How We All Met
Standing 6 feet tall and weighing almost 100 kg, Sensei Abdullah Mohammad Hossain is stronger than the average person in Bangladesh. I met him in the summer of 2014 through Sawasdee Kamal Chowdhury (Dee) who hooked us up and invited me to explore the idea of designing and promoting a BJJ curriculum for Abdullah’s dojo, Knock Out Fight Studio (KOFS). It was during my encounter with Abdullah that I met Andy (not his real name). Andy was Abdullah’s protégé who was in his mid 20s and a fight enthusiast. Andy loved the idea of being a martial artist.
Abdullah is one of the owners, co-founder and head instructor of KOFS, a dojo located in urban Dhaka. He has dedicated about quarter of a century of his life to martial arts. Abdullah commenced his training in Burmese martial arts at the age of 13 and made it to brown belt. Then, at 15 in 1993, he started training in full contact fighting, namely Kyokushin Karate. By 1996 he obtained his black belt 1st dan. He had accumulated years of on and off experience as a senpai (senior student) and obtained his 2nd dan at the age of 27.
As he was the owner of the dojo, we addressed him as Sensei. He legitimized his honorific by obtaining 3rd dan in 2015.
Andy told me that he was a skinny guy with temper problems. He trained both Bando and Shotokan during his youth and was a yellow belt. In 2010 he picked up Kyokushin Karate and moved up to become a brown belt.
The Introduction of Mentor and Protégé
As fate would have it, Abdullah was a product of the same dojo that cultivated Andy. Abdullah was among the first batch of black belts that graduated in Kyokushin Karate from Bangladesh. However, as time passed by, the relationship between he and his Karate mentor fell apart. The reason for their split has many versions and many sides.
Abdullah stopped training at the dojo and leading the classes. As Abdullah distanced himself, he became an urban legend. New students heard and talked about him:
There used to be a full contact fighter here; a two time Bangladesh champion; a winner of the first two full contact fight tournaments in Bangladesh.
Tales of how tall and strong he was became an inspiration for rookies, in spite of some dojo seniors not always speaking highly of him.
The martial arts community in Bangladesh is small. There is a sense that everybody knows everyone. Abdullah and Andy had heard of each other and they managed to get ahold of each other through common acquaintances. They communicated over the phone:
Andy: “I just want to be a fighter.”
Years ago, Brendan Ingle, the legendary boxing coach saw a 7 year old kid named Naseem Hamed fight off three much bigger boys in a schoolyard. Ingle would transform this little kid into Prince Naz, one of the greatest prizefighters of all time in boxing. The two would not only split, but on bitter terms. The most important issues on hand would be control of career management and money. It would be a public debacle.
This part of history would repeat itself in the case of Abdullah and Andy.
Schools of Thought
A commercial school of thought would say that you pay fees, hence, purchase a service from the instructor or service provider. The instructor teaches you and thus provides the service. This relationship is strictly transactional. You, as a customer (student), pay in cash or in kind; say by taking up a position in the dojo such as an assistant instructor.
But, as human beings, we get attached emotionally. We develop expectations that are not written down in a disclaimer or contract. We hang out together outside the dojo; we know each other personally.
Our expectations of one another increase.
The Break-Up and the Drama
It was definitely a personal relationship with Andy. Andy was young, his family supported his career as a prizefighter, and he came from a well-off family. When it comes to being an athlete, I found Andy to be both talented and hard working. He did not talk much and rarely gave his opinion when we first met. I considered him to be a “Yes Sir’’ solider.
We assumed that he was happy and content. Then, he simply stopped coming for training.
This alarmed us.
I was talking to a couple of promoters abroad to place him in competitions. If he stopped training and then competed and lost, it would be hard for us to later place him in good, money making fights.
It’s been long since I talked to you. I haven’t seen you in training last few classes! Is everything ok with you?
I’m fine with Alhamdulillah. I’m a bit busy with work these days so I couldn’t come to KOFS and Sensei, honestly, I want to give a halt to my training at KOFS for a few months and learn boxing.
I wanted to talk to you about this but couldn’t manage to come, but Inshaa-Allah, I’ll come soon.
Sensei, please don’t be hurt but I want to learn boxing a lot now. I want your support in this decision, In-shaa-Allah.
We were scratching our heads. If he was unhappy why did he never tell us? Then, we saw comments on Facebook posts of sparring videos.
The following is a portion of the comments (edited to respect privacy):
Facebook User: Same old huh, bro?
Andy: Yes, same old narrow minded mentality people around bro. 🙁
Facebook User: What? I meant same old place, you got me wrong man, really?
Andy: Osu bhai. Have to start at home, because no place for us in dojo right now.
Abdullah Mohammad Hossain: That’s good for you Andy, at least you got a “great instructor.”
Andy: Osu Sensei, at least learning kickboxing with the name kickboxing, not like Kyokushin + BJJ = MMA. Apologies Sensei, Osu !
Abdullah Mohammad Hossain: Masha Allah! You have also learned how to talk other than fight. I am surprised!
Andy told me he felt Abdullah was a great trainer. However, his style of training is not what Andy wanted. I asked Andy why he had not shared his thoughts before.
When I joined KOFS I thought of managing Andy, as Dee and I were talking of setting up a talent management company managing prizefighters. I told Andy that he needed a coach if he wanted to pursue a career as a prizefighter.
Andy was already on bad terms with his Muay Thai trainer. Now, the door was also shut with Abdullah. Andy went to his old gym, where he began his Kyokushin Karate. They were less welcoming.
On a last bid, he approached another well know Sensei. The terms and conditions did not work out.
It seems that no coach would touch him. Was it because his loyalty was in question?
A Little History of Abdullah
When Abdullah changed schools from Burmese martial arts to Karate, his instructor was less than enthusiastic about the departure of his top student. Mentors sometimes find it hard to let go of their protégé and move on to the next chapter of life.
They may feel that their protégé is a product of their labor, and they alone should benefit from it. Perhaps they feel betrayed when the student moves on. When Abdullah received his brown belt in Kyokushin Karate he went to visit his old master. However, Abdullah was not received with open arms and this disappointed him profoundly.
It is something Abdullah vowed that he would not to repeat when he became an instructor.
The Quest for Learning
As a student improves there are times when he wants to learn new tricks of the trade that his school may not offer. This is what happened with Abdullah and so he travelled. He competed and trained abroad in Kyokushin Karate. He gained experience, met people, and broadened his depth of knowledge and skill in the art of fighting.
This, among cumulative factors, forged a bond between Abdullah and Andy. Deep inside, Andy found the training regimen at his first dojo to be monotonous. He was a bored and wanted a new challenge. Andy crossed trained and explored other fighting styles. He experimented restlessly with other training methods. This included a stint in Muay Thai.
Perspectives on Loyalty
“To win the loyalty of a person is the most difficult task in the world.”
Resentment, jealousy, and politics sometimes replace camaraderie and take away the morality of the martial arts. When Dee and I joined KOFS, we hoped that both master and disciple would learn from their experiences on student mentor relationships. We hoped that relationships would be cultivated in a mutually beneficial way.
As opposed to Dee and I, Abdullah and Andy are both practicing Muslims and have strong views on what is right and wrong in society. They are both traditional in their views of the world. They both feel that laws and ethics, together with a code of conduct, is a way of life that is passed down to us from a higher power.
But in the world of martial arts, Abdullah and Andy differ in a fundamental view when it comes to relationships.
Abdullah is very proud of his Karate lineage in spite of his falling out with his instructors. He once said to Dee and I:
“Any karateka should be able to trace his lineage back to Gichin Funakoshi (founder of modern karate).”
He ensured that Dee and I, who run the grappling program at KOFS, could trace our Brazilian Jujitsu lineage to the Gracie family.
The dojo draws its norms from the socio-culture of a tolerant fusion of its members and what we try to instill. Dee and I have more secular perspectives in life. However, we hold some old school values. Loyalty is one of them.
Dee and I speak our mind when we disagree and we have become close knit in order to develop MMA in Bangladesh. Abdullah has agreed to support our BJJ endeavor. Therefore, loyalty just came naturally to the alliance for all of us.
We believe in what UFC Champion Conor McGregor once said, “Look out for those who look out for you. Loyalty is everything.”
For us, the concept of loyalty has nothing to do with blindly following someone.
It is made up of integrity and gratitude on both sides. I believe that in order for loyalty to flourish and sustain it requires communication from all parties. You cannot keep what you have in your mind to yourself and build resentments inside of you.
Andy did tell me he was very loyal to his friends. He cares about his sparring partners and as he moves on to become a professional fighter, he wants to take them to new heights as well.
The Social Environment
The dojo has students from various backgrounds. Students, office holders, expats, and so on; all joined to sweat it out. It also has students from diverse martial arts backgrounds; people from traditional styles of fighting such as Taekwondo, Karate and so on attend.
We are trying to promote it as a MMA training facility.
Abdullah, Dee and I promote a very formal environment and emphasize a strict code of conduct. During training sessions we address Abdullah as Sensei. After and before training it is Bhai.We tend not to talk politics, religion, or any subject that may lead to arguments during training. Again, after and before training we express our opinions, sometimes hotly debated.
Through our conduct, we have established a culture defined by professional relationships.
Andy took my advice and started training BJJ at the academy where we train. However, I told him I will not manage him as he pursues his career as a fighter. He partnered with a friend and opened up his own gym. Would his people be more loyal to him?
Many aspiring fighters today like to call themselves modern samurai. A samurai swears his alliance to a daimyo (feudal lord). A samurai without a master is a rōnin (wanderer). A rōnin is expected to commit seppuku (the Japanese suicide ritual by stomach cutting) in order to die with honor and not live in shame.
Today, this is considered ludicrous. Andy’s inability to find a trainer is reminiscent of some traditions passed on through generations as martial artists move from the old school to the new school of martial arts.
Mohammed Tanvir (Nick) Mosharraf has been practicing martial arts actively since 2002 and has been exposed to Boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ and Kyokushin Karate among others. He is an avid fan of Boxing and MMA. He believes in using combat sports and martial arts to foster community relations and also enable and empower people from all walks of life.