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Fitness
Hakan talks about his passion Muay Thai and (below) taking an exercise break with his batch of boys at his Sunny Park apartment. Pictures: Pabitra Das

By profession, Hakan Ozan is the director of the Swedish IT-User Centre at Uppsala University in Sweden. By passion, he is a four-time Muay Thai World Champion and the president of the Swedish Kickboxing Federation. Settled in Calcutta for a new global social media and open innovation venture, the 41-year-old has started his own kickboxing classes from his Sunny Park living room. A t2 chat with the man determined to make “fighters” out of Calcutta’s fitness enthusiasts!

Did you go in search of kickboxing classes in Calcutta?

I keep a low profile to see if I can find a nice place to work out, just enjoy myself. So I Googled, asked people, but couldn’t find any place where Muay Thai was practised. I found one gym that did karate and had all the buzzwords but that wasn’t really Muay Thai. [Muay Thai, unlike kickboxing, allows elbow and knee strikes as well. It is known as the art of eight limbs: two hands, two feet, two knees and two elbows.] I was a bit sad initially. Then speaking to some private trainers, they indicated there was a lot of public interest here, a sort of bubbling beneath the surface. But there was a lack of structure and proficient trainers. Being a serial entrepreneur, when there’s a business opportunity, I sort of just want to get on with it. So I figured I got to do this.

What did the entrepreneur in you realise?

Coming from a background that knows how to structure sports in general, I figured I could actually do a lot of good around here. People are keen to do it and I’m here and keen to do it myself. I didn’t even ask anyone and we already have a full set of people willing to become instructors.

How do you plan to get the system going?

As much as I don’t want to, we’re going to do a little cutting off for those who aren’t keeping the pace. Those who are evolving according to plan will become instructors in Calcutta. I am trying to get these guys into a mode where you can actually do fights. Fights may be a strong word, you now, but there are levels of fighting. At first, you start off with a lot of protection and you can’t knock someone out, it’s more like sparring. Finally, you reach a level where there’s no protection, no shin guards and that’s more professional. Currently, I’ve ordered the equipment I need from Pakistan because it was the closest, though I’ve found a supplier in India. We want to spread the word — how martial arts can actually be a source of income for many, like in Thailand. There are two reasons why people are interested in kickboxing. The biggest driving force is fighting for glory — the win is worth it. If you manage to get a medal, you’re sort of a local hero. So what we need to do is build those heroes… like in football, a kid wants to become a Messi or Ronaldo. The other is the calorie-burning and fitness aspect of it.

Do you hope to get in women as well?

Yes. Technically, Muay Thai is not self-defence but if someone tries to attack you, your natural reflex if you know Muay Thai would be to counter-attack and not cower down.

Which parts of the body get a workout?

There’s no part of the body that’s not involved. Movement is in every direction and you use both your legs and your arms and the mid-section is connecting them. There’s flexibility and muscle training so you get kind of lean by just doing it.

Having been an instructor for 20 years now, is it more difficult to go back to training beginners?

I’d say it’s challenging. The people I trained in Sweden were those going professional. The thing is, I prefer not to let others train because the foundation is very important. But I do have to loosen up my attitude in this one!

How tough a trainer are you?

Not very tough, honestly. I want people to feel that they want to push themselves. I’d rather make a joke to make them feel comfortable. Agree, some people actually need the whip but I prefer the carrot. People want positive feedback from the trainer and you can actually break people down and not make them want to come back if you’re being too rough on them. So that’s not my approach at all. I rarely tell them something is wrong without telling them what should be right. But also adding when what they’re doing is right.

What was your most unforgettable fight?

I have a few! Many of them include injuries and we should skip those (laughs)! The first fight when I was injured in 2009. It doesn’t show much but the scar starts from the top of my forehead and ends almost between the brows. Blood was gushing but I hunted the opponent throughout the round and caught him with an uppercut. So I won even though I couldn’t see anything with my right eye and my forehead was split. Just after the fight, they took me to the medical room and stitched it up. In another fight, I was taken straight to emergency after it ended, I had one of my balls crushed. Let’s say I had three balls before they put me back together! That was devastating.