Passionate Person – Personal Trainer Douglas Oh

Posted On: November 5, 2017

Eros Coaching decided to feature Douglas Oh from Moved Singapore this month.

1. What do you do? 

From the surface, I would look like any ordinary personal trainer, except it is my philosophy and pedagogy which makes the difference. I consider myself a passionate teacher and student in movement, interested to show people the gift of moving their bodies better while at the same learning more about movement. This may sound common amongst most trainers, but I argue that it is not. Unfortunately, for many people, their mindset is still steered by (what I dub) a ‘conventional fitness mindset’, where weight loss and physical fitness are the prime objectives. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but instead of thinking how much weight you can lose, or how many pushups you can do, I direct my students to address more fundamental concerns such as “how well can I move with my body?” or “can I be confident that I can move at 60 years without pain and discomfort?”. By positing such questions as the main goals in our pursuit of health and longevity, I answer that it is better movement that we should aim for.

I name my practice, MOVED: Movement Education, because I see it as beyond just training someone for fitness. I endeavour to teach people valuable concepts about the human body and movement, in particular on how our modern sedentary lifestyle (even if coupled with a few hours of fitness classes) is an ill-fit with our complex biological evolutionary nature (which is to move constantly and in diverse patterns). I want my students to crawl, squat, push, pull, locomote, invert, dance, fight; essentially be open to a wide array of movement activities. As with most educators, I preach these lessons through a variety of channels, one-on-one training, classes and workshops/ seminars.

Another craft that I seek to grow on is writing. Before embarking on movement education, I graduated with a humanities degree and used to work in the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. Social issues, current affairs, and philosophical life questions continue to intrigue me, and I feel that life is a meaningless rut if we do not dabble, engage and reflect deeper on our sense of being in this world. Although my writing portfolio is still nascent, I currently blog on my Facebook page ‘Nothing of Value’, and look ahead to develop my skills as a writer.

2. Why do you do what you do?

Because my actions would constitute a mid-career switch, there is really only one answer for this: passion. Staying in the civil service would have been comfortable and stable, but I eventually realised that this “stability” was a false sense of security, i.e. it was provided by the employer and not secured by my own efforts and initiative. And since I was more interested in working out than arriving to work on time, I knew that I had to switch out.

We tend to define passion as akin to “personal interest” but I have come to reconsider that a better definition is about “the drive to dig deeper and learn/develop better”. For instance,I had a lot of personal interest in academic social research but it was not matched by the more intense drive to improve my foray into health and fitness. Over time, movement, instead of fitness, became my mission statement because I learned that it is a fundamental domain of our life that we can’t ignore. Just like we can’t help but be “passionate” about our health (because who wants to live sick and weak?), we should develop an eye to monitoring and assessing our ability to move well and better.

At the end of the day, we all develop certain areas of interest that (I believe) we like to get better at. It can be gardening, singing, language, physical arts, and I don’t think it’s very important what the area of interest is. It may not even be your main occupation (e.g. accountant, salesman) but be a side hobby. What’s more crucial is the insatiable drive to research, learn, develop and incorporate the meaningfulness of that activity into your life. In my view, not everyone actively seeks for this, and some people may never care enough about it, but this approach of self-transcendence (i.e. achieving something that goes beyond the Self) is what makes one person live an interesting life.

3. How do you find time for all that?

I spend half of my time training clients daily (I don’t take any full off days), and almost another half training myself. Another epiphany I had during my time in civil service is that very few people can or do truly devote time to upgrading their skills and knowledge meaningful. I am not implying that people don’t attend self-improvement courses or the odd work conference or seminar; these initiatives are important, but in a span of 10 to 20 years, most of us conceivably could be the same person from the first year to last. Despite being in the health and fitness industry for 6 years, I can attest that my methods have evolved dramatically from the first till now, and can vouch that it will continue evolving in the future. This is different from title promotion, such as becoming an executive/ trainer to senior executive /Master trainer; what I am pointing to is actually physical, methodological and personal growth, and in my view, can only arise from consistent endeavours to improve the self in a multitude of domains.

How I do that, though, is through a multitude of ways: attend classes and courses of all sorts (e.g. martial arts, adult gymnastics, dance, etc), learn from overseas teachers (there is a lot to learn from going outside one’s bubble), and reading a LOT. Reading is a very underrated form of self-development; for anyone who is financially constrained (to travel wide or attend expensive courses), lacks a wide social network, or limited by time due to family commitments, reading is the most affordable and efficient form of education to gain new ideas and perspectives. It is also undoubtedly the next most important skill set for an aspiring writer like myself, and forms the basis for research and development. I plough through books of all sorts, from psychology, philosophy, social theory, sociology, science and can only wish I had more time in the world for reading alone.

As with everything in life, there are costs and sacrifices. I live a very simple life (extremely boring and minimalist); I rarely participate in social gatherings, I don’t drink, I hardly travel and I don’t spend as much time as I ideally should with my family. I wear the same clothes all year round, and my only perk is to shop online for more books. Devotion to a passion or career does come at a heavy price, and there is no guarantee that your efforts will be well rewarded.

4. What does the future hold for you? Future plans etc? Give us something special.

I am approaching 40, and while it is possible for older trainers to survive in the industry, I am looking to expand my craft beyond just conducting training sessions and seminars. It is interesting to note that historically, people are usually not that free to devote their entire career to a certain speciality and are forced to undertake a variety of occupations as compared to today’s times. While movement and health will forever remain one of my key foci, there are many other side interests as previously mentioned that I like to expand on. Whether this might develop into being a fiction writer, or a social commentator, or entering academia, it still remains an open book. Earlier, I had many different aspirations ranging from being a scriptwriter, actor, academia, yet here I am, chasing an ambition that wouldn’t have factored into my mind 10 years ago.

Another interest that I harbour is on child development, and being a single/ divorced father myself, I have had to confront various challenges which has given me a unique outlook on the dynamics of child rearing. I don’t believe that the answer to being a good parent is to adopt the local mindset of ensuring your child “succeeds” in academic domains (or even non-academic ones); instead the onus in on the parent being an exemplary character of patience, kindness, maturity and unconditional love. It is a hard message to swallow by “Asian” standards, but there’s nothing ethnocentric about it; ultimately, it is about universal understanding of what children need from their parents. Perhaps I may develop myself as a spokesperson for that kind of messaging.

5. What advice would you give to

– Women:

This may sound off-putting, but it is my view that women (as well as men) should not view exercise and training with gender-coloured lens (e.g. weight training is for men; women shouldn’t lift heavy). The science of training for health and longevity is pretty universal for the most part, and there are few training principles that has to be applied differently between men and women. Thankfully, this outlook is changing as we are now witnessing more women being as competitive as men in certain hardcore training circles (though this can also be taken too far). I am very thankful to be training a good number of women, who I showcase with pride on their achievements (e.g. doing one arm pushups or chin-ups from a base of zero strength). I once wrote an article called “Women, do not fear strength”, not to deride that women don’t want to be strong, but that in the realm of physical training, women shouldn’t be put off by strength training (which is unfortunately associated with senseless macho-isms and male chivalry when it doesn’t have to be). None of my female students have grown facial hair from growing stronger, instead they are able to pursue their hobbies with greater zest and energy, such as trekking, aerial hoop, kickboxing, etc.

– Entrepreneurs:

I am probably what’s called a failed entrepreneur, I had a startup gym business for 6 months but exited due to incredible management misdirection and conflict. That being said, I took a lot of useful life lessons from that episode (and paying the ultimate sacrifice of losing my marriage too). In a nutshell, what every aspiring entrepreneur should know, and be prepared for, is to fail. For certain, at least once, and most likely your first venture. This isn’t purely anecdotal; there’s enough research which shows that a huge majority of startup businesses don’t survive past 5 years. We are also very susceptible to copying and riding on social fads/trends because we like to model on other successful startups, but just because the formula worked for one business entity doesn’t mean it will work for you. I have seen enough startup gyms ascend and crash as well.

Although I am on my own, I have now found myself to be in a more successful spot compared to being in my previous business. For this, I will also attribute it to another important principle: build your own identity. Previously, I made some mistakes in attempting to target certain demographic groups (e.g. amateur athletes, young active people), but I then realised, given my character, temperament and philosophy, the “best” demographic fit for me is the average middle-aged person trying to start a healthy routine. It doesn’t mean that I rule out teaching other groups, but for what it’s worth, these sorts of people (e.g. late 30s, inexperienced with training, in need of a total roadmap to overhaul their lifestyle) have the best resonance and relations with me (and not simply as a ‘brand’).

Building your own identity doesn’t mean you will become the next Tony Robbins, but in a competitive environment populated by many other individuals who can pretty much provide the same kind of service, it will be your own personality and individual approach that garners your own clientele. And if you develop a solid reputation, then word will get around that you are the right person for your clientele.

– Tech Idiots:

I am a tech idiot myself, so no useful advice here haha! Perhaps what I can add, is that I haven’t been impressed with the wonders of social media and other fancy IT advances for businesses (short of Uber, Chope, etc). Reason being that even the trainers with the most amount of social media followers aren’t necessarily the most successful (in terms of economic returns), so take that as a lesson in mind.

– Mothers:

It is not easy being a mother, and despite living in a world where gender equality is more advanced than before, I think there has a been a double whammy of mothers having to juggle work and child-rearing responsibilities. Nevertheless, I feel that it is imperative that mothers are given their own time and space to devote to one’s own private interests, with the father adopting a bigger stake in child-rearing duties as well. In regards to health issues, the same advice as dispensed above for women applies, perhaps even more so, because it will become more painstakingly difficult to match your growing child’s activity levels. And it is just saddening to witness a parent beset by health problems (such as arthritis, obesity, lethargy) and left unable to participate in a child’s (rightful) playful domain. It is no strange coincidence that a child will likely mirror the parent’s lifestyle choices.

– Wives:

Marriage is a funny institution; for some people, nothing changes and their relationship is elevated to new heights, and yet for some, the relationship morphs into a whole other animal, one that was vaguely recognisable but different from the inside. To give one specific type of advice for wives versus men would be strangely contradictory; speaking as a man, but yet mindful that the same advice applies to men, women should understand that marriage brings a unique set of life changes. Particularly for men who typically undergo a mid-life crisis, it is a very bumpy ride, as we start to question and feel depressed about getting older and seek all sorts of manners to assert and recapture our identity (which leads to all sorts of unfortunate decisions). I would strongly caution that in some cases, these changes are not due to the fault of an “inadequate” marriage or “unsympathetic” wife; both husbands and wives need to understand that life itself (outside of the marriage) brings a chaotic set of dynamic changes, and they need to weather that if they are to embrace a lifelong relationship together.

– Daughters:

I have a young daughter who is learning the social norms of being a “woman” and a “man”; for instance, she once remarked that only boys can play soccer. She is very young, so I know there’s still a great deal of time before such norms become reinforced (and hopefully, under my watch, never inculcated). In any case, I contend that from a young age, girls should not be indoctrinated into such narrow paradigms. As a father, I want my daughter to be able to explore science, sports of any kind, rough-tumbling, self-defence, etc. In speaking to any young female, I encourage them to break societal expectations and norms, and explore any passion to their heart’s delight. It would be more than a service to yourself; it will also be a beacon call to society to recognise, praise and follow suit.



Note: I have not vested interest or benefit from interviewing Douglas Oh. I am doing so in the pure intention to inspire more people.

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