The Little Athlete That Could

“Lek prik khii nuu” (literally “bird eye’s chili small”) is a Thai expression used to describe someone who’s small but mighty. And while the Thai sport scene is never in short supply of these mighty mites, Worathida “Pan” Tiewpanich, who stands at 152 cm., is indeed in a league of her own.

We sat down with Pan, former hapkido national team athlete who’s proved time and again that size doesn’t matter.

The Hybrid Martial Art

Pan explained to us that ‘hapkido’ is a form of martial art said to have originated in Korea after World War II. It employs so-called "soft" techniques where hapkido practitioners use the opponent's force to their advantage. This can be done through a variety of techniques such as move anticipation and escaping, throwing, and joint locks — all of which allow a practitioner with a small build to gain advantage over a bigger, stronger opponent. What makes hapkido fun is the fact that you can deflect or redirect an opponent's strike in any free-flowing manner or even in a circular pattern. You can also perform other crazy moves like somersault, high jump or forward lunge.

“I actually wanted to do Thai boxing, but there weren’t enough people so the class got cancelled. Then my trainer introduced me to hapkido, which is better suited to women because it doesn’t require as much force and you can also use it as self-defence. After giving it a try, I was hooked because hapkido combines many forms of martial arts into one. There’s so many techniques and movements that you can try to use. I decided to take the sport seriously around 10 years ago simply because it was fun and a much better option than doing just Thai boxing, taekwondo or judo.”

Packing a Punch

Even though hapkido wasn’t her first choice, she got so good at it that she managed to eventually be qualified for the national team. Some of the events she competed in (and proceeded to beat bigger opponents) include categories like demo, high jump and sparring. As for the medals, here’s the rundown of what she achieved: 

  • 1 gold, 2 silver medals from 1st Korea Open World Hapkido Championship
  • 2 gold medals from 9th International H.K.D. Martial Arts Competition
  • 1 gold, 1 silver medals from 16th Pohang Mayor Cup Hapkido Championship and International Exchange

A high jump event requires an athlete to perform a high jump over a wooden bar and land into a somersault. The score is given based on the height achieved and landing. A sparring event is similar to taekwondo in that kicking and punching are allowed with an addition of throwing. A demo event requires an athlete to perform three movements of their own choosing based on given scenarios such as getting out of a chokehold. The judges will score based on things like the moves used by the athlete, how well they’re being executed and how practical they are.

For Pan, her most memorable competition was 1st Korea Open World Hapkido Championship. Competing in a sparring event, she faced an opponent who was a lot taller than her. This meant that she was at a disadvantage whenever her opponent deployed a kick. However, being smaller and nimbler, she managed to dodge the kicking and performed a forward throw on her opponent. She won the match and took home a silver medal..

“Being small doesn’t mean you’ll automatically lose. The smaller you are, the more quickly you can perform your moves. Learn to use that to your advantage. Hapkido is all about deflecting your opponent’s force and being small means that you could easily outperform your opponent and win the match.”

Hapkido in Thailand

“Compared to 10 years ago, the sport is definitely getting more popular today and more people are taking it up. Also, Thailand Hapkido Association has this program where they would send trainers to hold workshops for taekwondo and jiu jitsu athletes because they already know the basics. We also have competitions here in Thailand as well as in other countries, mainly in South Korea, with a lot of different events to choose from — long or high jump, sparring, demo, self-defence, kicking, weapons, and demo teams.”

Unexpected Opportunities

One open-ended question we always ask our guest athletes is “if they could liken their favorite sport to one thing, what would it be? While many would ask us to give them at least one day before they could come up with the answer, Pan was quick to tell us that for her “hapkido is an opportunity.” She further explained that, in the beginning, she was just doing it for practical reasons like fitness, self-defence and making new friends. She never thought that she would get the opportunity to compete on behalf of the country, let alone win any medals. The sport also enabled her to attend a university as a student athlete. Even now that she’s no longer with the national team athlete, she still works as a trainer and uses her skills and knowledge for other sports.

Pan’s last words

“Just because you’re on the smaller side doesn’t mean you can’t do stuff like hapkido or any other kinds of martial arts. The most important thing is your willpower. If you think that you can’t do it from the get go or if you’re scared of trying, that’s not the right attitude.”