Daniel Mah is not yet one of the lucky millennials who have used social media to turn themselves into millionaires — but he might be on his way there.
Mah’s martial arts skills have earned him YouTube fame, but he wasn’t always a fighting pro. Mah turned to martial arts to get in shape when he started getting bullied for his weight in middle school.
“When I was 12, I stepped into this school for the very first time, and I was really fat,” said Mah of why he got into Kung Fu. “My Sifu [teacher] was like ‘Daniel, I’m going to make you a lean green fighting machine.'”
Not only did martial arts help Mah lose weight, it also helped him to gain confidence and make friends with people who shared the same interests. Eventually, he created MartialClub with fellow Kung Fu fighters Andy and Brian Le, and they began posting videos of their choreographed fights on YouTube.
“Every time we put something out, it’s always going to be something different, something fresh, something new, because we’re constantly being inspired by multiple sources,” said Andy Le.
The trio’s videos have accumulated over 24 million views since they joined YouTube in 2011. And they’ve amassed a pretty large fan base.
“We get messages on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram all the time, about people telling us how much our films mean to them,” said Mah.
Their YouTube popularity even got them the attention of their lifelong idol, Jackie Chan, which was a surreal experience for Mah.
“We learned to choreograph by watching all of his old movies, and it’s so strange to be asked [to collaborate] by these same people who essentially showed us the ropes,” he said.
“He’s our inspirational source, so whatever I learned from him, I took that and I taught it back to him,” added Andy Le.
Even though the group has achieved online fame, they have yet to achieve financial success on YouTube. In fact, they are actually losing money creating their videos.
“In six years, MartialClub has easily spent $20,000 on all of our productions, and right now, I would say we only see about $3,500 from YouTube every single year,” said Mah.
He’s currently the only one of the group with a steady income. Mah works as a bunker surveyor, so he is responsible for inspecting fueling operations on the large ships that ship online orders and other products. The work can be grueling, and Mah sometimes works 70-hour weeks.
“I do reach a point fairly regularly where even simple addition and subtraction becomes a task,” he said.
However, Mah knows he needs to keep his day job to help MartialClub go from a passion project to a profitable endeavor. He hopes to reach the point where they have enough money to start their own production studio. But until then, they’re just going to keep doing what they’re doing.
“So far, the freedom to be ourselves and to express exactly what we want to express — that is more valuable than gold,” said Mah.