From when he was little, Tashi Wangchu loved the Rocky series, starring Sylvester Stallone, which often played on HBO. He says he was fascinated by the depiction of fitness, training and boxing in the film. In fact, he often imitated the famous actor by running in the jungles near his hometown Gyankhar village in Tawang of Arunachal Pradesh.
But as he grew into his teenage years, Tashi’s interest faded. “I had no support, source of inspiration or the right facilities to follow my interest,” he tells The Better India.
Tashi went to Itanagar, the state capital, to pursue higher studies. Here, he became addicted to smoking. The habit continued even during his graduation years, when he moved to Delhi in 2012 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science. “With such a habit, my dream of fitness was over,” he recalls.
However, Tashi says that during his stay in Delhi, he learned about Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a hybrid combat sport that involves techniques such as boxing, wrestling, karate, jujitsu, judo and other disciplines. The two opponents are to strike, grapple and use ground fighting abilities to try and defeat one another.
“I also found training centres and gyms that offer courses for the sport. But I had no money to take coaching. My father is a labourer and works odd jobs to make a living. He expected me to complete my education and bag a stable government job. He did not encourage me to pursue the sport,” the 24-year-old says.
But despite odds and no formal training, today Tashi has achieved his dream and emerged victorious by winning the 4th Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) India National competition by a knockout. And all this by self-coaching on YouTube.
Running with a sack full with stones
Tashi says he decided to pursue a career in sports despite the lack of motivation from his parents or support from friends. “But I had made up my mind. I quit smoking and stopped hanging out with friends who discouraged me,” he says.
“There was no awareness about the sport in my village, and finding a coach was a far-fetched idea. So I logged on to YouTube and started basic training. I found coaches across the world who conducted online tutorials, and took part in them,” he explains.
Tashi says that as he began training, his friends, family and relatives mocked him. “They thought I had gone crazy,” he chuckles.
He would wake up at 4 am and start his training by warming up, running, and then moving on to intense workouts. To build endurance, he found various means to modify the exercises. “I carried a sack full of stones and ran for 4-5 km. At times, I lifted stones and rocks as deadweights. Sometimes it would be snowing, or I suffered a muscle ache, but I never missed a single day,” he adds.
After finishing his workout at 8 am, Tashi would rest during the day and begin training on his boxing and wrestling techniques between 6 pm and 9 pm. “I followed all the tutorials to understand the basics and learn the nitty-gritties. I could manage boxing, but there was no one to wrestle with. I did not have a friend to dedicate time for me or help me for training,” he adds.
He notes that the same schedule continues even today.
Tashi says that more than the training, it was his struggle with proper diet that he found challenging.
“I was slim and had to gain weight. I referred to different experts on YouTube, but diet is very personal as it requires an understanding of your own body. I ate a banana, eggs, dry fruits, meat and consumed milk. The heavy intake of meat affected my stamina. Hence, I reduced meat and increased green vegetables,” he says.
Tashi says that he is still confused about what to refer to online and continues to make changes in his diet plans.
For five years, he trained consistently and groomed his body until he decided to participate in the national competition. “Even after the physical transformation, my parents and friends doubted I would succeed. They told me working on the body alone would not help as I had not undergone formal training,” he says, adding that he received the same response when he reached Delhi at the MMA training centre for trials.
“I stayed there for 15 days for trials and selection, where the participants laughed or felt amazed that I had signed up without any formal coaching. Moreover, I trained in isolation without posting any bits of the process on social media. For some, it became all the more difficult to believe that I had no training whatsoever with the body I had built. Others underestimated me,” Tashi adds.
But he says he knew precisely what the expectations of the judges were. He understood the basics of the game, the rules, and the kind of performance he had to deliver. “I had absorbed all the online sessions, and completed the three rounds in the game in 25 minutes. I used to set a timer and follow boxing, rope climbing, speed weight, running, spring and jumping,” he adds.
He qualified and won all three rounds in the Nationals, held on 19 February this year in Uttar Pradesh, earning him gold.
‘This is just the beginning’
Winning this award not only instilled confidence in him, but also changed the perspective of his parents.
“My father used to doubt me, and mother offered minimal support. But now they are proud of my achievements as it has also earned me popularity in the village,” he says.
Tashi says that the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu also recognised his achievements and offered assistance. In addition, Dream Sports Foundation has also extended hands for further training. The organisation is the philanthropic arm of Dream Sports, which supports grassroot athletes and the Indian sports ecosystem.
A representative from the company tells The Better India, “Tashi’s achievements are commendable and he has the potential to reach heights. We are working to provide him with a coach and take care of his diet. The team will also work on training aspects including strength conditioning as well as refining his boxing and wrestling.”
The representative adds that plans are underway to send Tashi for training to Singapore and Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, Tashi says he is not getting carried away with his recent achievements, and with the necessary support, he will be able to become a professional player. “I am an amateur and only know the basics. My dedicated efforts for five years have reaped expected results. Hard work is the key to success. I understand that this is just the beginning and that I have a long road ahead. I dream of winning a gold for India,” he adds.
Tashi also shares some tips from his training for beginners:
- Endurance: Tashi says running 2-3 km downhill and upwards is one way to build endurance. He suggests filling a sack with weights up to 10-15 kilos and running with it. “This helps increase speed, strength and agility in the lower body. I do it four times a week,” he says.
- Strength: Lifting deadweight once a week can help in developing shoulders, he notes. Boxing or lifting stones also work. “I used to carry a punching bag on my shoulders that weighed 75 kilos for five floors,” he says.
- Flexibility: Stretches, jumping, and rock climbing bring flexibility, he says.
- Basic techniques: Training sessions on running, footwork, jabs, uppercut and others are available on YouTube and help to improve performance, he says.
- Meditation: Tashi says he meditates 15 minutes every day, which helps improve his presence of mind, reduces stress, and enables him to focus better. “A combat game requires physical and mental power. One has to be mentally strong and focused, which can become a key element between losing or winning a match,” he says.
Edited by Divya Sethu