CLEO Change Makers 2018 Qin Yunquan

At CLEO, we’re constantly on the lookout for game-changers who are dedicated to making a positive change in the world. Every year, we seek out young female professionals who are not only great at what they do, but also inspire others. This year, we found 10.

Qin Yunquan, 29, Co-founder and Chief Self-defence Instructor of Kapap Academy

CLEO Change Maker Yunquan is not only able to defend herself in dangerous situations, but also teaches other women how to do the same.

“I’ve met a lot of teenage girls and women who have been molested or raped. It can be very heartbreaking to see that they got into trouble because they were naïve or caught off-guard,” she says. “So I wanted to share whatever skills I have with others so the same thing wouldn’t happen to them. It has been a very meaningful journey.”

She’s such a big advocate of self-defence that she makes sure to also help women who can’t afford lessons. As a social enterprise, Kapap Academy provides either subsidised or free training at organisations that support abuse victims, the elderly or the disabled.

Yunquan started learning Kapap (a type of Israeli martial arts) 10 years ago because she wanted to know how to better protect herself. “I was a skinny, petite girl. A lot of news stories disturbed me and I felt very vulnerable. I felt like if it could happen to them, it can happen to me,” she explains. “So I started searching for something that will help keep me safe. That was when I decided to pick up Kapap.”

She became an instructor after just one year. But even though Kapap was what she started with, she no longer teaches it. Along with her mentor, she went on to create her own self-defence system a couple of years ago and has been teaching it to her students since. Called Modern Street Combatives, it was designed with women in mind because it doesn’t focus on physical engagement – something many women struggle with.

“First, we teach students how to identify pre-attack cues. Then, we teach them how to de-escalate a hostile situation,” she says. “The last resort is always physical engagement because it’s not necessarily the smartest way to fight off an attacker. For example, I may be skilled in self-defence, but if my drink is drugged, I won’t be able to fight anyone off.”

But just because she rose through the ranks pretty quickly doesn’t mean she didn’t encounter her fair share of struggles. For one, she didn’t get the support she needed from friends and family. “Things didn’t go my way at the start. There was a lot of skepticism. A lot of criticism. Many people would say, ‘You’re a girl, why are you doing this? I wouldn’t recommend it.’ It was a lonely battle,” she explains.

Her advice on dealing with such a struggle? Build a network of people who can support you emotionally. “It helps you fight on even when your family and friends have turned their backs on you. And eventually, when you prove that you can make something of your life, [those friends and family] will be able to see things from your point of view,” she says. “You can’t expect all of them to understand or support your path but you should also be resolute if it’s what you really want.”

And that wasn’t the only struggle Yunquan had. “I was going by the dual approach of learning and teaching at the same time and I was already one of the slowest students in class. And when I first started teaching, I realised I wasn’t good at it either,” she says. “I was discouraged and ready to give up. I asked my teacher, ‘Is it really worth a try?’ And he said, ‘You know what? One step at a time. The most important thing is that you have the heart to do it. If you do, you shouldn’t question your abilities.’ So I started trying harder than most people would.”

The rest, as we know it, is history. She not only rose through the ranks and got involved in the business, but also became internationally recognised for her efforts and received the Queen’s Young Leaders Award at Buckingham Palace last year. And as for her parents, her dad is now an instructor at her academy. “He’s been at it for the past year. It all started when he said to me, ‘I really like what you do and want to see how you do it.’ He’s a retiree – he doesn’t have to do it but he enjoys it,” she shares. “My mum is a bit more relaxed than she was before. To her, as long as I can take care of myself and am sure of what I’m doing, it’s fine.”

But her work doesn’t stop here. In fact, she’s just getting started. “I want to educate more people that self-defence is not the same as martial arts. It’s very important because it allows me to reach out to people who’d otherwise think that they can’t defend themselves,” she says. “Self-defence is not 100 percent physical. It’s about the correct mindset and isn’t supposed to be strength-based or complex. Also, the objective is never to engage.”

She also has plans to help women across the world and is currently working on expanding her operations in the region. “I’m working with a few partners to move into the market in India because we’ve heard of how bad the crimes against women there can be,” she says. “I don’t know how much of an impact I can make but I’ll do whatever I can to make a difference. More importantly, I want the organisation to be self-sustaining – so I want to train the women there and let them become trainers over time.”