The story of Maratib’s life is the stuff of dreams. In 1997, in the small border town of Kasur, the 16-year-old, sole bread winner of his family, used to load fruits into vans to put food on the table. Seventeen years later, he stood proud as Pakistan’s best free-style fighter, occupying the podium with the country’s flag wrapped over his shoulders in the Asiads.
From a contingent of 239, Maratib was the first Pakistani this year in Incheon to win a medal when he claimed an unlikely bronze in the 70kg Wushu event.
Wushu is a form of traditional Chinese martial art, resembling kick-boxing and Muay Thai. In simpler terms, as defined by Maratib himself, Wushu is free-style fighting, where the player can use everything but the knee and the elbow to knock out his opponent.
“Too busy battling hard times, it’s like I haven’t slept all these years,” Maratib told The Express Tribune. “Now I’m 33 years old. All these years, the good and the bad, seem like one long waking journey. From loading fruits on trucks and working in a thread factory as a labourer to training for wushu and winning the Asian Games medal; I feel I haven’t slept at all. All this time I’ve been chasing my dreams, balancing pursuing my passion of becoming a professional fighter and providing for my family.”
According to Maratib, his biggest dream was to compete in the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and UFC fights, which feature players from around the world and also offer lucrative cash prizes for each fight. In order to pursue a career in free-style fighting, Maratib needed to go abroad, which he couldn’t afford. However, he was determined to figure out a way of making money through wushu, even if it meant to fight only on the regional level.
“It’s easy to complain or be bitter,” said Maratib, who debuted for Pakistan in the 2006 South Asian Games. There he won the gold medal in the Sanda event; a one-on-one fight. “Despite the odd jobs I was performing to support my family, I was blessed in a way that I was introduced to Muhammad Ramzan, who ran the Wushu Kung Fu Chinese Martial Arts Academy in Kasur. He was the one who introduced me to the rules and the sport formally.”
Maratib trains for at least four hours every day, and pays close attention to his diet, ensuring that he gets enough protein and meat to maintain his muscle mass.
By being a part of the club, he started to befriend fellow athletes, while his coach would help him out with training and personal issues. Now they are a part of him; the coach and players his family, the club his home, the sport his life.
“What is free-style fighting really?” asked Maratib. “Even internationally, at MMA and VCL, most fighters hail from poor backgrounds. I’m also one of them. Being the sole provider for my family, I’ve had my fair share of difficulties. Besides working as a loader at 16, I used to cook at home as my mother was unwell, and I lost my father when I was 11. I had younger siblings and I had to take care of them too. But when I used to come to the club and fight, I felt as if I was at home.”
The 33-year-old believes the sport is attracting more and more athletes as boys channel their extra energy into something positive, such as Wushu.
“Wushu is a discipline. My passion is to stay true to it. There are limitations, and there is a code. So free-style fighting also requires us to respect the techniques and the code,” said Maratib. “The match lasts for five minutes, but usually gets very tough. This sport has taught me a lot about life too. It’s like learning about our limitations.”
Maratib continued to impress after his debut, winning an improbable bronze in the 2006 Asian Games in the 65kg event. He was also able to defend his title successfully at the 2011 SAF games.
With a near flawless strategy and textbook technique, Maratib’s phenomenal rise in the national circuit has never been a surprise to anyone who has seen him train. He is especially known for his quick kicks, allowing him to catch his opponent off guard.
Maratib said that he might have not been able to become a professional free-style fighter in the MMA, but pursuing his passion made earning for his family easy for him too.
“I got a job with Wapda in 2000. It was, after all, because of Wushu. I made sure I became one of the top athletes in the sport and Wapda hired me,” he said. “I was offered to fight in China but could not leave as I was the sole provider for my family and therefore could not quit my job. It was a choice forced upon me, but I am not bitter.”
The 2014 Asiads in Incheon was the last time the world will ever see this small-town boy
compete in the Games and he will now be
concentrating on the national championships. Having been unable to realise his dream of competing in MMA, Maratib now hopes that he will be able to live it out through one of his students from Kasur.
“I want one of my own students to reach the highest level now,” he said. “I have 25 boys in Kasur, where we train. I believe that I was destined to win medals at Asian Games, but my students can win bigger events.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2014.