Last month, young talented fighters from all over Asia descended on Singapore shores for the second installment of Rich Franklin’s One Warrior Series.
Each of whom with high hopes of securing a contract with ONE Championship and realising their dream of being the next big thing in Asia MMA.
Among the many talented men and women, was a 15-year-old boy from Pakistan named Abu Bakr. Abu flew to Singapore not as a competitor in the program, but as a guest of ONE Championship’s Bashir Ahmad.
Coming from the dusty streets of Lahore, training daily in the basement of a building in the slum area of Charrar Pind village, Singapore was a breath of fresh air for Abu. It was also his first trip out of Pakistan.
The fighters competing at One Warrior Series were at Juggernaut Fight Club, working on drills in preparation for their respective professional bouts.
Like them, Abu was silently working his own drills in the corner, respectful of the rest of his more skilled cohorts. He silently soaked up the reality of the atmosphere with wide-eyed wonder, observing the fighters and barely spoke a word.
While the purpose of his trip was not to compete, he was clearly gripped by excitement. He observed the fighters at the training sessions with fascination.
THE GOAL OF SHAHEEN IS NOT TO CREATE FIGHTERS, ITS TRUE INTENTION IS TO CREATE GOOD CITIZENS.
“Learn,” Abu said when asked why he made the journey. When I got a chance to chat more with him, Abu gradually opened up about his life in Lahore and his hopes and dreams for the future.
Abu currently trains at the Shaheen Academy in Lahore, a gym set up by Bashir Ahmad to offer underprivileged kids an opportunity to get off the streets and expend their energy into healthier activities, like martial arts.
The gym gives the boys purpose and among other skills, it teaches them discipline and respect. For Abu, most importantly, it gives him hope.
Abu comes from a poor family with two brothers and two sisters. All seven of them lived in a single room in Charrar Pind.
The team at the Shaheen Academy often share meals with boys like Abu, offering them a sense of family. They teach values of social responsibility and good citizenry by giving out food to the poor during community events.
Abu feels privileged as he is the only one in his family that can pursue martial arts. His sisters are focusing on their studies while his brothers had no choice but to work to help support the family.
He has the support of his parents to continue to train. They see it as a way for their son to channel his energy into something productive, while at the same time keeping him off the streets.
One positive influence of Shaheen Academy, is its hardline policy towards education. The boys who train there are not allowed back to the gym if they are caught skipping school.
“The goal of Shaheen is not to create fighters or even champions in global organisations. If that happens it will merely be a side effect of its true intention, which is to create good citizens,” says Ahmad.
“This is a long term project and only after when kids like Abu Bakr grow up, succeed and give back to the program will the real journey of Shaheen begin.”
Abu is lucky to have parental support. Many Lahori parents from poor backgrounds would rather their kids go learn a skill that could eventually garner an income, or even just go straight to work.
For Abu, it is much more than a way to re-channel his energy. He sees his training and experience at Shaheen gym as a means to fulfil a childhood goal of one day becoming a professional fighter. I asked him who his favourite fighter was, “GSP!” he responded without blinking an eye.
With the gym’s focus on structure and discipline, Abu , not only got to train about two to three times a day, he was also able to pursue his studies at the same time. In fact, Bashir said that ever since Abu became an active member of Shaheen gym, his grades at school have improved tremendously.
Approaching adolescence, negative influences were mounting, Abu was at high risk of being misguided.
In spite of his tender age, Abu sees purpose beyond his interest in martial arts. Coming from a neighbourhood where kids as young as seven are smoking cigarettes, consuming drugs and sniffing glue, Abu instead encourages them to train and study.
Collectively, everyone at Shaheen Academy are working hard to make positive change to the lives of kids like Abu who come from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds.
When Abu grows up he hopes to pay forward his skills and knowledge garnered through the academy to make positive change in the lives of kids like him.
That’s something worth fighting for.
For more information about Shaheen Academy and to support these kids, please visit their GoFundMe page.