wiratchai’s classes. While they enjoyed each other’s company, a first move was not made.
“OneShin” laughs, saying: “There was a game changer, actually, but Rika might be mad if I tell it!”
A mutual friend at a karate club had a birthday party. Ishige had trained under him in the past, and Wiratchai’s university team shared the same space, so they were all friendly. They were invited for a day of training, followed by an evening of celebration. They went with separate groups of friends, but the night would see their relationship go to the next level.
Without going too far into the details, Ishige enjoyed some cocktails, and was a little worse for wear ahead of the rest of the party.
“We called her the food blender,” Wiratchai jokes. “The whole time the party was on, I stayed with her, holding her hair, and looking after her. I dropped her home when I knew she was okay, and that was our second date!”
With the ice firmly broken, things accelerated. They were sharing the mats, going out often, texting all the time, and gradually becoming an item. It was not overtly addressed, but they both knew. They enjoyed each other’s company, and were content.
“Then, one day, she said she loved me, and I was like ‘Yes,” Wiratchai reveals.
Ever since then, they have been inseparable. They train, they eat, and hang out together. Most importantly, they share the same drive.
“Rika came into my life, and she was not like any other girlfriend I had. She loves to work out and dedicate her life to martial arts. Not just for fun, but seriously. She works hard,” he explains.
“One day, I asked her, ‘What’s your plan?’ She said if she can work in martial arts, then that is going to be the best thing. So I said to her, ‘Quit your job, and let’s do this.’ So she did, and went full-time with her training. I think that is courage.”
Ishige quit a good job and started from zero, training in every class Wiratchai taught. She completely lived the lifestyle. Now she is one of the leading women athletes in ONE Championship with her dedication paying off, and her popularity has exploded since her pro debut in March 2017.
They have both achieved massive amounts of fan support in the last twelve months, with their partner and best friend by their side. They share the same aspirations, and want to move in the same direction, and that is what keeps them going strong.
“We do not know what will happen in the future, but for a few years we need to keep focused on competing,” he adds.
“Long term, as we get older, we will compete less, and focus more on teaching and more on making the new generation of martial artists before we get to retire.”
From a slow start to meteoric rise side-by-side, Wiratchai and Ishige have a love for martial arts that compliments their love for one another.
The next time they will step inside the cage is on Saturday, 24 March, at ONE: IRON WILL. Wiratchai will meet Rahul “The Kerala Krusher” Raju in a lightweight contest, and Ishige clashes with Angelie “D Explorer” Sabanal in a women’s atomweight bout.
Bangkok | 24 March | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onewill18