The judo Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) at Hougang Secondary School has always been a popular one, welcoming students both with and without any form of experience in the martial arts. When Harith first enrolled in Hougang Secondary, he was intrigued at the prospect of learning judo, since he was already a taekwondo exponent outside of school and a track and field athlete in primary school.
But Harith soon realised that his sporting background did not serve him too well. Judo was vastly different from what he had learnt in Taekwondo, and more physically demanding than he expected. “What was most challenging to me was the intensive physical training,” he recalls.
Coupled with the fact that his first two years in the CCA took place at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic where physical contact was minimised and any form of sparring was not allowed, Harith felt alone and disconnected from his teammates. “I felt discouraged since most of my friends in class joined other CCAs, and I didn’t really have any one to talk to at first in Judo.”
Harith was determined to walk away from Judo at the end of Secondary Two, when students had the option to switch to a new CCA. But understanding what he was going through, his seniors stepped in.
“They were the ones who influenced me to stay on. One of them, Bo Cheng, told me that Judo is not like any other sport. Anyone can win, and it comes down to individual performance and a responsibility to improve ourselves, which really stuck to me,” says Harith.
From the pep-talk, Harith began to observe how dedicated his seniors were during their own training, and the hard work they put in their quest towards a medal at the NSG.
“I am competitive in nature, so I really wanted to win a medal,” he jokes.
The juniors try harder when they see their seniors and alumni being so committed to the sport and do well on the mat, and in turn are eager to prove themselves.
“The juniors will see for themselves how their seniors are role models, and they will carry on this spirit when they take over in future,” says Ms Jasmine Low Wee Kie, one of the teachers in charge of the CCA.
Working hard to lead by example
When he decided to give judo, another shot, Harith also set in pursuit of another goal – to be captain of the team.
“I took it as a fresh start, and I wanted to prove to everyone that even if I am not the best judoka or most well-behaved student, I am learning to be better at both,” he recalls. Harith also started to hit the gym outside of school hours, to perform better at the sport.
The growing maturity in him, and his leadership potential, didn’t go unnoticed by his seniors and teachers – Harith was eventually made team captain, which gave him fresh motivation to push beyond his limits and give his best.
“When I win my matches, I can show my peers and juniors that I am not just a captain by name, I am a captain that leads by example,” he says proudly. “I have to encourage and motivate my fellow judokas and juniors to not give up. If they try their best, they too will be able to learn new things and improve.”
Harith (left) grappling with his opponent at the recent NSG Judo tournament.
At his inaugural NSG last year, Harith unfortunately missed out on qualifying out of the group stages. Nevertheless, he took his losses in stride, and turned them into opportunities to gain experience, confidence, and the “game sense”, as he puts it.
“I felt disappointed then, but my seniors encouraged me to train harder, and offered tips on how to improve on my mistakes.”
Through another year of grit and tireless effort, his perseverance paid off, culminating in a bronze placing at this year’s NSG, which was also his last.
Harith, with his hard-fought bronze medal and the school flag proudly draped over his shoulders.
As he looks back on his transformative journey, Harith is grateful for all the experiences that shaped him into the judoka he is today.
The most important lesson comes from the losses he experienced, he says. “When I lose my bouts, I know that I have tried my best. The person that has beaten me has more practice and training and it shows that they have worked harder than me.”
“In judo, everyone is good enough. What matters is who is willing to work harder to achieve greatness.”
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