If Phoon Eyin is precocious, Loh Jack Chang scores one for the late bloomers. He would never even have heard of wushu if his senior in Chung Hua in Miri, Sarawak, hadn’t been the president of the school’s wushu club. He was 14. Now 30, he’s too old by convention to be a poster child for wushu, but is the sport’s most recognisable face for what he’s achieved so far.
Loh didn’t make up for lost time so much as manage it (he holds an MBA), diligently and gracefully refining his technique starting from 2003, when he was selected for the state team. He won his first international medal at the Asian Wushu Championships in Macau in 2008, en route to adding two celebrated SEA Games golds to his total gold medal tally from some 18 international competitions so far.
Why does he want to do this?
“Because I want to win.”
True to his training, he is patient in the face of silly questions. To watch him train is to witness devotion to the cause of self-realisation; it infuses his person even outside of it. During Esquire’s first photoshoot with the wushu team, he seemed to casually strike a pose. A breeze might pass through him; so precisely did he hold the posture, he was close to being transparent. But he was there, and not there.
Loh was always into sports and athletics. He was a long jumper in secondary school, played basketball and golf, and still does, but wushu provides the greatest feeling of accomplishment, to a point where the body is no longer an obstacle but a vehicle of human progress.
The Southeast Asian Games will take place between 19th and 30th August, 2017. The ASEAN Para Games will be held from 17th to 23rd September, 2017. This article was first published in Esquire Malaysia, August 2017.