Hakan Ozan (left) spars with Farnam Mirzai, watched by young trainees at his Sunny Park home. Picture by Pabitra Das
A four-time Muay Thai world champion has checked into town for a social media start-up and while at it, he hopes to make fighters out of a few young Calcuttans.
Hakan Ozan, 41, is a former world champion of the combat sport which, unlike kickboxing, allows elbow and knee strikes as well, and the president of the Swedish Kickboxing Federation. He is also the director of the Swedish IT-User Centre at Uppsala University, and it’s that tech-pertise that has brought him to Calcutta as the CIO of a new global social media and open innovation venture.
But why is he holding Muay Thai classes in his Sunny Park living room? “I was a bit sad initially when I couldn’t find kickboxing classes in Calcutta. In most places, karate was being passed off as Muay Thai. I spoke to some private trainers who indicated there was a lot of public interest but there was a lack of structure and proficient trainers. I realised there’s a lot of potential here because it’s a virgin market that’s just screaming for this,” says the entrepreneur in Hakan, as he instructs a batch of around 15 boys.
Muay Thai is known as “the art of eight limbs” because it uses eight striking points — two hands, two feet, two knees and two elbows to deliver crushing blows. “It gives you self-confidence, flexibility and stamina in the same amount of time as you would do say aerobics. And this is a lot more fun,” says Hakan.
The Calcutta gameplan for the man with 20 years’ experience as a martial arts instructor includes making instructors out of the boys he is teaching at home. “There are no instructors here. To build an infrastructure, you need good people.” He has even found a supplier for equipment like shin guards.
By his side is Farnam Mirzai, a Swedish professional fighter for five years, based in Thailand, which is where this combat sport was born. “Muay Thai has kind of moved with the times and has evolved unlike karate, which is old-style. I like to think when I fight and when you fight, you can actually see the character of the person,” says Farnam, who will be visiting Calcutta off and on to help Hakan take things forward.
There are two reasons to be hooked to Muay Thai. “The biggest driving force is fighting for glory — the win is worth it. Back in Sweden, if you manage to get a champion’s medal, you’re a local hero. The other is the calorie-burning and fitness aspect of Muay Thai; it burns up to 1,000 calories an hour,” says Hakan, his tattooed muscles on his fit frame proof of that.
Hakan is quite a local hero himself in Stockholm. He started off with martial arts in 1978, went into kickboxing and Muay Thai in 1987. “I’ve done some 70 fights and my last professional fight was in Thailand the day after I turned 39. I was in terrific shape then, probably the best shape of my life. So age is not an excuse for this sport,” he says, hoping to pass on some of his enthusiasm and expertise to his “boys” in his new-found home.
“What I require from my boys is dedication and engagement. If they’re just coming to get free training then they might as well stay outside. But if they really want to do this, then I’m doing it for free,” he says as he turns around.
Right across his back is tattooed the word ‘Stockholm’ in bold. “I should probably add ‘Calcutta’,” he smiles.
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