How She Does It: This 20-year-old Became A BJJ Champ After Training For Only 3 Years

How She Does It is a series by CLEO featuring Singaporean women in their 20s carving out names for themselves in their respective fields. Know someone suitable for this column? Contact us at cleo@sph.com.sg


Does the name Constance Lien (@constancelienjj) ring a bell? It might be because you read about her in the news—she emerged as world champion at the 2019 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships and clinched a gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games two months ago. She also walked away with a silver medal at the 18th Asian Games in 2018.

And here’s the thing: the 20-year-old only became a practitioner of the sport three years ago.

“I was practising Muay Thai at Evolve MMA but made the switch to ju-jitsu because my friends there encouraged me to. I wouldn’t have tried it if not for them because I didn’t feel like it was for me,” she explains.

Given the achievements under her belt, there’s no doubt she was nudged in the right direction. But her road to success didn’t come easy.

She wasn’t passionate about a sport she spent over 10 years on

Constance came from a family of swimmers. Her mother, Yuen Shuang Ching, was a national swimmer, while her sister, Charity, represents Singapore in international swimming competitions.

Constance herself started swimming competitively at the age of six, and was still representing her school when she started participating in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) events. However, swimming was never something that really lit a fire in her.

“As a swimmer, I always thought that I wasn’t good enough, so when I first came across BJJ, I thought I wasn’t cut out for it. I felt like I would just make a fool out of myself,” she says.

“It was only when I was 17 that I realised swimming isn’t what I’m truly passionate about, so I switched my focus to martial arts since I was never given a choice to discover my own passion.”

And find her passion in the sport she did.

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“I felt that I could connect with the essence of BJJ and things just clicked naturally for me. It taught me confidence and fed the competitive spirit in me. I love how a lot of what I have learnt in it can be applied to areas in life, especially the values like resilience, patience, and grit.”

She adds that she also likes how the sport empowers women as the different weight categories gives everyone a chance to excel and feel comfortable fighting in their own skin and size.

But that’s not to say her years in swimming did her no favours. Much as she admits that swimming put her through a “rough patch”, she credits the sport for helping her hone key skills.

“Swimming definitely set the foundation for my sporting career. I was previously in Singapore Sports School and being there taught me so much. I learnt to be independent, like how to plan my training, and a lot more disciplined, which enabled me to manage my time well,” she says.

“I also learnt to never limit myself and to never be too quick to say no to an opportunity to grow.”

How she’s giving back to the community

Constance graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a diploma in Early Childhood Studies last year but is currently on a gap year to focus on BJJ—she trains for at least two hours almost daily and makes sure to eat clean during competition seasons. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have her moments of weakness.

“I’m definitely not a perfect athlete. I do not always have the motivation to go for training, so I’ll remind myself of the passion and love that I have for the sport,” she shares candidly. She attributes a huge part of her motivation to train to the environment at Evolve MMA, where her coaches constantly remind her of her potential and keep her going.

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When not in the thick of training, she also gives back to the community by mentoring kids and giving talks to youths. The one topic she’s big on? Emotional and mental health.

“Mental toughness is essential to becoming a great athlete and competitor. I’d say the mental aspect of any sport is the most crucial and important attribute.”

She adds, “I have been advocating for mental and emotional health as it’s something I hold very dear to my heart. Without the challenges that I faced as an individual and an athlete, I wouldn’t have developed the mental tenacity that I have today.”

If you’re in the pursuit of something, whether sport or a career, but frequently struggle with self-doubt, Constance has some advice.

“I feel that when you’re passionate about something and come across challenges, which is very common, you would see the challenges as a stepping stone to improvement and wouldn’t feel like giving up,” she says.

“I suggest setting clear goals and reminding yourself why you started doing it in the first place. Also, never put a limitation to what you can achieve.”

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