Tenzin Pema, 23, is a Tibetan professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) player currently living in New Delhi. Since turning professional at the start of 2016, she has won gold, silver, bronze in State and National level fights. She grew up in Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim where she attended Sikkim Government High School. Following that, she attended Punjab University, Chandigarh where she completed a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. In 2014, she decided to pursue her passion in Mixed Martial Arts and give it her full focus. Tenzin has sacrificed many things in her life including her family and friends in order to pursue her dreams.
By Jigme Lhamo (TWA Media Officer) and Georgia Jacobs/ August 22, 2016
How did you first become interested in MMA?
Since childhood, I really loved to fight. But growing up as a Buddhist, I was taught not to fight and harm others. So, in a sense, this idea discouraged me from fighting. Later on, after graduating from University, I worked with a Punjab Kesari News Agency as a reporter, based in Dharamshala. I also worked at an NGO, Tibet Hope Centre as a Manager. I was working to support myself financially and also for the rights of my people and country. While I was working as a reporter, I was regularly visiting Delhi to train for MMA. It was a challenging time, managing these competing schedules of my job, travel and training for MMA. It was at this time, it came to me that life is short and I needed to pursue what my heart was telling me, something that really made me happy! So it was about two and a half years ago, that I made the decision to focus my life on MMA.
Do you have any mentors or idols who are an inspiration to you?
Although I have taken a lot of inspiration from all of my coaches, I don’t necessarily have one mentor or idol in particular. What is really motivating and inspiring me, is that I become a mentor to all women.
So, how do your family and friends feel about you competing in MMA?
I don’t have any contact with my family. Actually, my friends have been everything to me through their support and encouragement; really they are like my family. Although, there have been some friends, who were not so kind and were critical of my choice of profession, believing that it was just a passing phase and that I would not stick with it.
What character trait is most useful to you during a fight and training?
During training, my brain is more active because I am processing the tips and advice that my trainer is giving me. But during a fight, I have 100% commitment and concentration and my passion becomes even stronger. Before I get in the ring, it’s like my heart beat has stopped, the noise of the audience is cut out and I focus on being quiet and peaceful within myself. I have complete determination and focus. I always want to win, whether it is gold, silver or bronze. I just want the medal.
How do you financially support your MMA profession?
It is difficult to work in another field as it is a distraction and doesn’t allow me to focus completely and excel at my sport. Since I am not working, I have some friends abroad and also some Indian friends who are very kindly supporting me financially. I want to thank them and give my gratitude to all of them for their generous support. Because of my financial difficulties, I missed the opportunity to compete in the MMA World Asian Championship this year. Delhi is also an expensive place to live, so the money that I do have goes toward the cost of attending the gym and academy, travel costs, accommodation etc etc.
Have you faced any criticism because of your profession? If so, what has the criticism been and how have you managed it?
Some people have been quick to judge me on the career that I have chosen. Despite this criticism, I know that the most important thing is to follow my heart, my mind and my dreams. Because of this, I feel empowered to keep pursuing my passion despite any criticism and discouragement that I face. Now, since people have started to recognize me, I feel happy and proud as a fighting woman.
Do you think women’s Mixed Martial Arts gets less attention and opportunities than men’s? If so, why? And what do you think can be done to change that attitude?
Actually, I think there is more opportunity for woman in Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and Kick Boxing within India. There are many young girls becoming involved in these sports. This is very inspiring to see! Even there are examples of girls learning in remote villages in India.
Do you have any other hobbies or interests outside the gym and fighting?
I really love all types of sports including basketball, swimming, badminton and football. In the past, I used to compete in the annual Central Tibetan Administration’s (CTA) women’s basketball match in Dharamshala.
What are you plans for future?
If I was to receive support from CTA and Himachal Pradesh State Government, I would like to open a Mixed Martial Arts Official Academy in Dharamshala for everybody to learn and train. Through this, we will produce more future sports stars! In the future, I also have my sights set on representing India in the 2020 Olympics which something that of course, I would feel so proud of. People know by my name and by my face that I am a Tibetan, so it will be clear that I am representing both India and Tibet. I believe this will also help to develop stronger relationship and understanding between Tibet and India.
What advice would you give to inspire young people out there to be successful in their chosen field?
Whichever field, youngsters want to follow, they have to be focused on it and they have to feel confident in pursuing that field. You have to feel it 100% and be willing to sacrifice some things. Although you might not get the instant results, you have to be patient and then you are sure to get the results.
I have a message, especially for girls, if they are interested in any sports it’s great! There should be more girls pursuing sports, representing their place and their country. Not only this, I encourage girls to learn Mixed Martial Arts for their own self- defense.
I think that sometimes women forfeit their dreams in order to support their family. They shouldn’t be exclusive, it can be possible to pursue both. Sometimes, when a women gets married they think their own life is finished, just following the dreams of husbands and kids. Now it’s the 21st Century, we need to change with the times. Men should support women and women should feel confident to keep pursuing their own dreams! This life is only one time, we need to make the most of it!
A final message
I want to say thankyou to India for giving me such a wonderful opportunity and the freedom and support that you have provided to the Tibetan people. Now that I am a national player I am happy and feeling proud and would like to express my gratitude to my present coach, Mr Aditya.