The first ever Chinese referee to ref a UFC match. Referee within multiple promotions across Asia, founder of Hong Kong China Mixed Martial Arts Association (HKCMMA). The first Chinese person living in Hong Kong to become a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. A Husband, Father and Osteopath it really is a wonder where Thomas finds the time.
Q. We understand you got into martial arts because you were fighting a lot when you were younger. What values did martial arts teach you? Do you still live by them today? A. I first became interested in martial arts because I was fascinated by the idea of being able to fight and look cool at the same time(laughs). Like many from my generation Bruce lee films were a major influence. Growing up in the UK I had access to the traditional martial arts such as karate, taekwondo, kickboxing and Kungfu. The values of respect, hard work and fairness were instilled into me from very early on. I try to live my life with these same values today, certainly respect towards our seniors and mentors. One hard lesson was to understand that this isn’t always reciprocated, then of course you have to distance yourself to not get caught up in any negativity, a lesson many reading will understand!
Q. Why did you become a referee? A. It wasn’t something that was planned actually. In Hong Kong over 10 years ago, BJJ and MMA were still in their infancy and some small events began. As I was one of the pioneers for BJJ and MMA in Hong Kong, I had to lead the way and show the martial arts and combat sports community whom practised Judo, karate and Muay Thai, what BJJ and MMA were all about. All too often I would end up as the Referee as I was pretty much one of a handful of guys who knew what the rules were.
My break through as an MMA Referee was for the Show “Art of War” under the direction of my good friend Andy Pi in Beijing China. We had met previously during one of my BJJ classes in HK and kept in touch. Out the blue one day Andy calls me and just asked me to Ref for his MMA show Art of War 12 in Beijing. He told me it was a big show and a who’s who of MMA were going to be there.
I told him I’ve never reffed a professional MMA event before but I was up for it for sure! I was totally blown away by the entire event as a referee. Imagine meeting Rickson, Renzo, Royce, Roylar, Rolles, Igor Gracie, Bas Ruttan, Shaolin, Fabricio Werdum, Tim Silvia, Ricardo Liborio, Damian Maia and many others, it was unbelievable, seeing these guys at breakfast and hanging out, going to the Great Wall, Shopping etc. The Referees were Big John McCarthy, Yuji Shimada then Me! I picked up a lot of knowledge and was inspired so much to become a better Referee, then more shows came along and as they say, the rest is history!
Q. We have seen a major increase in MMA and the number of active participants. What advice would you give to anyone wishing to become a pro ref? A. I think the best advice now is to get involved with the many Amateur events that are around and make sure you learn and understand all the intricacies of MMA like the Rules, Fouls, terminology and also have sound knowledge of MMA techniques. I would advice you should train in grappling arts like BJJ, Submission Wrestling etc as well as Striking like Kickboxing, Muay Thai or MMA. When you watch striking its fairly straightforward what is going on, but in a close grappling situation especially when a submission is attempted, the Referee must be able to make the right decision and know if the fighter is safe or not, especially in a Choke or strangulation hold.
There are also MMA courses now for Judge/Referee taught by experienced professional Referees like Marc Goddard in UK which is highly recommended. Also there is the COMMAND course in the US with Big John McCarthy which I’ve personally taken.
Sometimes it takes a bit of luck also when you will get a chance to work on regular shows which of course will give you more experience and make you a better Referee over time. Overall with your knowledge and presence, you should exude authority and confidence which in turn will give fighters, coaches and promoters confidence in you as a Pro Referee.
The challenge however, is how managers and or fighters can make sure that contracts are water tight so no surprises can happen, especially on smaller shows where they may not be so regulated in terms of regs or contractual matters. In my opinion managers & fighters should make sure they do their research and protect themselves. Sadly this is not done often enough and people end up injured and out of pocket with nobody to go back to in a legal setting. Get a good manager that can read, understand and implement the terms set out in any contracts.
Q. Where & when can we next catch you in action? A. My Next Referee assignment will be @ UFC Fight Night Beijing, Blades vs Ngannou 2. 24th November, 2018.
Q.Anything else you’d like to add? A. I want to thank you guys at Team Envisage for giving me the opportunity to share a part of my story. I wish everyone the best inside & outside of the cage!