Bashir Ahmad is a Pakistani-American professional mixed martial artist who is known as the “God-father of Mixed Martial Arts Pakistan”. He is famous for being the pioneer of mixed martial arts in Pakistan. Bashir Ahmad is trying to prevent impoverished, uneducated children from getting caught up in sectarian violence in Pakistan. A 33-year-old U.S. Army vet, raised in Virginia, he’s also a professional mixed-martial-arts fighter. And while he’s often been surrounded by violence, it’s his fighting and faith that have taught him peace. Directed, shot & edited by Sofian Khan, and premiered at the American Documentary Film Festival 2016 watch Bashir’s short documentary here.
I was born in Pakistan and grew up in the U.S. before returning to Lahore in 2007, after completing my U.S. military service in Iraq in 2004. Amongst my cousins, I found out I was one of the few that was born in Pakistan, and I wore that like a badge of honor. I was like, “I’m the only son of the soil here.” The differences between the two countries is very vast, and when I graduated from university, I wasn’t ready to spend two hours of my day driving to work, driving past strip malls, past sound barrier things on the highway.
It was 2002 that I decided to join the U. S. Army. While I was deployed in Iraq I was reading the autobiography of Malcom X, and he talked about being adopted by a white family and feeling like their pet. I remember relating to that and thinking, “If I was not wearing this military uniform, what would you think of me if I was wearing some Arab dress?” I was the token Muslim guy in the Army uniform. That linked back to my fascination, which I had as a child of Muhammad Ali. I remember thinking about what he said, “No Viet Cong ever called me a nigger” That was a really powerful statement to me. I was fascinated and in awe of him. I started using the speed bag and the heavy bag on base. That’s where this path and this journey started from.
After my tour in Iraq I started martial arts training much more seriously. When I was discharged, I went back to Pakistan to promote martial arts as a way to get kids off the street. I came here with an enthusiasm to make MMA the sport in Pakistan. Martial arts in Pakistan up until recently was 1980s Chuck Norris. I made a gym, people came. I involved people in online discussions, I promoted different martial artists and made martial arts look cool. The big goal is to make it the premiere sport in Pakistan.
I now run a gym in a slum where we help underprivileged youths. The gym is called Shaheen (“Falcon”) and gives free classes to the neighborhood kids. It’s in the basement of a nondescript building. It doesn’t seem like much — some mats, a couple of punch bags and a ring — but to the kids that use it, it means a lot. In the pursuit of all this I became a well-known MMA fighter representing Pakistan. I was the first Pakistani to fight MMA on international platform when I made my debut in ONE Championship by fighting Shannon Wiratchai at ONE Championship: Kings and Champions on April 5, 2013. My story of my time in the army and becoming an MMA fighter after has gotten me a lot of traction, including coverage by TIME, CNN, Esquire and more.
Throughout all of this I’ve learned that if you’re afraid of getting hurt, afraid of losing, afraid of dying, you will not be able to commit yourself to any offense, any technique that is required for you to defeat your opponent. In Islamic history, if you look at the Battle of Badr, 300 men vs. 1,000 well trained soldiers. How did that happen? It happened because they were OK with dying.
It’s kind of funny, I used a line from Rocky Balboa movie “it’s not how hard you can hit” , but rather “it’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forwards.” And I knew this before I even started fighting. It sent a message of pushing forwards.
My son was born November 20th. It’s changed me for the better. You see your child, and you realize that you have to be the person that you want your child to be. You’re responsible for how your child will be as an adult. There have been times, where even now, the material idea of being a brand and getting money and social media exposure pollutes my mind. After having my son, the pollution blew away and everything comes full circle. I feel that I am coming back to the source, the original reason why I got into all of this. It’s a liberating feeling.