When one watches someone doing wushu, it almost looks and feels like more of a dance than a martial art. But to athletes like Agatha Wong, it is a serious practice that is a combination of flexibility with strength, speed with flawless technique, and fierce intent with effortless execution.
After her impressive performance at the 2019 SEA Games, many have pegged two-time gold medalist and returning wushu champion Agatha as a super serious athlete. Though according to her, that was not always the case. At seven years old, Agatha first tried the sport after her grandmother encouraged her to enroll. “I didn’t like it right away. When I was a kid I saw that there were swords and I didn’t like the contact sport, I felt like hindi ko kaya. I started from basically nothing. Wala akong alam. But over the years, wushu really shaped me not only physically but also my values, my beliefs, and my personality and self-confidence," she says.
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When watching her compete with 100% focus, it’s almost hard to believe that this 21-year-old two-time gold medalist has had to overcome bullying almost all her life. In fact, Agatha admits that off the mat, she gives off a totally different persona. “I’m not really an outspoken person. I like to look like a normal girl. I prefer to let my actions speak louder than words. So most people get surprised when they find out I’m an athlete. Hindi ko kasi sinasabi na athlete ako. In high school, everyone knew because I was always absent and I had to be excused. In college, I really didn’t tell anyone because they didn’t ask. I consider it a compliment (when they are surprised) because it’s good expect the unexpected and you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Just because someone looks so girly doesn’t mean that she can’t take you down. Doing a sport that uses weapons, it looks very violent but as I learned over the years, wushu is not about being the offender, but being the defender for yourself. So now I know how to protect myself,” she explains.
There was a pivotal point in her life where she actually quit the sport only to return to it a few months later—with renewed focus and determination into making it her lifelong passion. But her road to becoming a wushu champion was not easy. Competing in her first international tournament was a baptism of fire for the then 12-year old Agatha. “Siyempre you’re not going to start from success. I was always last place when I competed in 2012, 2014, and 2015," she recalls. "But I didn’t let that discourage me from the sport that I love because I know all the champions went through that. So even if I was always last place I still liked my sport and that’s what kept me going because it’s my passion."
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Aside from being the defending champion and only female member of the Philippine wushu team competing in the taolu taijijian division which is the non-contact category of wushu, Agatha shares there was a lot of pressure on her to compete, which is why she trained intensively for a whole year. She also had to overcome painful injuries but still managed to pull off an almost flawless performance. “I was training everyday from December 2018. I went to China last year for four months from June to October. My worst injury is in my back, a slipped disc. But I just chose to do therapy because I didn’t want to get surgery. Once you get surgery and when you’re doing a sport, you’re going to stop for a long time. Pagbalik mo sa sport mo, hindi mo na gamay. I just had to be strong because I’ve been training for this event for one year just for SEA Games and we perform for just a few minutes and then after that you’re finished. That was my main drive. I just wanted it to finish and I did,” she says.
After graduating from a degree in Bachelor of Arts, major in Consular and Diplomatic Affairs in De La Salle College of St. Benilde in 2018, Agatha says it was an easy decision to become a full-time wushu athlete. “I love what I do. I knew I really didn’t want to work in an office environment. So I decided to solely focus on wushu,” she says.
When not busy with wushu training, Agatha admits she enjoys living a normal life and treating herself to her favorite Japanese poké bowls with any dessert that involves ice cream. “I’m not that sporty when I have limited time. I always train. I rarely go out. Every time I go out with family, I just want to look pretty and I always want to look girly. I don’t want people to look at me and say I’m an athlete because I’ve wearing athletic clothes. I want to look pretty because I’m not really vocal about being an athlete. When you take out wushu from the equation, I’m just a regular girl. I like going to malls. I like going out with friends and spending time with family. I like reading. I just like doing fun things with friends. I like to be happy and laugh a lot,” she adds.
No rest for this gold medalist this year as she is already gearing up for three major tournaments happening in the third and fourth quarter of the year which will take her to Japan for the Wushu World Cup, India for the Asian Championship and Italy for the World Championship. With her success at the SEA Games, Agatha is aware she is now the poster girl for the sport. And even though wushu or Chinese kung fu may look intimidating, Agatha hopes more people will consider taking up the sport. “To be honest you don’t really need to have anything for wushu, you don’t have to be a perfectionist, you just need to be curious about it. Even I didn’t know what wushu was when I started. I just followed my grandmother who wanted me to enroll in the sport. I took taolu and it was really cool to me because there were weapons and jumps and stuff. The curiosity and the excitement is what started it. Wushu isn’t just a martial art, it’s a really beautiful sport and it’s very magnificent. When I started I was very thin and lanky. I couldn’t jump or do weights. In sports, it’s not about being physically on point with your body. It’s a given that you have to condition your body to play a certain sport. But it’s also a mental game. I feel like it’s 50% physical and 50% mental and I just wanted to be healthy mentally. What makes my sport very, very fun and exciting and very unpredictable is because you’re always learning. There’s no perfect form. You always have to keep learning,” she says.
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On Agatha: Jacket, adidas; leggings, All Star at SM
Produced by Camille Santiago | Photography by Vyn Radovan | Grooming by Muriel Vega Perez and Team MVP | Hair by Francis Guintu of Aveda Philippines | Styling by Aldrin Ramos | Shot on location at WeWork Philippines, Menarco Tower, BGC | Special thanks to Trix Catly, WeWork Philippines, Aveda, and Teriyaki Boy