Once bullied for having Tourette’s, Singaporean MMA fighter Amir Khan shares 4 tips he would give to someone facing a challenge

Award-winning mixed martial arts fighter Amir Khan has Tourette syndrome.
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Fans of the mixed martial arts (MMA) scene know Amir Khan as one of the top fighters in Singapore, and one of the youngest members of the Evolve Fight Team.

But few are aware that behind the tough exterior is a young man who has been dealing with Tourette syndrome since he was just eight years old.

Tourette syndrome, or Tourette’s, is a neurological disorder which is characterised by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalisations called tics.

In a phone interview, the 24-year-old told Business Insider that his tics are more or less under control now, compared to 11 years ago, when the disorder was at its peak.

Amir when he was 14 years old.
Amir Khan

He said: “In school, I was bullied and made fun of because I was always making faces and making sounds. It’s really tough growing up, especially when you are different.”

Amir when he was 15 years old. The fighter was bullied in school for being different, but picking up Muay Thai gave him an outlet.
Amir Khan

But when he was 13 years old, Amir found an outlet – Muay Thai, also known as Thai boxing.

When asked what sparked his interest in Muay Thai, he said: “I wanted something to keep me positive. I was always feeling sad during school, with no friends. I wanted something to make me feel better.”

With encouragement from his Muay Thai coach, he slowly transitioned towards MMA over the years.

“Since the first day (of training), I already felt at home. No one judges me, no one sees me as the kid who has ‘the problem’. They see my eagerness to learn and respect me based on my skills and how much work I put in,” he told Business Insider.

While the peak of his Tourette’s problem has passed, tics still show up when Amir is “excited or nervous” today.

“It’s something I have to deal with my whole life,” he said matter-of-factly.

Learning martial arts has undoubtedly helped Amir cope with the disorder.

“With Tourette’s, for every second of your life, you have to be aware of your body because if you’re not – if you dose off or think of something else – you’ll twitch here and there.”

Amir is made more aware of his body and its movements through fighting, helping him better control his tics over time.

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“It (martial arts) gave me that focus, that awareness, control and mental strength. Without martial arts, I wouldn’t be this confident. I wouldn’t lead a normal life like this.” he said.

Amir also told Business Insider that although Tourette’s did affect his personal life, it never affected his performance in sports and fighting.

Here are 4 confidence-building tips he would give to people who are dealing with difficult challenges in life.

1. Find something positive

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Waking up with a passion and something to look forward to is how Amir stays strong mentally and overcomes struggles every day.

“Once you find that love – be it in martial arts, music or anything else – you’ll focus everything on that love. All the positive energy and the people around you will motivate you to do better – they’ll support and help you,” he added.

In his experience, finding his true purpose motivated him to do whatever it takes to improve and achieve his dreams.

2. Put yourself out there

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The best way to build self-confidence is to step out of your comfort zone, Amir said. For example, if you fear public speaking, you should do just that in front of a class.

“You have to force yourself to do it. Initially, you’ll fail and mess up. People will make fun of you because there’s always negative energy that wants to pull you down, but you’ve just got to try again. And with enough practice, you’ll master the skills (you need),” Amir said.

The fighter added that not being able to do something does not mean that you can’t pick up the skills and learn it.

“You have to have an open mind – one which tells you that can master and conquer anything if you put the effort and time. You cannot shy away from challenges. You have to face it head on,” he added.

3. Your greatest obstacle is yourself

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Amir confessed that when the tough times hit, it can be difficult not to have doubts about his career. He would wonder if this is really the career for him, and whether he should carry on.

But he refuses to be a quitter.

“You just have to be strong mentally. Sometimes, things do not go as well as you planned for them to, but you just have to stay with it and keep going.”

4. Don’t let obstacles hinder your passion

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Amir told Business Insider that finding something you’re passionate about is tough. And when you do, you should not give it up no matter what it takes.

“If you’re passionate about something, you have to make sure nothing gets in your way. You have to do anything for that passion and make sure you sacrifice what you need to, because if you give up doing what you love, then life would be meaningless,” he said.

In short, you should follow your passions, instead of what others say you should or shouldn’t do.

“I feel that if you’re passionate about something, you’d make money in the end,” he added.

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