Luckily, the centre turned out to be a success. During her busiest times, she taught eight sessions a day, including both private sessions and classes. With hindsight, Leung regrets she did not leave the office job sooner, as the peak age of a Thai boxer is 20 to 24. “I wish I had started earlier when I was younger and more ambitious.” Leung says that had she thrown herself into Thai boxing earlier she would have entered some competitions and won prizes.
Being a woman in such a male-dominated field has not always been easy. “Some male students belittle me. Some think that I’m a petite girl and are sceptical about whether I’m professional enough,” she says. Male coaches are more popular because they can attract students of both genders, whereas most male students would prefer not to have a female coach. But Leung does not take it personally.
Besides, she has other strengths. Leung’s caring personality and persistence has earned her the respect and admiration of her students. Gabrielle Tvscher, who has boxed under Leung’s tutelage for two years, says she loves her coach but “complains” about her demanding commands. “She keeps yelling ‘Work harder! Work harder! Ten more! Ten more!’ ”
In fact, Leung understands her students’ abilities and needs and adjusts her approach accordingly. Her skills and passion in teaching explains why her classes are well attended despite the bias. Many students join the class to keep fit, while some come to release their stress. Some simply love Thai boxing.
For women who have never tried Thai boxing, and who might feel embarrassed to practise alongside men, Leung’s class is a stress-free environment where they can gain confidence. In the class, Leung is a role model – a determined, strong-willed coach, demonstrating that women can also master Thai boxing.
Her strong character may be related to her background. Leung’s parents divorced when she was young and she lived with her grandmother. She learned to be independent when she studied in Britain as she always had to take care of herself.
Life has had its ups and downs but Leung is not easily defeated. A year after she and Au married, Swish Club ran into difficulties in 2007. After expanding the club they faced pressure from increased rent and management costs which meant they had to boost enrolment.
However, they faced fierce competition as Thai boxing had by then gained in popularity. The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, followed by the financial tsunami, drowned the city in despair and badly affected the business of Swish Club.
Throughout the difficulties, Leung remained self-sufficient. She does not like to rely on anyone. Therefore, as the general manager of the club, she is also responsible for marketing, accounting, administration and management. More coaches and staff joined the club after expansion and managing human resources became an arduous task.