After spending years setting up a chicken farm in Rwanda as part of her father’s vision to give back to the societies that contributed to the success of their family business, Shumei Lam finally had the chance to pursue her own dream: Muay Thai. More specifically, to make martial arts less intimidating for beginners.
Her father Larry, who founded global port operator Portek International in 1988, passed away five years ago, leaving her with the task of setting up Poultry East Africa Ltd (PEAL) for Azul World, the family’s social impact-driven investment company.
With PEAL managing to break even in the last few years and become the largest supplier of poultry produce in Rwanda, Lam found herself with enough time to pursue her passion for martial arts.
In fact, it was during her Muay Thai training sessions at Trifecta Martial Arts here that Lam came up with the concept for her own studio — Neue Fit, where martial arts are presented as a lifestyle choice.
“In Singapore we get a lot of pure martial arts gyms like Evolve MMA, and single-discipline ones for yoga and pilates,” notes Lam. “The general public only has access to chain gyms like Virgin Active and Fitness First. However, their body combat classes are more like cardio workouts because you’re just punching air.”
Of course, Lam understands that ordinary non-practitioners don’t necessarily want to punch each other either, so she and co-founder Grace Huang, whom she met at Trifecta Martial Arts, created a hybrid class they call Muay HIIT, which combines non-combat, high intensity interval training workout with real Muay Thai techniques.
“There’s a misconception that martial arts are just about combat — but they’re about fitness and fun, too. I wanted to reduce the barriers of entry for people wanting to try new things,” she says.
The year-old studio also offers Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, yoga and HIIT classes for beginners to fight-level trainees. “Martial arts enthusiasts actually do a combination of different things, from yoga to strength training and conditioning. So instead of having various memberships to specialised gyms, I want them to be able to do all that in one space.”
This is a far cry from keeping a farm, which she still manages daily, operational on another continent, but it’s the love for her family’s legacy, the Rwandans whose lives she helped changed, and martial arts that keep her going.
“It’s important to understand one’s strengths, and my standards are rather high. For me, it’s about my entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to identifying opportunities and setting them up through careful due diligence.”
How Shumei Lam keeps fit
I’ve always been active. I was in the swim and hockey teams in school, and I also learnt tennis.
I started Muay Thai three years ago. These days, I try to train five times a week for an hour or two. Every other day, I run 3.5km to 4km. Sunday is my rest day.
To encourage experimentation, Neue Fit uses a system that allows clients to buy credit to spend on any class at any time. Unlimited packages are also available. The studio even offers classes for children and families.
#02-07 Kallang Wave Mall.
Open daily, 10.30am-10pm.
This story was first published in The Peak Magazine.