Indonesian journalist-turned-martial artist Gita Suharsono’s career path changed in the space of just two short weeks.
Suharsono had taken up Muay Thai to stay in shape and lose some weight, and took a trip to Thailand on a training holiday. It was enough to convince her to quit her job instantly.
Now a rising mixed martial arts prospect, 25-year-old Suharsono is hoping to earn a spot on the ONE Championship roster through her performances in ONE Warrior Series.
It is the latest step on a journey that has taken her from a tough upbringing to the world of mixed martial arts.
Suharsono’s childhood was spent in a very strict family regime. Her father was a doctor and her family imposed a strict set of rules on her behaviour.
“As a woman, I am not allowed to play basketball. I had to go home straight from school, and I had to cover myself. I had to be a woman that was submissive,” she explains in an interview with ONE Championship.
“[My parents] conveyed to me that women should be girly, and should not do sports. You either study or you marry. That is it. I did not have any other choices.
“It was such a feeling that there was a lot of injustice [in the world] because I was a woman, so I cannot go out, and I could not play basketball. I had to do it all secretly because of my gender.”
Rather than rail against her parents, Suharsono instead just focused on her studies, read books and watched the news. The latter activity sparked a fire inside her to pursue a career in the media.
“There was one night when I turned on CNN, and I said, ‘I want to work there,’” she remembers.
Despite suffering from dyslexia, Suharsono decided to pursue a career in journalism and eventually earned an internship with CNN International, which later turned into a job as a producer in Indonesia in April 2010.
After graduating from the London School of Public Relations in 2013, she moved to China for jobs with NET TV and CCTV as a video journalist. The hours were long and the work was hard. It meant she wasn’t living the healthiest lifestyle.
“Burger King was my best friend,” she laughs.
But that soon had to change after her boss took her to one side and told her she had to lose weight to be on camera.
“Their stereotypical reporter had to be pretty and slim,” she says.
“It was really bad because it really hurt my confidence. I was embarrassed, and I was body-shaming myself. I was not loving myself.”
Suharsono worked hard to get back into shape, and took up martial arts.
“I started doing Muay Thai during my lunch break instead of eating, and I started doing private lessons because that was the only time I could do it,” she says.
”The coaches told me about this gym in Thailand called Tiger Muay Thai, and I thought I might try it for two weeks. I was put in a beginner’s class, and it was sheer willpower that got me through, because it was so hard.”
Her love for Muay Thai and martial arts soon took over from her love of journalism, and she called the same boss who had body-shamed her, and told him she wasn’t coming back.
Then, after that empowering moment, she had to relay the news to her parents.
“I still remember that conversation. I even remember it was raining at the time when I was on the phone,” she recollects.
“I told them I quit my job, I was living in Thailand, and I was going to be a fighter. They said, ‘You’re doing what? You studied hard, you’ve built your life, you became a journalist, and you’re quitting to become a fighter? Like, you’re hitting people?’
“There was a long pause, and basically, they cut me off from the family.”
Sadly, despite multiple attempts to reconnect with her parents, she hasn’t heard from her mother and father since.
“They do not want me to do this — one, because I am a woman; two, because of my attire; and three, for them, I broke so many rules in society for women.”
It left Suharsono second-guessing her decision to become a martial artist, but she has stayed on course and continued to chase her dream, even though she knows she has to do it without her parents’ support.
“I always have those empty feelings,” she says.
“You just wish someone was going to sit there and watch you fight, and give a tap on the shoulder during your hard training. It may or may not happen for me.
“My parents, right now, they do not talk to me at all. When I try to call, they reject. When I send a message, they read it, but they do not reply.”
Suharsono has since transitioned from Muay Thai to kickboxing, then to mixed martial arts, jumping from gym to gym to find the right place to develop her skills. Now she splits her time between Capital Training Center in China, and ASTA in Indonesia.
She learned about ONE Warrior Series during her time in China, and received an invitation to the tryouts in Beijing.
“A few girls were at the tryouts and a lot of guys, and [the hosts] said they were going to call a few names [after the workout],” she recalls.
“I tried not to put my hopes high because I was in China, I was a foreigner, and there were a lot of good guys. I felt like my stomach was twisting.”
Suharsono was selected, and is now a participant in ONE Warrior Series, where successful performances could be rewarded with a shot in ONE Championship.
It is exactly the opportunity she has been battling for and, after being forced to go it alone, she is determined to see it through.
“You’ve got to set a goal, and so far I have been drowning in cold water,” she says.
“But now, I am swimming in it. So now, I am going to set a bigger dream. It may seem like a crazy dream to people, but what I have already been doing is crazy.
“I want to have a message delivered that you can be what you want to be — you just have to believe in yourself.”
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