Mixed martial artist Khai Wu is a “late bloomer” by his own admission, but he’s always done things a little differently and that’s because of a journey full of discovery as well as failure.
Wu grew up between California and Taiwan, where his parents are from. As a young and insecure child, he was bullied at school. He was also unathletic and uncoordinated – he dribbled a basketball with two hands.
His father wanted his children to attend Ivy League schools and become doctors or lawyers – three of his children went into the medical field. But while Wu tried hard in school, academic learning was not for him and his grades were not good.
Instead, his brother-in-law brought him to try jiu-jitsu at the age of nine, and in time martial arts changed his life.
Wu had his first amateur MMA fight at the age of 21. He stood across the cage from an opponent who looked bigger and stronger than him and thought: “What am I doing here?”
As the bell rang, Wu surrounded his opponent, too nervous to attack. After more than a minute, something took over – Wu threw punches and won by TKO (technical knockout).
As the victory sank in over the following days, he realized that he was never in competition with anyone else – that his biggest problems came from within, and that he could learn to deal with them and not Can be comfortable in comfortable situations.
And he saw that comparison with other people did not lead to satisfaction or happiness, “that everyone is on their own journey”.
“I’m like the black sheep (of the family),” the now 28-year-old told Al Jazeera, tongue in cheek. “I ended up being a pro fighter.”
While it has since gained prominence in unexpected ways — training Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. TED talkand the way it’s going viral. useless A racially charged situation – Wu hopes to make more headlines with his fight soon.
Wu (7-4-0) will take on Phil Karakpa (9-3-0) at featherweight in his debut for the Professional Fighters League on the undercard of the PFL’s 2023 World Championship on Nov. 24 in Washington, DC. .
It is likely to be a tough contest against an experienced opponent..
“People who really make you discover a part of yourself that you never knew existed or didn’t exist,” Wu said, speaking online from California. Really raise the bar, those are the people that really annoy me”, Wu said, speaking online from California. “But they also excite me.”
‘Martial arts are about life’
Wu earned the nickname “Shadow” due to his ridiculous fighting skills.
He was just 3-1-0 in amateur MMA fights when he turned professional in 2018 at the insistence of his family, who wanted him to start making money.
“As an amateur, you don’t get paid to fight and you’re still taking losses,” he said. “(But) they didn’t understand that you have to build your career a little further, then get into a better position.”
He won his first pro fight and was signed by the Bellator MMA promotion, but lost his only two fights there. Initially he often fought people with many amateur bouts under their belt and his lack of experience led to some defeats – but he learned quickly.
Under various promotions, he put together a four-fight winning streak from 2019 to 2020, lost a pair during COVID-19, and won his last fight by split decision.
In June he signed with the PFL. He said the promotion’s tournament format and points system appealed to him, and he felt like they weren’t selling him too rosy a picture.
“I’m always curious to work with a company that does things a little differently,” he said.
His last fight was in February, but he says the time since has allowed him to expand and expand his skills, something that’s always possible in the grind and game plan of a fight camp dedicated to a single opponent. It doesn’t happen.
“A lot of the injuries I’ve had from my previous fights have healed, I’m getting stronger, I’m finding where I’m weak and really covering those cracks or holes,” Wu said. Wu said.
Meanwhile, he believes that being a trainer at the Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu gym and having a student mentality enhances his skills.
His most famous client is Facebook founder Zuckerberg. When he first trained the tech billionaire, he thought it would be a one-off session — but the meta boss kept coming back.
“He probably liked my jokes or something, I make a lot of dad jokes. And since then, we’ve been hanging out and training together.”
He said he doesn’t think a fight between Zuckerberg and fellow billionaire Elon Musk will ever happen, and that Zuckerberg will move on to something more serious (Wo spoke to Al Jazeera before Zuckerberg Tore his anterior cruciate ligament. when arguing).
“I think Alvin realized that Mark was training legitimately and that a real fight looks fun until you (think about it) with blood and eyes open and all that stuff. “
He said he hasn’t talked to Zuckerberg about his motivation to take martial arts so seriously, but says fighting is fundamental and there’s “beauty” in the fear and truth of stepping into the ring or the octagon. .
“Because it doesn’t matter who you are, when you get there, you’re there yourself,” he said. “You can claim you’re a black belt in jiu-jitsu. But if you go out there, and your skills don’t show, they don’t show – so there’s no excuse in a fight.”
Wu is also an evangelist for the power of martial arts beyond gym.
If you panic during a choke in jiu-jitsu, the faster your breathing and heart rate and blood rushes to the head, the faster you will lose consciousness. Developing the skills to stay calm and patient in such stressful situations can help to overcome the rut.
When he was in a car accident a few years ago, Wu had the confidence and presence of mind to stay calm before the impact – he walked away unscathed and calmly helped others.
“Basically, if I didn’t have martial arts training I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do it all or process it”.
Then came an incident in 2021 when Wu was filmed talking quietly to a man who was being belligerent at his local boba (bubble) tea shop in Tracy, California, at a time when Asians Opposing attacks were increasing.
“It was all from martial arts training. I had the confidence to go out there and defuse situations, and you know what, nobody got hurt … so I understand all aspects of martial arts and their life. It’s really important to see what the connection is.”
— Khai “The Shadow” Wu (@khaiwu) November 3, 2021
‘The Bubba King’
Wu’s Taiwanese culture and heritage are important to him, and his love of bubble “bubba” tea has become legendary – he’s even been nicknamed the “bubba king” by fans, who sometimes call him his bubba. Ask to sign a cup of tea.
For Wu, it reminds him of the relationship he had with his father when he was young – when they used to go and drink boba tea together.
“Bubba has always been very nostalgic for me,” he said.
He’s looking to promote the sport of MMA in Taiwan, perhaps by opening gyms and other ventures there, and says he’s impressed by the fact that Zuckerberg is still learning new skills and developing innovative products. are trying to
“It’s very inspiring. And I recently took the plunge to start a business myself,” he said.
“He’s going into the fight being a businessman. Maybe I can reverse that thought process and get some work done.”
But the most important thing on his mind right now is his own fight.
And while he aspires to win the title, he notes that most champions are too quick to forget that his real goal is to fulfill his potential and continue to strive toward unattainable perfection.
“I feel like I’m fighting at like 50 to 60 percent of my true potential and by that I don’t mean that I’m holding back, it’s that I’m a late bloomer. I still don’t have my right direction. But in my last two fights, I’m slowly putting the pieces together,” he said.
“It took me a while, but being a late bloomer isn’t necessarily bad, it just means you get better over time.”