Born to a Cambodian father and a Latin American mother, 16-year-old Jessa Khan won Cambodia’s first Asian Games gold medal in Jiu-Jitsu after sensationally defeating Mahra Alhinaai of the UAE in Jakarta on August 24. Hiezle Bual caught up with the martial arts prodigy, who first made a name for herself on social media in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu circuit.
Good Times2: Is this your first Asian Games medal? How does it feel to bring home a gold medal for Cambodia?
Jessa Khan: I feel really happy bringing a gold medal for Cambodia. Also because I got to represent the whole country so that was really amazing.
Good Times2: Was there anybody in particular during the Asian Games that you dreaded to compete with?
Jessa Khan: No. I was training super hard so I was ready to fight anyone. But I knew a few girls.
Good Times2: How old are you now? At what age did you start training for Jiu-Jitsu?
Jessa Khan: I am now 16 and had been training for eight years. I have been doing this sport for half of my life already.
Good Times2: Why such sport?
Jessa Khan: For me, I always loved martial arts and with Jiu-Jitsu, you can do other martial arts while doing it. It’s not like Karate. If you practice Karate, you only have to concentrate on that martial art. In Jiu-Jitsu, you can do judo and wrestling. It’s a great combination of other martial arts and that’s why I really like it. Although Karate was my first martial art, I then shifted to Jiu-Jitsu.
Good Times2: Is there anybody in the sport or in any other sport that you look up to?
Jessa Khan: Yes, in Jiu-Jitsu, I look up to my professors in California. They’re like the best thing in the world. They’re from Brazil and I’ve been training with them for the past year and a half.
Good Times2: How often do you train? What are the hardships of training? Is there any strict diet or specific exercise routines you have to follow?
Jessa Khan: Usually, I train at least three times a day. Each training session takes an hour and a half. I train five days a week and usually I’m competing during the weekends. Basically, on weekdays, I train and on weekends, I compete (in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu events). As for my diet, I don’t really have one or I don’t limit my food intake. I am free to eat whatever I want. For the weight class I fight, my weight is just right, so I don’t usually have to put on more weight. But soon, I’ll be cutting and watching what I eat.
Good Times2: Do you also go to school?
Jessa Khan: Yes, I’m homeschooled. So, usually, I train throughout the day, then there’s a gap in between. That’s when I do my school work for a few hours. I don’t train at home. We have a Jiu-Jitsu school that we go to where I live in Newport Beach, California.
Good Times2: How do you manage your time?
Jessa Khan: Pretty well, in fact, because I have my parents there to help me. Usually, all my study programmes are online. When it comes to my priorities, my parents are strict on both school and sport – although a little bit more on school.
Good Times2: What did you learn from Jiu-Jitsu?
Jessa Khan: I learned that it’s just about having fun and doing what you love. I love practicing Jiu-Jitsu. I was never forced to do the martial arts. It was my dad who introduced me to the sport. At that time, we were living in Hawaii and I wanted to try another martial art (other than Karate) so my dad found Jiu-Jitsu and I just tried it out then I directly fell in love with this sport.
Good Times2: What does it take to become an Asian Games gold medalist?
Jessa Khan: I think it takes passion and hard work. Of course, determination. For me, passion comes first because first you have to love it before you do it and I really love what I’m doing.
Good Times2: How often do you visit Cambodia?
Jessa Khan: It’s my first time visiting Cambodia. Before I won, I was here for two weeks to train and then I flew to Indonesia for the Asian Games.
Good Times2: You are now considered a star in Cambodia. How do you feel about that? How did the Khmer people welcome you?
Jessa Khan: It feels good. Knowing I was able to represent Cambodia in the Asian Games and was able to bring a gold medal for them. It feels good to help Cambodia and give something back to them. Khmer people are super nice and always showing their appreciation by giving me flowers. I don’t have many local friends yet, though I have a lot of relatives on my father’s side. I’m staying with them now and I get to spend time with them longer.
Good Times2: Do you want to represent Cambodia in other international sports competitions?
Jessa Khan: Yes. In fact, if given the chance, I’d like to go to the Philippines next year for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games to represent Cambodia, of course.
Good Times2: If you were to encourage other young Cambodians to try your sport, what would you tell them?
Jessa Khan: Jiu-Jitsu, to me, is all about having fun and being passionate about something. It’s a great way to meet new people and also learn about yourself. One thing I love about it is that it doesn’t matter what age you start, everyone just comes together. It’s great to see older and younger people coming together.
Good Times2: If you were not into sports, who/what would you want to be?
Jessa Khan: If I were not into any sports, I’m not quite sure. Ask me that question in 10 years’ time. Right now, I really love the sport and this is what I want to do as a career, I want to be a professional athlete. In 10 years, probably, I would be wearing a black belt and try to win a world title. At present, I’m still a blue belt.
In Jiu-Jitsu, we don’t have as many belts as the other martial arts. So we stay in the belt longer. Usually in karate or taekwondo, when you do it for a few years, you’re already a black. But in Jiu-Jitsu, it takes at least seven years or more to get a black belt. I’ve been doing it for eight years but it’s the age. One needs to be at least 18 to get a black belt. And I am still 16, so that’s why.
When it comes, I will try to win a few world titles and travel around to compete and teach other people Jiu-Jitsu. Eventually, I hope to open up my own Jiu-Jitsu academy.