Men are not categorically confrontational, but in the biological scheme of things, the male primal instinct to fight it out is distinctly evinced in mixed martial arts competitions, which are described as adrenaline pumping experiences that target both the mind and the body
Borrowing a cue or two from the ‘fight like a man’ adage that is thrown at even young boys when faced with confrontational situations, this cover story treads along the martial arts zone to present a candid look at the seemingly macho ‘fighting spirit’, which bears as much relevance today as it did in the cave-dwelling days.
While the present day man is not, literally pushed into everyday situations that call him to fight it out or demonstrate his manliness on a fair fighting ground, the primal instinct to mentally keep the claws sharpened and the body prepped for a fight is, apparently, waiting to surface and find an avenue to give the energy boost a right platform.
Whether indulging in games that are stereotypically seen as men’s domain, say like soccer, or engaging in fitness activities that are defined by fighting, like kickboxing, the bottom-line is that men have a penchant for all things action. That is, of course, not to take away from women their love for sports of all kinds and their inclination to try mixed martial arts, but the focus here is on men who demonstrate a spontaneous need to gear up for a fight and enjoy the adrenaline rush that spreads from the sparring ring to their everyday affairs; permeating their lives with maturity and confidence in handling situations.
As Baqar Haider, President of Oman Fighting Championship (OFC) and Coach and Founder of Oman Kickboxing Club (OKC), states, “It is very disciplining…” Explaining it further, he says, “As men, we want to channelize our energies, though not necessarily through aggression. Martial arts help do that. And, I believe, if this energy is not channelized, it could open up avenues for unhealthy habits or anti-social activities. It is all about taking advantage of the health and social benefits.”
The general consensus that it is a man’s game is rarely, if ever, challenged. But for Jessica Hern, ladies coach at OKC, that stereotype does not take away from women their desire to spar and demonstrate their keenness to jump into the ring, given an opportunity. She, however, concedes that the level of aggression differs. “For example, after we (in ladies only class) have sparred, we are quick to ask ‘are you ok?’ – while men are like, ‘whatever’…” she quips.
For Hamood Ali Tuhami, winner of the first Oman Fighting Championship, the element of respect for the game and for people involved in it overrides the stereotypes of machismo. “When I joined the club, I was, initially, driven by the notion that it is a man’s sport. But I have to admit that it also helped me feel confident, be gentle with people and respect anyone who tries this game – because it is not easy at all,” he says.
But when it comes to a sparring event, it is all about relying on the mental strength that the sport imparts, states Fayyad Samara, fight coordinator of OFC. “In these kinds of sports, more than the amount of exercises you do, it is the pressure of performing, especially the mental stress while facing the public at a show, which demands you to be extra prepared. Mentally stronger, so to say,” he stresses.
Reiterating similar sentiments, Nidhal Aouali, Assistant Coach at OKC explains: “Kickboxing and martial arts, in general, doesn’t stop at the point where you kick and punch and learn how to defend yourself or how to protect yourself or be physical when the situation forces you to; it is as much about training the mind and helping yourself, knowing your abilities and what you are physically capable of doing. It is also knowing what that physical capacity will allow you to do that boosts your confidence, your self esteem and helps you look at the situation from a more mature stand and take a more consequences-oriented decision.”
The following is a blow-by-blow account (rather qualified takes from experts), of the fighting spirit that is celebrated by men on a martial arts platform. It brings to fore the planetary inferences that men are, indeed, different from women in the way they perceive and handle things, more so in their masculine manifestations of strength and energy.
The training done through martial arts, boxing and kickboxing is well documented as the best form of full body exercise,” says Baqar Haider who got hooked on to martial arts as a young teen. He has been training for more than two decades, having taken to coaching in the last ten years. “We train for self-defence,” he states, hastening to add that it is the sporting element, which, in fact, acts as a big draw. You are getting into the ring knowing that’s what is going to happen – that is the element of the sport,” he says.
He is, however, concerned about parents wanting to get their children into martial arts. “Parents may want their kids to be stronger and handle themselves. But at the age of 8 or 9 a kid should not be thinking about these things. If you want your kid to be active, get them outdoors. Even if the issue is of raising their confidence, fighting should not be the platform at that age,” he states, adding that the best option is to move towards other, less aggressive, sports. The minimum age for kickboxing at OKC is 15 years – there is no upper limit as the oldest trainer is 75 years old!
OKC has been in operation for over six years. The OFC was set up as a separate federation with The Agency Design and Promo Works, involving all the local clubs, with the intention of hosting fighting events, which didn’t exist in Oman, prior to 2015 championship.
The OFC events, says Baqar, are “platforms to promote local fighters.” The main objective was to create a local avenue to showcase the fighting talents here. “In the past we were going to Dubai and winning titles, but not all fighters had the support and the infrastructure to travel,” he states, emphasising that the OFC is a completely private, non-profit and not associated with the Ministry of Sports or the Olympic Committee. However, since OFC acts as an event company, the championships are executed through it; but are, however, sanctioned by the WKBF. The pool of local fighters here has yet to grow, but the number of enthusiasts training at the club is quite impressive. Their level of potential is good, maintains Baqar, pointing out that the mainstream clubs – OKC, RX Gym, 3Mac, Blue Sharks and the Rolling Gym – produce all the fighters with the experiences ranging from six months to six years.
“The sport is not as developed here as other GCC countries. It will take time. We are fully dedicated to do what it takes to put ourselves on the regional map.
“The focus of OKC now is to get a new venue and get some kind of recognition from the Ministry of Sports and the Olympic Committee. That’s our main objective. All of us have full time jobs and this is a hobby to promote sports, fight obesity and achieve a higher quality of life. I believe the country also can enjoy the socio economic benefits from this. If Oman suddenly gets on the agenda for large international sporting events, hosting the events will help the country as well. It will also boost tourism,” he says.
It is all about training, maintains Fayyad Samara, OFC fight coordinator, pointing out that it helps increase stamina and endurance. “The training that the fighters go through before a fight is so brutal, it is close to a military training,” he adds.
As the fight coordinator, he follows up on the training of different fighters from different clubs to match them up according to their background and experience. “We basically look at the weight of course and experience or the record of the fighter… The amount of pressure they are exposed to is unbelievable. So we have to match people who have close records,” he states.
According to him it is undeniably a men’s sport as fighting comes naturally to men. “Kickboxing is a healthy way of expressing our primal energy. The sport is expanding, with more youth joining the clubs; it is becoming popular as people look at it as a tool to defend themselves, keep fit and have fun. We have a lot of young people in the society and there is a lot of potential, as most of them are athletes. They have been newly introduced to boxing and kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts, and are enjoying it. We followed up with the pace of training for some of the Omani fighters from different clubs and we saw how they changed completely over a period of two to three months. They became completely different people – strong physically and mentally as well. Once you train and watch others training you respect yourself and respect others; you will be stronger and you will try to continuously reach your goal,” he opines.
As far as actual fights are concerned, he places the stress on breathing and stamina. “You can be much stronger than your opponent but you may lose all your energy if you are not used to breathing properly or not having the proper stamina in a fight. I have seen many fights when someone is weaker than the other, but because the rounds keep going the other person starts collapsing and it becomes a matter of will,” he adds.
“Martial arts has always been promoted as a manly sport but when I started training, I found out that it is only in the head. Yeah…it is only a notion. When the adrenaline starts rushing in your body and the testosterone is pumping your veins, you feel the manly part; but if you approach it from a sports angle, it is the benefits you will be counting. What you can learn and improve by doing these kinds of stuff is really good,” he explains.
As one of the first few professional fighters who represented Oman in Dubai, he sees kickboxing as an extension of his passion for sports. Having been raised on a sports diet, he was forced to seek out opportunities to fuel his love for sports, and OKC proved to be a perfect ground. He gave it a try with his friend and found the training measures fitting in with his requirements. “We were looking to be in good shape, to look good, train fine, feel fine, feel fit…and that is exactly what it gave us. Kickboxing changed my approach itself for training,” he states.
With every passing phase he got more motivated and involved in the sports and has since done three professional fights, the last one was the Middle East Championship, a year or so ago. Plans are on to have a fight with titleholders in other federations in Dubai, early next year. “When that happens you will see me on the on the fight card!” he quips.
Jessica, another volunteer at OKC and OFC, admits that the perception that kickboxing is a man’s sport made her wonder, initially, if she would be up for it, as she had never ventured into cardio exercises – “never really been hit,” she quips.
But once she learnt the ropes of the sport (boxing, kickboxing and also Muay Thai), what began as a weight loss initiative turned into a sparring exercise in the ring. And she is not alone… According to her, all the ladies learning kickboxing want to savour the energy boost while sparring in a ring. “I think the girls want to do the same things as guys,” she muses.
The ladies only classes handled by Jessica, targets local Omani women who are more comfortable working out and sparring with other women. But there is no limiting the options for sparring, as men and women routinely spar in mixed classes and Jessica, having, reached the coaching stage, spars even with advanced men. The general preference is, of course, to spar with women, as they are more equal on a variety of counts.
She is, however, not willing to classify it as a purely men’s sport and believes the difference lies in the approach women take. “May be a lot of women use it as a confidence building measure – to feel a little stronger and more powerful. Maybe they enjoy that more as opposed to the need to hurt someone or be aggressive. The feeling of power and strength you get from defending yourself is a great attraction.
Hamood Ali Tuhami
It was weight loss quest that got Hamood Ali Tuhami interested in kickboxing in 2011, and he did lose more than 20 kilogrammes; but it was the passion for the game that got him hooked to continue and explore the opportunities to fight in competitions in the neighbouring Dubai.
Recalling his victory in the first Oman Fighting Championship in 2015, he points out that it was all about preparation. “I prepared really hard. We had a really good team; we had a good programme, which helped,” he contends.
But he admits that it required more than physical training, as the pressure of winning was hanging heavily on him – and he aced it, thanks to the coaches and friends who supported him. “It is not just about the physical elements; it is very important for mental development too,” he says. “There are safety gears – guards and gloves – so no one gets injured while training,” he adds.
Calling it a sport, as members never use the fight tactics anywhere except in the ring, he maintains that he is not learning it to fight with anyone. He has been training in the sport for the last six years and has also started coaching others and has found his calling in training the new generation. “I always feel that the game is a challenge; it is a new challenge, a new style, a new movement… It helps me breathe better, sleep better and strengthens my body. It also helps me to work harder and be consistent,” he notes, pointing out that he practices regularly, even if it is to only do warm-ups.
Explaining further, he says, “It’s all about the Coach and we are lucky to have someone like Baqar. He has developed the team and taught us all to be coaches as well.”
A childhood passion for martial arts and a never-say-die attitude found an unlikely winner in Vinod Kumar, at the second Oman Fighting Championship, early this year.
Shy and unassuming, Vinod, who works as a mason at a construction company, says he is spurred by the power and strength wielded by the sport of kickboxing. It was his dedication to martial arts that made him seek out opportunities here to continue his school training. He chanced upon the OKC website during an online search with his friend, about two and a half year ago, and has since made time from his work and budgeted his salary to fit kickboxing in his schedule.
Vinod Kumar has, definitely, come a long way since his school days when he regularly practiced Wushu (a series of fighting styles, involving mixed martial arts, kickboxing, judo and taekwondo). His newfound success in the local championship, following his victory in a Dubai fight a couple of years ago, has bolstered his hopes and strengthened his resolve to go places, literally and figuratively, in this sport. Top on that list is his quest to represent Oman in fights within the region and around the globe.
He credits his success to his coach, Baqar and a circle of friends, whose faith in his skills have propelled his kickboxing passion.