A Bengali brought up in Japan moves to the US and falls in love with MMA (mixed martial arts). He then moves to Kolkata to start an MMA gym in his home, and works on building a culture of martial arts in the city. Abhra Goswami’s story feels like the tagline of an epic sports drama.
Goswami’s father hailed from Nabadwip and moved to Kolkata to work in customs. He learnt Japanese during his time here and found an opportunity in a mineral inspection company in Japan.
Abhra Goswami was born in Tokyo and remembers his upbringing as a unique mesh of cultures. “As an Indian kid you’re a foreigner, alone in new territory. I was in an international school, so there were kids from around the world, but I was also fully involved in the local culture. I took a particular fondness to Japanese music and sports.” His favourites? Boxing and pro wrestling. Pro wrestling was huge when Goswami was a kid and he was emotionally invested in it from the start. “I even thought that the televised version was real,” he laughs.
Finding music and martial arts
Gorin Dojo teaches five combat styles: kickboxing, boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo and wrestling
During high school, Goswami also started taking music more seriously, and formed a band. “We would play punk rock, but we actually couldn’t play more than three chords with trash lyrics,” he chuckles.
At the age of 18, his life changed when he moved to the United States to study history at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. It was here that he took his first boxing class. He also started writing rap. “I saw MMA for the first time in 1997, at a bar called Cherry Street in Galesburg. There was this regular-looking man, taking on absolutely monstrous people and beating them, all in a one-day fighting tournament. In the very first fight, a tooth went flying to the commentary box. It wasn’t just that he beat them, but he made them look absolutely foolish.” Goswami’s eyes twinkle as he remembers his first tryst with Brazilian jiu-jitsu, marvelling how the fighting style was different from anything he had ever seen. He reckons that night proved to him, without doubt, that it was the most effective martial arts format. “I was obsessed with it,” he adds.
Goswami has packed a complete MMA setup into the ground floor of his Salt Lake house
In his third year, he left college and returned to Japan. Here, he switched his rap to Japanese, armed by a desire to talk about his struggles, find the truth, and explore nature. “The pursuit of truth has always been a huge motivator, and it pushed me to study history. My music embodied my life as it was then. I talked about almost everything that happened to me.” Over the years, Goswami has released two solo Japanese rap albums too.
(Listen to them here)
The Fukushima nuclear disaster (in 2011) was a major turning point in his life, and the family decided to leave Japan. In 2013, the Goswamis returned to their 40-year-old property in Salt Lake and found that Kolkata had dramatically changed. “When I last came here it was the 1980s and Salt Lake felt like a jungle with full-blown robberies. But this time, I felt like a Bengali right at home. Kolkata was the opportunity for me to turn a new leaf.”
Goswami brought Jiu Jitsu Black Belt Mamoru Kashikura from Philippines to Gorin Dojo recently for a special session
When Goswami joined MMA classes at a nearby gym, he had his ‘Eureka’ moment. “I immediately noticed that MMA was untapped territory in Kolkata, and India by extension. I didn’t have the potential to be a fighter myself, but I saw the potential to groom new fighters in the city.”
Building a vision
Goswami, who himself spends about four hours at the gym every day, started Gorin Dojo with a weight facility with just two bars and a total of 100 kg of weights
Goswami envisioned a specialised gym at his house, and selected Gorin Dojo as the name, inspired by The Book of Five Rings, or Go Rin no Sho in Japanese, written by Miyamoto Musashi. “That book helped me find my Dojo,” he says.
Gorin Dojo started in November 2019 with an investment of just Rs 3 lakh, and a weight facility comprising just two bars and a combined 100kg of weights. Goswami converted the ground floor of his home into an MMA facility with mats. However, the COVID-19 pandemic began three months later, and he found his vision hampered for 18 months. The story was not over, though.
Goswami reopened Gorin Dojo in October 2021 with renewed vigour, and a clear vision. “People saw what we were trying to do, and things started picking up after the lockdown. The response has been more positive each day,” he says.
He chose a variety of fighting styles that would provide the most effective combination: kickboxing, boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo and wrestling. To his credit, Goswami spends four hours every day at the gym, and a chunk of his free time just watching and analysing fights. He credits the relaxed pace of Kolkata for allowing him to pack in multiple things to his day, while also spending adequate time with his dogs. “People don’t talk about the business potential of Kolkata as much, but the martial arts scene here is untouched.”
Gorin Dojo aspires to not just train Kolkatans in specialised combat, but also make them belt wielding champions
Not just a passion project
As he looks back upon three decades of living and loving MMA, he can’t help but chuckle over his first jiu-jitsu training session years ago, when a Purple Belt strangled and choked him throughout the session. “Jiu-jitsu is very strategic, flowing very beautifully. It changed my life and the way I think about fighting. It’s something you need to experience, literally poetry in motion.”
When asked what keeps him going in such a physically demanding domain despite being 46, Goswami says that Gorin Dojo is much more than a gym to him. “This isn’t just a passion project for me. It’s a lifestyle. I want to build a gym that prepares world-class fighters. At Gorin Dojo, we want to go beyond just training, and collect championship belts.”