How did you end up in Pakistan? That’s a question I hear often, and one that I was asked by pretty much every single person I spoke to at the ONEFC summit.
I have two answers to it. One of them is, “I don’t know.” There’s a certain element of truth to that and not simply me being sarcastic. I don’t know what got me to stay here for two years. I don’t know what brought me here right now, typing in 45-degree heat (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) with no power, in a country that many people consider futureless. Fate, destiny, a vision, passion, God – whatever you call it, something that cannot be expressed in logical terms has me here in Pakistan promoting MMA and creating a fight team. Now when you think about it, it makes sense. There is a growing scene here and in India, and there is the rise of ONEFC and its accompanying network, giving Pakistani MMA future possibilities and opportunities that were beyond my conception just two years ago.
So that’s one answer. The second answer is the longer one, and one that consists of facts and tells the story of what happened here. I am going to do my best to give you the rundown, and if you want details then post your comments in the questions section and I will answer them by adding to the post. I also recommend you look at the older posts to fill in some of the details.
I was born in Pakistan but raised in the United States. I came Pakistan regularly to visit family and was never completely out of touch. I probably came back every two years for a month to six weeks. I started training in martial arts late, at age 23, while attending George Mason University (GMU). I read a book about hand-to-hand combat, which lead me to further research fighting, self-defense, and martial arts philosophy. In the summer of 2005 I finally enrolled in some classes. I joined a traditional Japanese Jiu Jitsu class at a local YMCA in Reston, Virginia taught by a former Special Forces operative and professional bodyguard named Bruce Jones (this guy had an amazing resume, he was a bodyguard to three U.S Presidents and even the Pope at one point). I also joined a gym called American Fight Club, which taught Haganah, a martial art derived from Krav Maga. When university started in the fall they offered a one-credit course in BJJ, which I also took up. By the wintertime I had dropped out of the Haganah course (I paid for 6 months and didn’t renew my contract) and only went to the traditional Jiu Jitsu class 1-2 times a week but remained regular for the next 2-3 years. I filled in the rest of the time by joining the BJJ gym that hosted the one credit course (an excellent advertisement method!) and started training Muay Thai and BJJ regularly.
In December 2007, I was back in Pakistan for my sister’s wedding. It was during that time you could say PAKMMA was born. A few months prior to leaving I had this desire to get Pakistanis educated about MMA. I just wanted to get the word out and have them share the fun. So I made a myspace page, which I never really kept up. When I arrived in December I went to a local Tae Kwon Do school to train, (it was the only option), and brought some videos of old Pride fights. What ended up happening is that the instructor let me take over the class and I started giving the guys basics in MMA. They were all kids and at the time I thought this was the country’s first MMA team going forward, but it was simply a way to get my passion going because although they all probably remember that random American, none of them are actively fighting, though they do keep up with things on Facebook (for those who are computer literate).
Fast-forward and I graduate from GMU with a degree in global affairs. A few days after my last final I left for Thailand, expecting to stay about a year plus some months. I had been to Thailand three times before for 2-3 months at a time but now I wanted to do it long term. I stayed in Thailand for most of the 16 months I was gone but also went to Pakistan for two months and even trained in India at Tigers Gym with Daniel Isaac, the now COO of SFL.
During the two months in Pakistan I went back to that TKD school but this time did not get the same encouragement from the instructor. He felt as if I was taking people away from TKD and into MMA, (typical traditional dojo BS), and even told the kids lies like the Human Rights Council of Pakistan called him and told him they had heard that MMA was being played and that it was banned (WTF?!?!) So I decided then to rent a spot above a restaurant kitchen – a nasty, filthy room covered in oil and grease and made the first “MMA gym.” There was a heavy bag to strike and foam that is used under the wall to wall carpets found in most western homes with canvas on top. When the power went out we would train by gas lamp and would nearly choke to death. I trained the kids (the age group was 12-17 mostly) there, at least the ones who hadn’t bought into the crap the TKD coach was saying.
From Pakistan I went back to Thailand finished up my time there, ran out of money, and was back in America. At that point I had decided to get a bit more official about the MMA in Pakistan thing and had made a crappy website while in Thailand and later another one when I was in America (the blog you guys are reading now, as well as the facebook page). Other than the online work for PAKMMA I was doing (which obviously made no money, it only cost money), I was faced with a decision. What am I going to do now? Get a job? Save up money and go back to Thailand? In the end, to be honest, I didn’t know what I was going do. I saved up enough money to get a ticket to Pakistan with enough to cover me for a few months. I had been in the US about three months before leaving again.
The plan was sort of like this. I say sort of because, to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. But generally speaking, the plan was stay in Pakistan two months. Live in a major city (Lahore), get a small place and convert it into a dojo. Find some different instructors with different backgrounds and explain to them this organization (PAKMMA) I was making, explain to them that MMA was going be BIG, explain to them that they could use the talents they already had, join together and do something great.
That was the plan.
I arrived on December 2nd. Coincidentally, that same day a Pakistan Television press conference about a company called “Fite Selektor” was released on Youtube, stating that MMA was coming to Pakistan and this Dubai based Dutch company was going to hold an event to kick it off. “Fite Selektor” is another story in and of itself, but it really made me believe that I was doing the right thing at the perfect time. I mean, who wouldn’t?! This video was released the day I arrived. I had no idea about it. What kind of timing is that? Without delving too much into the matter this was an example Jungian Synchronicity of the highest order. This was an arrow of fate painted on the wall for me, pointing me in the right path.
So, soon after arriving I got an apartment above a real estate office. I put up a heavy bag and laid down “mats,” which were actually sheets of foam that were used to make sneakers. The first official “PAKMMA Training Center” was open!
With me was a 17-year-old kid from Karachi, Ali Naseer who followed us on facebook and wanted to be a part of this MMA thing I was doing. So he came to Lahore for the winter to help set up the gym and the foundation for PAKMMA. Along with him was my grandmother’s former driver, (she fired him for no real reason, she just likes firing her servants after a certain amount of time), a constantly stoned on hash, been-there-done-that guy named Afzal, (affectionately known as “the fizzle”), whom I hired as my right hand man. He cleaned the place, cooked, guided me through Pakistani cultural norms, made sure people didn’t rip me off and that I didn’t end up somehow getting killed in a bizarre accident as can only happen in Pakistan. All three of us lived in this “gym.” Ali went back after his winter vacation but visits every chance he gets, and Afzal has been here ever since.
So the gym is set up, and I go out meeting every martial artist I can find hoping to recruit them to my cause. I found no one whom I trusted. They were all living in the 80’s. Death touches, ninja invisibility and “my style is the best” was the norm. They were only interested in me because they didn’t seem to understand why an educated American would decide to live like this. They entertained my visits and came to visit me quite regularly in the beginning, interested in seeing what I was up to. After a while they stopped visiting and I realized that I was going to have to do this alone; I would have to build everything from scratch. It became apparent that my two-month plan was not going to happen and it was going to be a long hard drudge through the mud. I still did not have a concrete plan at this point nor did I have any idea how long I was going to be in Pakistan or what was to come. I was living day by day. But at no point did I feel that I was on the wrong path. I did have my doubts as to whether this was all a smart idea and one that would give me a comfortable life, but I never doubted my success. It was empowering. Great things were to come.
This is where the “how did I end up in Pakistan” story comes to a close. There is a lot more after this. In fact, 90% of the story of PAKMMA is after this part, but that’s how I ended up in Pakistan and the story of how PAKMMA as you know it today was started.
*I will be adding pictures but there is currently a network problem