A single mother of two finds herself in a combat sport
Updated 11:48, 31-Jan-2021

"What makes a good mother?" That's a question every mother-to-be would contemplate and every mother would struggle to explore in front of clamoring children. For Wang Yinyi – a single mother of two, it's a question she spent three years trying to figure out.

"I wanted to be a perfect mother for my girls." Wang, born in 1990, spent much of her childhood without her parents, so she went all out to be around her own children every minute. That was six years ago, when her first daughter was born.

"At the time, I would begin playing with her right when I woke up. As noon approached, I would study a variety of recipes for lunch, then lull her to a nap and play with her again until dinnertime," Wang said as she described her daily routine as a stay-at-home mother to CGTN. Her only alone time was the few hours after her daughter had fallen asleep. "I'd usually read books and attend MOOCs on parenting in the still of the night." Since in her childhood, she had often felt like she had been abandoned, she was scared that her daughters would feel the same way.

Two years later, Wang was pregnant with a second child. While she was excited to lavish love on her girls, she became more frazzled by the day .

"In those online classes, the teacher always told you to be 'a composed while determined mother,' so I acted accordingly."

Whenever she was about to lose her temper with her kids, she would try her best to stay calm. But ultimately, she realized that she couldn't make it unless she faked it. "I found that I had been pretending to be a composed mother for such a long time that I had forgotten who the real me was."

For Wang, an outgoing lover of sports, being a sweet-tempered housewife made her feel worthless. The dull yet tiring days at home tanked her confidence.

"When I have nothing to do but take care of the kids, I feel powerless," she said. "I must tough it out."

She went to a psychologist who suggested that she pick a hobby and spend some time on herself.

A photo of Wang Yinyi and her oldest daughter, taken in 2016

A photo of Wang Yinyi and her oldest daughter, taken in 2016

Encounter with a male-dominated sport

Wang had her brush with Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), a traditionally male-dominated ground-fighting sport, by chance in 2017. The first time she came to know BJJ was almost a decade ago – back then, she found it embarrassing because male and female fighters grappling with each together offended her sensibilities. She never thought that she could accept this martial art when she got older.

"It's fascinating to make your opponent submit to you with everything but a weapon," she said with light in her eyes. Her training partner describes the effect the sport has on her: "Whenever she steps on the mat, she's like Harry Potter traveling from the Muggle world to Hogwarts, and all at once gaining the power of magic."

Holds, throws, rolls, scoots… she can use all these techniques in her arsenal to pin an opponent to the ground. With everyday training, drills and sparring, Wang has found herself. "BJJ is a miraculous sport in which a smaller, weaker woman is likely to defeat a bigger, more muscular man," she noted. In this intense confrontation, she keeps pushing the boundaries with grit and stamina in addition to applying new techniques.

Even as a child, Wang had always wanted to get the first place in a competition, be it track-and-field or high jump. But before taking on BJJ, she had never realized this dream, despite having a black belt in Taekwondo.

Wang Yinyi takes a rest during a training session.

Wang Yinyi takes a rest during a training session.

As time went on, she has realized inner peace derives from a high self-esteem, from loving herself, from pursuing her own dream.

She has also learnt to accept herself because there's always someone she can't pin to the ground. "As I've come to accept myself as I am, I largely spare myself the anxieties that kept haunting me in my early years as a mother."

Training in BJJ has become a balm for her emotional turmoil. Immersed in the sport and a sense of achievement it brings, she trained herself to be a professional BJJ practitioner and coach by pushing herself beyond the point of exhaustion.

Hard work pays off. She eventually won third place at the 2019 Tokyo Asian Jiu-Jitsu Championship as a blue belt under featherweight division. Just six months ago, she was on the operating table for treatment of a broken ankle. "The doctor said it's impossible for me to go back to BJJ even if I've fully recovered." But she persevered, from standing up to walking and returning to the mat. She still has the bone plate in her ankle since removing it would require her to rest for a couple of months.

Wang Yinyi braids the hair for her daughter before a BJJ training session for children.

Wang Yinyi braids the hair for her daughter before a BJJ training session for children.


"It's okay not to be a perfect mother. I can be a mother who's true to herself," Wang said when talking about one of her biggest benefits from BJJ training. In the first few years as a mother, she had always forced herself to smile in front of her kids all day long, to play with them as long as they needed, to cook the healthiest recipes for the family, which ultimately stretched her toward a breaking point. Now she does things differently. "I would cry if I lose a match. I would say 'I'm tired' if I'm too exhausted to play with the kids."

By convention, most Chinese mothers are afraid of showing vulnerability in front of their children. But it's hard to hide emotions in life, and attempting to do so can be unhealthy for mothers, in particular full-time mothers. It's fine to be in a bad mood, to be angry, to be sad, even to flip out once in a while. However, fighting the conventions of motherhood takes courage.

Wang's choices are reflective of how a mother is also a person who has her own goals and desires. Many want to return to full-time work or have a side job in addition to their dedicated parenting. The common theme here is that they get to choose what to do and how to express themselves.

"A mother must have her own life and dream. Through training in BJJ, I hope to show my girls that a woman must have a dream and hang in there, even if they want just to be a full-time housewife," Wang said while playing with her daughters. "You can lose, but don't give up. You can cry, but don't give up."


Video director: Zeng Ziyi

Reporters: Niu Di, Zeng Ziyi, Wang Xiaonan

Writer: Wang Xiaonan

Videographers: Qi Jianqiang, Guo Yuanheng, Wu Jinjing

Cover image designer: Pan Yufei

Consultant: Zhang Wan

Supervisor: Zhang Shilei

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