Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Ambassador of Hope

Public figures are constantly battling between their actually personality and their projected public image. Add the terms ex-American army and mixed martial arts (MMA), add your fair share of Hollywood imagery and you have your stereotypical image of Bashir Ahmad.

However, rest assured that the godfather of MMA in Pakistan is anything but the type caste martial arts athlete. His fighting career has been well documented but here we get to see the other side of his personality.

Bashir was raised in the United States of America in an expat Pakistani family and the culture was an integral part of his upbringing. There has always been an emotional connection and his frequent trips also helped further cement the bond. His earliest memory of the country is of his first trip at the age of six when he stayed with his extended family for a month or two and when his mother informed him that it was time to go back home, he ran under his nani’s bed and cried his eyes out.

“When I am here I don’t really miss the United States, I do think about my family and home for but not the country as such. However, when I am in the U.S or anywhere else I do miss Pakistan.” 

Copy rights WWF-Pakistan
From an early stage he knew that he would be doing something for the country, even though it was not clear how it was going to happen. Deep down he believed that destiny was going to bring him here, someway of the other. In the end MMA because the source of his journey, but becoming a professional athlete was never on his cards, it just happened.

During his elementary school days, one day the kids were asked to come dressed up as what they wanted to become when they grow up and Bashir went geared up as a zoologist, with his tranquilizer gun!

So when he recently, signed up as a Goodwill Ambassador for WWF-Pakistan, for many this might have come as a surprise, but for Bashir this was not a decision that he needed to think about. His interest in environment and wildlife has been quite intrinsic as far as his earliest childhood memories go. He has been reading up on global wildlife and issues faced by planet earth, be it our deteriorating natural resources or the impacts of over population. His passion for environment and wildlife conservation is not something that he got from his parents or anyone else, it has always been a part of who he is.

So how did a zoologist aspirant ended up becoming a professional MMA fighter?

When he got to high school Bashir ended up in the group of students whom the teachers always complained about, of not living up to his potential. He graduated with a very low GPA but still managed to get into a college. At college he took an army recruitment class. Someone who had always wondered as to what life would be like in the military, Bashir decided to sign up for some five to six years, instead of looking back and wishing he had not passed on the opportunity. Joining the American forces turned out to be a very positive change for him. In his own word, “The military straightened me out.” Someone with a very low GPA, he ended up being at the top of his class and maintained this when he left the forces and went back to complete his education. He completed his bachelor’s degree in political science from George Mason University and then went on to do his Masters in exercise sciences from California University.

A great part of military training is about defending yourself in various situations and that is how MMA first entered the picture. Someone who always likes to go in the details of whatever he does, Bashir started reading up on it and started training as a hobby. This hobby soon turned into an obsession and two years into it he thought of starting to compete in MMA competitions to help improve his martial arts skills and nothing more. However, his journey led him to become a professional fighter and as they say rest is history. 

“I ended up in Pakistan through MMA, by using martial arts to better people. As I think that Martial arts is a sport and way of life that can help people physically, mentally and spiritually.”

MMA ended up becoming the source that fulfilled his destiny of giving back to Pakistan. After coming back he opened a gym in the upscale area of Defense in Lahore by the name of Synergy. This establishment can be referred to as his main gym, a more commercial venture which has now developed a good enough reputation for itself. As already mentioned moving back to Pakistan was never about just following a business opportunity and what exemplifies his vision and passion and the reason for his presences here; is his second gym which he has established in a poor neighborhood in Chararpind known as the Shaheen Gym.

Bashir aims to have a positive impact on the youth and believes that if in his life time he can help change the course of life of even only three or four kids; help them become better human beings and change their destinies that would be a success story for him. We all live knowing and working for our and our families’ happiness and prosperity but to be able to do that for a handful of other people, is Bashir’s definition of a big accomplishment.

Like the majority of us, the godfather of MMA has a love hate relation with Pakistan. While he is passionate about his home, culture and soil; he is quite upfront in recognizing the plethora of problems that are part of our reality. In fact he is of the opinion that this mixed reality is what keeps many here, especially the ones who have the choice and opportunity to just pack and leave.

“To know that there are problems and instead of doing something about them and just leaving for me in my heart, feels like a big betrayal.”

Athletes have a set career scale and one can’t be an active one for their entire life and Bashir sees this as a stepping stone for a higher calling in life. For now he is simultaneously adopting the role of a teacher for his students in his gyms; where along with training them in mixed martial arts he wants to inculcate in them an awareness about the importance of environment conservation and educate them on what positive role they can play as individuals. This additional grooming is a combination of his own interest in the subject and the fact that Pakistan is one of the top three countries most effected by climate change at both macro and micro level.

Bashir has proved to be an asset for the country, here’s hoping that he continues to inspire and be a source of much needed positive energy.  

The article was originally written for Newsline Magazine. This blog post is the unedited version.

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