The Journey – The destiny of a shoemaker: “TheRingSideView” Article

The Journey – The destiny of a shoemaker: “TheRingSideView” Article

An article dated 15 Apr 2016 about me, on TheRingsideView website. Read the full article here:

Born in Mumbai, Chaitanya Gavali’s future was written for him well before he had the chance to shape it. With the family’s shoe selling business in need of a custodian from the next generation, the idea of Chaitanya dedicating his life to martial arts was not met with rousing approval.

“Yes, it was quite difficult (getting my parent’s approval) since MMA is not a paying sport in India yet. And it took a lot of convincing and promises to get their approval. Even then, I was always aware that if I didn’t work hard and prove myself, they would withdraw their support and I would have to go back to repairing shoes.”

Yet despite their protestations, Chaitanya knew this is what he wanted to do with his life.

“I discovered that this sport was my destiny and calling and I have never experienced more passion in life other than for this sport.”

Chaitanya’s first steps in to MMA however stemmed from a desire far more basic than the fulfillment of destiny.

“I joined the gym for losing weight with the help of mixed martial arts but as time went on I went on to train for pro MMA and have since then never looked back. I was a chubby child and bullied because of my weight. But I guess that was the best thing to happen to me as that brought me to MMA.”

With the approval of his parents and freedom from the shoe shop, Chaitanya focuses on nothing but MMA.

“I fight at least 4 pro fights in a year. But my training through the year and day on day ensures that the fighting is on even at an amateur level.”

MMA is not for the faint-hearted. It requires tireless dedication and an iron will to push beyond physical and mental barriers. Most of us would struggle to get through a day as a professional fighter, men and women like Chaitanya stand out because they aren’t like most of us. They are the 1% who push the limits the rest of all are subjected to.

“The daily schedule of a MMA sportsman is all about discipline. Every time I even think about cheating on my schedule for training or diet, I am conscious that it will negatively impact my performance in the ring. Every choice, whether food or timing of training, the smallest decisions in daily life that a regular person can take for granted, impacts my performance and my future in this sport. So starting from training at 6 a.m. for about 2 hours and then throughout the day, going through different training schedules in different forms of mixed martial arts, my day starts and ends with MMA.”

The lifestyle of an MMA fighter is difficult for most to comprehend let alone adopt. This lifestyle becomes even more admirable when you consider the macro factors martial artists in India face on a daily basis.

After years of rallying in a system that caters almost exclusively to cricket, Chaitanya has blazed a path for future generations to follow. He won a Gold medal at Warrior championship held in Malaysia last year and followed that up by becoming the first Indian to fight under the World Series of Fighting banner, the third most prestigious MMA promotion in the world. He is arguably the pound for pound best fighter in the country and has a pan Asia following. Yet, despite being the pride of the nation, the nation barley knows him.

“There aren’t enough opportunities for fighters in India, as the sport has not yet got the reach of mass audiences. I believe that I am playing a small part in opening India’s eyes to recognize and love this sport like I do. And that is my goal every time I represent India for MMA.”

While it is admirable that there are those like Chaitanya trying to establish MMA in India, changing the mind-set of people is perhaps the most difficult thing to do in modern society. People find it difficult to find the art in two semi-nude men locking themselves in a cage and fighting each other for the amusement of the gathered mob. Perhaps there is something truly jarring about such imagery.  Yet, beyond the physicality, there is genuine beauty in this sport.

“People think that MMA is all about being physically tough but the truth is that you need also mental agility and to be mentally strong to be able to take punches and understand your opponent and strategize a fight. A fighter needs to be able to think and plan about his fight rather than just rush into a ring. This sport requires a strong mind and body and at the end of the day, I believe also the humility to learn every time in the ring.”

While hard core MMA fans would agree, it’s a far greater task convincing the rest of the populace that this is a sport, not a re imagining of gladiatorial battles for the modern age.

“Most people don’t understand that MMA requires technical finesse in various types of martial arts. It’s not street fighting and that is what it may look like to the untrained eye.”

Stereotypes and typecasting aren’t the only obstacles Chaitanya has had to overcome. After struggling for parental support, hustling to try and change the minds of people and grinding in the gym every day, the monetary pay off at the end is far from what it should be. With the profits to be made lower than the effort required to make them, it’s hardly surprising that so many are averse to turning pro.

“Getting the kind of financial support that is required has been the biggest challenge. And of course, the fear that if I slip back, I will have to go back to my family business and not continue doing what I love the most- fighting pro.”

Yet despite all this, there is always hope and Chaitanya is reminded of that hope every time he walks in to the gym.

“I see many youngsters who come to the gym to learn a new sport form and once they start training, it becomes a way of life. That is the effect of MMA. And I know that this is not a trend but a sport here to stay.”

While hope is a powerful thing, it is his dreams that give Chaitanya the motivation to work hard every day.

“My dream to win the championship in my weight class in the world is what is driving me to keep on fighting. I see myself as the champion in next 5 years.”

While the future is uncertain for Chaitanya, what is certain is that no matter how it turns out, he will always have the support of those closest to him, those who have stood by his side from Day 1.

“My coach, my mentor, my friend Jitendra Khare is the one person who not only saw my potential but has also pushed me, motivated me to achieve that potential. And till date, he never gives up on me and keeps pushing me to that ideal dream of becoming a reputed international pro fighter. In fact, the very first title that I won, I dedicated to him because he is the reason I am here today.”

The final chapter of Chaitanya’s MMA career has yet to be written. Whether or not he can become a world champion is still up for debate. Yet there is no denying what he has accomplished.  He has gone further than anyone before him and while there is still a way to go, he can look back on his career with pride. Making shoes is an honourable profession, yet it’s clear that Chaitanya was right, he was destined to be a martial artist.

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