Fighting on: Agatha Wong finds a voice in wushu

Beatrice Go
Fighting on: Agatha Wong finds a voice in wushu
Philippine wushu star Agatha Wong stands up against discrimination and other challenges in a male-dominated sport

 

 

MANILA, Philippines –  “Even in this generation, we’re still ashamed to tell even a guy that we have our period, we have cramps, because they get quite uneasy when we talk about it.” 

Even as the poster girl of Philippine wushu, Agatha Wong had her own share of awkward moments with men just like every other Filipina athlete in a male-dominated sport. 

The 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games double gold medalist said only 3 out of the 10 coaches she had in her career were female, painting the reality that most wushu mentors are men who do not fully understand the female body. 

Still, Wong’s unprecedented success made her the most recognizable face of Philippine wushu. 

“It is a male-dominated sport. People always get surprised because they always thought that it was a female-dominated sport because they only hear of me,” explained Wong, who bagged top finishes in the women’s taijiquan and taijijian events in the regional biennial meet. 

“But what they don’t know is that every time I train, even before SEA Games, the program I follow is for males. So it’s tailored for males, so I had no choice but to follow that.”

Championing the minority

 

BREAKTHROUGH. Agatha Wong bags a medal in her 2018 Asian Games debut. Photo by Adrian Portugal/Rappler

 

Despite being the minority in the team, Wong managed to turn her supposed “disadvantage” to her benefit as the men’s program made her a stronger athlete. 

The rigors of wushu training was no joke. Her pursuit for perfection had gone to the point of battering her body with major injuries – a grade 2 slipped disc and patellar tendonitis – but the wushu wonder was focused on becoming a better athlete day by day. 

Pag tinanong sa akin ng coach ko: ‘Kaya mo pa ba?’, sasabihin ko: ‘Kaya ko pa’,” shared Wong, who won a breakthrough 2018 Asian Games bronze medal

(If my coach asks me: ‘Can you still push through?’, I would say: ‘I can still go on.’) 

“Because I don’t really have the right to complain and I don’t have the right to stop training so I just kept training and training and training until I won my first medal.”

Having trained  under only 3 female coaches throughout her career, Wong admitted that they were surprisingly harder to please than their male counterparts. 

“I think it’s harder to get the favor of a female coach because when it’s a female coach, especially if they’re older, and you’re a girl too, they always want you to do better,” shared Wong. 

“They always want perfect, parang feel nila na hindi mo binibigay ‘yung lahat mo kasi they’ve been former athletes (they kind of feel when you’re not giving your all because they were former athletes as well.)”

 

Finding her voice

 

DOUBLE GOLD. Agatha Wong brings home a pair of gold medals in the 2019 SEA Games taijiquan and taijijian wushu events. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

 

As the 21-year-old rose to prominence, Wong did not realize that she suddenly had a voice to fight for the things she believes in. 

“Before I started wushu, I had low self-esteem, low self-confidence,” shared the athlete, who was once bullied by her peers both in school and in other sports she tried when she was younger. 

Outside of wushu, the Filipino-Chinese was not exempted from being mocked for her heritage. 

Wong recalled that she was watching a replay of her performance on YouTube when she came across a commenter who insinuated that she was awarded the top scores only because of her Chinese surname. 

She then took it to Twitter to explain that just because the sport originates from China, it doesn’t mean her surname would give her an outright advantage. Wong’s post went viral.

 

 

 

 

The likes and retweets started coming in, prompting the media to make a story out of her statement – a surprising turn of events which prompted her to utilize the social media platform more. 

“I didn’t realize that it was that big and I realized that I touched a lot of people. I reached out to a lot of people, and there [was] a lot of support and I was really grateful for that. I kind of addressed the problem too right then and there,” said Wong. 

The reception was very positive as she noticed Americans and Africans with Filipino roots sharing her sentiments. (READ: Netizens rally behind Agatha Wong after ‘I’m a Filipina more than anything’ tweet)

“It wasn’t only my kind of heritage that I started making people connect more to the tweet, it was the note that even if you have mixed blood, it doesn’t mean that you’re any less of a Filipino.”

“As long as you have Filipino blood, as long as you live here, as long as you love your country, as long as di namamatay ang culture mo of being a Filipino (you recognize your Filipino culture), you’re still a Filipino.”

Even after the SEA Games high, Wong pushed for change in her social media platform when she spoke about the non-compliance of establishments with the Philippine Sports Commission’s National Athletes and Coaches Benefits and Incentives Act (Republic Act 10699). 

While trying to pull off some laughs with a “U think amalayer?” mic drop, the wushu star urged companies to do their research on the law and abide by it, since most national athletes were forced to wait for a long time before they were given the discount. 

 

 

 

 

After explaining her side of the story to the media, it prompted PSC to release a statement on making the law more known, while local government units and the House committee for youth and sports development also tackled the matter.

“I didn’t even know it went up to Congress!” a shocked Wong told Rappler. 

“I think more athletes were grateful that I decided to tweet about it because like there were efforts before that athletes will approach media agencies to just like publish the law, but it didn’t really become famous, or become well-known,” 

Promoting her sport

 

BEING UNIQUE. Agatha Wong shares that her curiosity for wushu attracted her to the sport.
Photos from Asian Games media pool

 

Now that Wong has built her own brand online, she hopes that her fans can turn their focus on the sport. 

“I think I would want people to focus more on the sport instead of me because I just serve as a vessel to promote my sport and I think more people should be more interested in the sport itself,” admitted Wong. 

Since she was 3 years old, Wong has tried several sports – swimming, ballet, karate and ice skating – before wushu, but it was the uniqueness of the martial art that made her commit to it when she was 13 years old. 

“I think it’s the fact that not many people know the sport and I think I like the sport because it was different,” added Wong.

“I just like telling people what the sport was. You know when you tell them something like team sports, they know what it is immediately, but when I tell someone: ‘ My sport is wushu’, I like that they ask me what it is because it gives me the platform and the chance to tell them what it is.”  – Rappler.com 

 

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Beatrice Go

More commonly known as Bee, Beatrice Go is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Philippine sports governance, national teams, football, and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.