2021 SEA Games: Jiu-Jitsu Silver Medallist Talks Passion, Perseverance, and Pressure

Images courtesy of Adam Bin Akasyah

The 2021 Southeast Asian Games, otherwise fondly known as the SEA Games, came to a conclusion just last week on 23rd May 2022. Host country Vietnam bagged a total of 446 medals, followed by Thailand with 331 and Indonesia with 241. Malaysia won a total of 174 medals with 39 gold, 45 silver, and 90 bronze. We managed to get in touch with Adam Bin Akasyah, the silver medallist for Jiu-Jitsu at the recent SEA Games. Over Zoom, Adam shares what being a sportsman is like, his goals and dreams, and his experience playing at the SEA Games.

Getting Introduced to Jiu-Jitsu

Originally a grappling martial art from Japan, Jiu-Jitsu was innovated in the mid-1900s by two Brazilian brothers. It’s often known as Brazilian jiu-jitsu (or BJJ), and has risen in popularity due to the widespread of mixed martial arts (MMA). Jiu-jitsu gave martial artists an edge during the early days of MMA as most people didn’t do Jiu-Jitsu. If you did, you had a superpower. Thanks to its recent implementation into the SEA Games, it’s been catching some fire as well. Personally, Adam started his Jiu-Jitsu journey when he 13.

Adam says, “Jiu-jitsu has this village vibe. People from different backgrounds, different beliefs; they walk into the gym and just have a great workout. You can have a CEO, a kid in medical school… There’s this community feel and I think that’s why people like it so much.”

The Destiny of Jiu-Jitsu

Adam’s own father is a martial artist himself. When Adam was young, he was overweight, and his father was looking for ways for him to lose weight. As such, he put Adam into a bunch of stuff, including other martial arts and badminton among others. He acknowledges that they were really good sports, but they were just not his thing. There was no reason for him to particularly like Jiu-Jitsu the first time he stepped into a Jiu-Jitsu gym, but he stepped onto the mat, and felt like it was his fate. It got him to lose weight, yes, but it also gave him purpose and confidence. It ended up being not just a skill, but a passion as well.

Adam says, “It sounds woo-woo but that [stepping onto the mat and just knowing that was his fate] was literally it. My fate was to do this, and see how far I can go.”

Participating in the SEA Games

Jiu-Jitsu was first implemented into the 2019 SEA Games, during which Adam bagged a bronze medal. This makes the 2021 SEA Games his second, in which he medalled silver. Back in 2019, it was just the beta stage of the Malaysian Jiu-Jitsu community. Thanks to the 2019 SEA Games which made Jiu-Jitsu a national thing, it created unity. People from different gyms or those who wouldn’t usually train with each other came together and gave their support, sharpening each other’s swords. As a team, they didn’t know what to expect at the 2019 SEA Games either, both in the sense that it was a newly-implemented sport as well as the athletes competing on an international level where they carried the weight of the flag. Everything was new. This time round, they were better prepared and had better resources, including having a psychologist, sponsors, more training, and nutrition help among other things. The team expanded from four in 2019 to six this time.

Adam says, “There’s no magic or solution. All the little things make a difference, like being able to manage stress, having a plan, and putting a timestamp on things. Even for the new guys on the team, they did not look like rookies!”

Higher Stakes

Adam is no stranger to competition. Before competing in the SEA Games, he had been competing in tournaments organised by local private organisations. Each of them has their own world championship or tournament, and that’s where he learned how to compete, travel, eat – all the little things that make up being a competitor. All this is good and well, but you’re competing for yourself at these tournaments. At the SEA Games, you’re competing for everybody in your country, and the weight is different. For the first time especially, you’re not going to expect the weight and that pressure, or the crowd. The crowd in Hanoi was amazing, according to Adam. They were loud, playing horns and stomping the ground… There’s also the opponents to think about, who have really impressive resumés. Combine all of that, and the pressure is tremendous. You get squashed if you’re not used to it, and can’t handle it.

Adam says, “The way I see it, there are three options. Be a showman, a cold killer, or break. I chose the first one. I enjoyed the energy and I’ve always been a showman, so I felt at home. The crowd was something for sure.”

The Future

For the next SEA Games, or any other games Adam’s going to compete in, he’s going for gold. He tells us that he wants to complete the set, much like Thanos and his collection of Infinity Stones. He doesn’t want to write himself off and play it safe. In fact, he likes taking leaps of faith, because he gets the most amazing experiences from those leaps. He also thinks that he didn’t fully understand the “weight of the flag” when he was 19 in 2019. Now that he’s 22, there’s something different about it. It’s something to be passionate, but for Adam, his mentality is that he’s willing to die for this. It’s an amazing feeling to bear the weight of the flag, but it also comes with a lot of sacrifice and suffering, though he doesn’t view it as such anymore. Adam doesn’t party, or go out much, not even with his teammates. He studies, trains, studies Jiu-Jitsu, completes his schoolwork, goes to sleep, and repeats the same thing every day. Nothing else matters except showing up.

Adam says, “Before the match, I watched a movie called The Northman, a Viking movie. The main character fought for his father, and his unborn children. I don’t know why, but that made me emotionally more attached to the fact that I’m going to carry my team, my country, my family, and the people who believe in me.”

We’d like to thank Adam for sharing his story with us, and congratulations on winning silver at the 2021 SEA Games! We can’t wait to see you earn your gold! 🏅

All images courtesy of Adam Bin Akasyah.