CEO and Co-Founder Qin Yunquan has empowered thousands with her self-defence school Kapap Academy. Taking a unique approach, she’s helping women build the confidence to take on dangerous situations.
Featured in Forbes 30 Under 30, Qin Yunquan, CEO and Co-Founder of Singaporean specialist self-defence school Kapap Academy, is a force to be reckoned with. Trained in Muay Thai and MMA, a former National Wrestler and a certified Counter Terror Shooting Instructor and Bodyguard, not to mention a self-defence expert with over a decade of experience, her resume reads like that of someone twice her 29 years. In 2017, she became the first martial artist to receive an award from the Queen of England for the tremendous impact she’s made, thanks to her tireless efforts in the self-defence industry. Together with her mentor Teo Yew Chye, she’s developed a brand new form of self-defence taught in a 20-hour programme titled Modern Street Combatives launched in 2012, which they’ve taught to thousands across Singapore, Malaysia and India. We sat down with her to find out how it works and where the self-defence industry is going.
“Modern Street Combatives is a comprehensive and realistic response to a street attack in an urban setting,” Yunquan explains. The programme combines psychological and bodyguard techniques alongside more traditional combat skills to create three “rings of defence,” teaching students to first detect danger, then avoid danger, and finally fight if absolutely necessary. Encompassing scenarios such as ambush attacks, kidnappings, being threatened by a knife or gun, or being taken to the ground, the idea behind Modern Street Combatives is that it prepares its students for a wide range of situations that could happen in real life, arming them with responses that can be made with improvised weapons – think umbrellas, wallets and pens.
With a programme designed to be suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels, the academy takes in approximately 8,000 students every year, training people as young as 5 as well as individuals in their 70s. Unlike combat sports such as MMA or boxing that require a baseline level of fitness, Kapap Academy tailors their programme to accommodate any physical limitations. “People who are older tend to be more vulnerable to street attacks. So, we customise the training based on their physique,” Yunquan explains. “For example, we would teach someone in their 60s or 70s to use improvised weapons such as walking sticks, umbrellas, or even a tactical pen. And we do that for kids too. Even a young kid can injure a grown adult because small joint manipulations can be really efficient.”
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Aside from physical safety, confidence-building is also a major part of Kapap Academy’s wider impact. “15% of our students are former victims of either sexual assault or domestic violence,” Yunquan relates. “A lot of them are initially fearful of the future and have a lot of self-doubts. But as they start training, within about 10 sessions, they go from being scared and reserved to becoming a lot more upfront and confident about dealing with their past.” Having struggled with anorexia herself as a teenager, Yunquan can attest to the mental strength self-defence training has given her. “When I was recovering from anorexia, I was lacking in confidence and doubting myself a lot. But, when I started my martial arts and self-defence journey, it really helped me change my fundamental beliefs in myself. I was able to confront my fears instead of hiding from them, and deal with my insecurities one by one,” she shares. She’s gone on to face other challenges in her life with the same mindset, becoming a trailblazer in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
Taking a more holistic approach to self-defence, Kapap Academy stands apart from other combat sports. “While combative sports can offer some useful tools, self-defence is really about avoiding danger altogether,” Yunquan explains. Instead of escalating the situation to a fight where “the attacker could have lethal weapons,” she teaches her students to be alert to “pre-attack cues drawn from studies of predatory behaviour and psychology and use bodyguard principles to create opportunities to escape. We teach a lot more about weapon disarming than most Krav Maga practitioners do and we are very strong in ground fighting, combining Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with catch wrestling, a martial art which has proven very effective in helping ladies fight off sexual assaults.”
Pushing ahead with future plans, Yunquan plans to build a strong regional presence for Kapap Academy alongside a personal safety app, Angel Wings, which the academy will be launching later this year. Only recently, she’s travelled to rural India where she taught self-defence skills to 200 girls, a part of a wider social mission to equip as many people with the mindset and skills to protect themselves. In collaboration with two humanitarians, Jag Sekhon and Urvashi Talwar, Yunquan will be training another 2,800 ladies and children from the slums in Mumbai to empower them with personal protection skills. She sees video tutorials making self-defence more accessible, although she cautions that “video technology cannot replace physical, in-person teaching.” Looking back at what she’s achieved, she advises others following in her footsteps to “know the importance of doing what you love, even if it means going against others’ wishes, and to stay focused. Be prepared to put in many, many years of hard work. And, once you do get somewhere in life, to spare a moment for those less fortunate.”