Fighting to the Corps: Afghan Kickboxing champion works to protect U.S. Army Corps personnel
August 14, 2011
KABUL -- At the age of 7, Nagib Mohammadi would watch his older brother practice kickboxing in an Afghanistan gym; he knew right then that that’s what he wanted to do with his life.
By the time Mohammadi was 15 years old, he started practicing kickboxing for sport, and at 16 he won his first gold medal championship. “I never lose,” Mohammadi says. And, so far, he’s lived up to his hype.
Mohammadi doesn’t make a living off of kickboxing; he works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Afghanistan Engineer District-North as a personal security detail, working side-by-side with U.S. military personnel to protect district employees from possible threats whenever they leave the district compound.
As part of his day job Mohammadi carries around an AK-47 rifle, a handgun and enough bullets to protect him and others against a small arms fire. He wears fire retardant clothes and a 30-pound bullet proof vest whenever traveling outside the district compound.
Unlike his day job where he uses man-made weapons as protection, in kickboxing there are no weapons, no bullets. “It is a sport for the mind and body,” Mohamadi says.
But, the differences between Mohammadi’s day job and evening pastime don’t stop there. The security guard says he does not kickbox to fight out in the streets of Afghanistan; he fights because he loves the sport and because it helps keep him in good mental and physical condition.
“In order to be a kickboxer, my mind and body must always be powerful,” he says. “To be a security guard, I must always be powerful.”
The 27 year-old Afghan practices kickboxing for two hours a day, every day, with his other teammates and trainer in an old underground gym named Farhangstan in the center of Kabul.
The gym has no air conditioning, seven foot high ceilings, and the only natural light comes from two basement size windows. Yet, he never misses a practice, not even during the holy month of Ramazan (Ramadan) during which Muslims fast for 30 days straight from sunup to sundown. During this month, which falls in August this year, Mohammadi only practices an hour a day on account of not being able to drink water.
Kickboxing is a popular sport in Afghanistan, mainly because young students can earn college scholarships, says Mohammadi. During matches, the crowds can get as large as 200 people.
Mohammadi competes with a team of 10 other boys and men ranging in ages 16 to 27. He is the oldest in the group and fights in the 80 kilogram (176 pounds) weight class.
The sport is played by two competitors kicking and punching each other for points until one is down. The match is divided up in to three rounds, the player with the most points at the end of the rounds is named champ.
So far Mohammadi has won 10 first place medals competing in kickboxing competitions all over Afghanistan and was named the Afghanistan National Kickboxing Champion in 2005. This summer, his team competed out of the country for the first time, in Iran, against teams from 16 other countries. Mohammadi took second place in his weight class and his team took second place overall.
While Mohammadi says he doesn’t have a favorite kick or move, he does know what one of the most dangerous kicks is- the back-kick. Just as the name implies, the back-kick is where a fighter swivels around until his back is facing his opponent and then throws a powerful kick.
This kick can be so powerful, in fact, that Mohammadi suffered broken ribs during a competition when an opponent performed the classic kickboxing move on him. “It is the only injury I’ve ever gotten since I’ve been fighting,” the kickboxing champion says.
Mohammadi says that when competing, his goal is “to never knock someone out. I just want to score.”
It is that mindset that makes Mohammadi so good at the sport says his kickboxing trainer of five years, Harf Shirzad. “A good fighter has discipline,” his coach says. “The important thing is behavior. If you have good behavior, you will be a good fighter. Nagib is one of my best students.”
That same theory holds true for working for the as a security guard.
“Martial arts are about controlling the mind and body and when you’re out [in a war zone] you have to maintain control at all times,” says Air Force Master Sgt. Travis Chadick, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the AED-N force protection team. “Nagib has a cool head and can control himself in the midst of chaos and that’s what makes him such a good security guard.”
One of Mohammadi’s teammates says what makes the fighter so good is that he works hard and is always looking for ways to be a better fighter. “We sometimes fight each other in practice, and we are always trying to come up with new moves and we share our ideas with each other,” says Warse Wohedi. “Nagib is my teacher, I learn a lot from him. He is very talented and that’s why he is the champion.”
Mohammadi is currently working on getting a visa in hopes to someday take his skills to the United States to compete on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) circuit and earn a living doing what he loves. His big dream is to compete among other kickboxing champions on TV.
“I do not have a plan for how I will make it to the UFC but I am working on my visa now,” says Mohammadi. “Hopefully I will get it sometime in 2012.”
Until then, Mohammadi plans to continue working for the Afghanistan Engineer District-North by day and competing in kickboxing matches for Afghanistan on his off time.
“I don’t think about the money, I only think about the sport,” he says. “I want to kickbox until I am at least 40. Is that old?” He asks with a laugh. “Nahh, I don’t think so,” he answers himself.