Jannat Gul - Photo by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com
Jannat Gul - Photo by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

“My parents must have had something else in mind when they named me Jannat Gul (flower of heaven),” Gul, a Hapkido black-belt, says jokingly.

It is quite obvious when you look at him that Gul is no dandelion. His steely gaze and soldiered body speak of years of toil, pursuing something that does not come naturally to Pakistanis, let alone considered a serious career or lifestyle option in this part of the world.

Gul was born and raised in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and his family moved to Karachi “around the same time when Bhutto was executed” after struggling to make ends meet. Karachi, to his father, not only offered the prospect of a better future but a chance to reconnect with family members who had migrated years ago. It also meant a higher cost of living for this family of nine.

“We had to hit the ground running when we moved. The presence of extended family in the city provided comfort but, understandably, no financial assistance. For my parents, it was a daily struggle to feed their seven children, four sons and three daughters, and save enough to pay the rent each month. Being the eldest of the sons, I started work early, often juggling two to three different jobs in a day,” Gul recalls.

He landed his first “real” job at the age of 15, working as a lighting technician in 1983 for Video Spot, a famous Karachi video-production house of the early 1980s.  But even he was not quite ready for what followed.

“There were two guys, Aurangzeb and Lala, who used to come to work dressed in all black. At first, I thought it was because of Moharram but then one day they came to work with nunchakus. Needless to say, I was curious. I followed them after work to where the Benazir Park now is and started accompanying them regularly in the weeks to follow when I saw them flying around and doing splits. It was stuff that I had only seen in movies and had not imagined possible for Pakistanis to even attempt. I soon discovered what they were doing was Bando style karate.”

Jannat Gul performing a flip at the Dolphin Park (now Benazir Park) Boat Basin - Photo courtesy Jannat Gul
Jannat Gul performing a flip at the Dolphin Park (now Benazir Park) Boat Basin - Photo courtesy Jannat Gul

Bando is a form of martial art native to Burma and is an assimilation of karate and judo. It also teaches combat with weapons such as swords, knives and sticks. Bando was introduced and spread in Pakistan by Grandmaster Ashraf Tai in the early 1970s. It is a little known and little celebrated fact that Tai has not only represented the country at the highest level internationally, but also faced off against some of the greats, including Don “The Dragon” Wilson of the United States.

“No one quite knew of Sir Ashraf until one day he took on several guys alone outside Capri Cinema. He became a legend after that. In fact, he started his own training centre somewhere close to the cinema after the famous incident,” Gul says with pride.

Gul’s foray into the world of martial arts appeared short-lived after Aurangzeb, his co-worker, “disappeared” in 1984. He kept up with whatever little training he had had and dropped out of school during this time, working “several jobs a day” to support the family. Also, he never missed a Bruce Lee flick.

Lee’s popularity had well and truly reached Pakistan during this era as the BBC puts it in a feature on Pakistan Cinema Art: “The impact of Bruce Lee’s films was felt outside as well as inside the cinema. Martial arts schools kicked and punched their way into mainstream Pakistani society as all young men in the 1970s and 1980s tried to emulate the king of kung fu.” The Pakistan Karate Federation and the Pakistan Taekwondo Federation propped up around this time, while the national Wushu Federation had been formed much earlier.

Gul’s father, a disciplinarian himself, did not mind that his son sometimes walked around “looking like a ninja” as long it did not keep him from his work and the “temptations” of big city life.

“My mother was not so fond, however,” Gul says pointing to the parts of his body that would bruise after sparring with overeager partners.

“She was a simple woman and could not understand how getting beaten up could be part of some training. She went on a mission to get me married and put me in another direction.”

Then one day, in the winter of 1988, Aurangzeb returned and changed the course of Gul’s life for the second time. This was a different Aurangzeb, though, Gul recalls. Calm, self-assured and not too talkative anymore. When he finally opened up, he described how a chance meeting with a Chinese dentist, Chin Yong, in Saddar had finally given “meaning” to his life.

Yong was trained in Shaolin Kung Fu in his native China and found an avid student in Aurangzeb. However, it was an art that required lots of patience and Aurangzeb, after consultation with his family, dedicated himself completely to learning from his ‘master’.

Upon his return, Aurangzeb went about imparting his knowledge to all those who were “mindlessly jumping about.” Thus, began a new journey. One which saw Gul train in Shaolin Kung Fu and Bando in Karachi, move to South Korea where he received a black belt in Hapkido and training in Taekwondo, before ending in Thailand for a short grappling program.

Jannat Gul with friends in South Korea - Photo courtesy Jannat Gul
Jannat Gul with friends in South Korea - Photo courtesy Jannat Gul

“This period went by in a flash. I was still working two jobs a day, training for five hours after work, and my mother had pushed me to get married. When my first child was born I had to do a little extra work and thankfully ended up getting a job in a factory in Seoul. It provided the perfect opportunity for me to hone my Kung Fu skills. Better yet, I was introduced to Hapkido, a Korean art that employs fast moving body locks, kicks and hand strikes. Due to my Kung Fu training, I adapted quickly to it and was rewarded with a black belt quite early.”

Gul trained small and large groups upon his return to Pakistan, but abandoned the practice because his “students had started picking fights,” – in contradiction to the teachings of his art. He was very selective hereon in and along the way conducted sessions with Saudi and Turkish envoys, a private security firm, and even the staff of Karachi’s famous eatery BBQ Tonight. He was a rewarded for his services with a job at the restaurant.

As time passed and Gul aged, his hopes of representing the country never realised but the now 42-year-old is not too perturbed about how things turned out.

“I had to prioritise things. My family grew and I had to do more for them. I worked as a chicken farmer, a driving instructor, a taxicab driver, a car mechanic and even in the printing press. If only I had a college degree I could’ve focused on one thing and dedicated more time to imparting what I have learned.”

Jannat Gul at a local gym - Photos by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com
Jannat Gul at a local gym - Photos by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

Gul still works at three different places. He runs his own ‘Shaolin Kung Fu’ class at Shapes, is a salesman for a car lubricant company and drives valet at night. He is also a volunteer policeman for the Pakistan Qaumi Razakar. In addition, he has the small task of raising six kids but the man remains determined and has bigger goals now.

“Bruce Lee didn’t go to the Olympics either but he impacted generation after generation. My aim is to produce medal-winning fighters. I won’t sit here and whine about not getting support , because you make your own destiny. Plus, what I do is a way of life. And my aim now is to fight for the mainstream acceptance of martial arts in Pakistan, both as a sport and as a lifestyle. Our not-so-agile cricketers and hockey players will greatly benefit from this also, I guarantee.”

The Pakistan Karate Federation President, Muhammad Jehangir, echoes Gul’s opinion: “We don’t celebrate our martial arts heroes and medallists like we do our cricket and hockey players. Believe me there is unbelievable talent and plenty of small clubs and patrons doing great work to keep karate, judo and other similar sports alive.”

Pakistan’s newly-hired Iranian judo coach Sajjad Kazemi’s spoke of a similar hurdle: “I’m sure there a lot of quality players who don’t take part in national event. So talent hunt is our first priority.”

Gul hopes to assist the federations in creating a big pool of martial artists. For him, it is a matter of great satisfaction that associations like the Mixed Martial Arts Pakistan and Pakistan Shotokan Karate Association have come up and is proud of the achievements of people like Saadi Abbas and Dr Zulfiqar Ali Zulfi.

Jannat Gul trains a student at a local gym - Photos by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com
Jannat Gul trains a student at a local gym - Photos by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com

“It is sad that not many people know about these individuals. But Hollywood is doing its bit once again. Inspiration comes in all forms, shapes and sizes and I have a few kids in my class who joined because they wanted to be like Kung Fu Panda.”

Gul also wants to set up an academy, where he will train children for free so they stay away from drugs and gangs.

“If I can bring about this change even in my area of Hijrat Colony and Sultanabad, I will be happy.”

The author is Sports Editor at Dawn.com

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Comments are closed.

Comments (42)

usman
June 7, 2012 9:31 am
Good read... "Kang fu Panda" brought a smile on my face.. you're the man GUl
Hisham
May 30, 2012 7:00 am
Nice article, good to read a very interesting piece.
Arsalan
May 30, 2012 7:02 am
Don The Dragon Wilson had knocked out Ashraf Tai in the second round, back in 1981 Tokyo
Shaan Agha
June 8, 2012 11:03 am
It is sad that so much talent in Pakistan goes to waste. Loved the Gif images, gives agreat insight into what Gul is doing. You have a great job taimur apart from doing a good one. Looking forward to some more hidden treasures from Pakistan.
yourpakistan
May 30, 2012 7:13 am
Pakistan is overwhelm with super talented people in all wakes of life. Very nice article cum short biography of Mr.Gul. Thumbs up for Mr Gul.
tayyab
June 9, 2012 11:14 am
geo g khan g
Kman
June 6, 2012 5:58 am
Great Article bro! Remember his 'fast' bowling ...
fakkanguy
May 30, 2012 5:34 am
Great write-up, Taimur. Tremendously enjoyed reading that first thing in the morning. Jannat Gul is a cat, man.
Dan
May 30, 2012 6:10 am
I salute the great committed and courageous people of Pakistan.
maha
May 30, 2012 7:30 am
woow Janat gul
Salim
May 30, 2012 8:24 am
Fortunately for some time Jannat Gul worked with me, he is hardworking and determined person that helped him in his achievements. Such self made personalities need recognition from society and government. Currently he is volunteer for Police Department, he must be inducted as regular employee for training of our police force
Pasha
May 30, 2012 8:49 am
Thanks Taimur and DAWN for writing about such a talent. Great work , keep it up .
Shah
May 30, 2012 9:03 am
Nice article on a talented Pakistani ... keep it up Tanimur and bring to front many other such talents around us!!
Naveed Khan
May 30, 2012 10:07 am
I am an old student of Sir Jannat Gul at Greenbelt School some 10 years ago. I would really like to meet him again just to catch up on the event from then till now. I was wondering if there was any way I could get his contact number so that I could arrange for a meeting. I would really appreciate the help.
Omer Ghaznavi
May 30, 2012 11:14 am
Hi can you please help me get in touch with Mr. Gul. I would like to interview him for our show on City FM 89. Omer
Rishad
May 30, 2012 11:40 am
Nice Giffs Nadir and great write up Taimur!
Khalid Abro
May 30, 2012 12:39 pm
Committed people like Jannat Gul are everywhere especially in Sports, they must be highlighted for their talent and struggle. Good One.
Tariq
May 30, 2012 1:01 pm
Best of luck
KAZMI
May 30, 2012 3:17 pm
GOD bless u
Majid K
May 30, 2012 5:02 pm
Good to see a man coming from an ordinary family, a transplanted in Karachi from KPK doing well. He must be a very disciplined man.
Adeeb
May 30, 2012 6:33 pm
May Allah SWT helps you achieving your goals... Ameen
Ashher
May 30, 2012 11:26 pm
Paksiutan is rife with talented people like Jannat Gul, and many others, we just need honest leadership to bring us all line. Best of luck Jannat Gul and thansk Taimur for this refeshing article.
Syed
May 31, 2012 12:41 am
He should be unleashed on our corrupt politicians
Yawar
May 31, 2012 3:03 am
What fantastic commitment. Very inspirational. We need thousands of Jannat Guls i all walks of life and especially in the educational field.
Sridhar Subramonyan
May 31, 2012 4:35 am
The article reinforces the fact that Pakistan is a country full of talent. Great article and enjoyed reading it. Sridhar, New Delhi
Salman Kabir
May 31, 2012 5:53 am
I want him to train me, how can i contact him? Does he train people somewhere? need to know. thanks in advance :)
Shahid
May 31, 2012 7:08 am
ha ha ha, love this idea.
Ahmed
May 31, 2012 8:50 am
Great article. Thanks Taimur for writing about such positive and accomplished people all around us. Hats off to Jannat Gul for being a true Pakistani Idol. I have no doubt if even 25% of us could adopt Gul's dicsipline and work eithic, we would be far ahead of where we are. Thanks dawn for presenting something positive for a change.
Vigilant
May 31, 2012 10:24 am
Always wanted to learn kung fu but due studies commitments...failed to do so.....but InshAllah my children will and Pakistan need good institutes and instructors
Omar
May 31, 2012 11:24 am
A wonderful story. Very inspirational!!!
Dr. Imran Wazir
May 31, 2012 11:44 am
I like the way you wrote this article ... Mr. Jannat Gul hats off! Tusi great ho. If every tenth Pakistani start thinking and applying his efforts ... Pakistan will become Jannat, INSHALLAH.
ZAEEM
May 31, 2012 11:44 am
THATS A SPIRT.......... TIME COMES AND GOES, NEVER LOOSE HOPE. AND STRUGGLE ALL THE TIME..........HATS OFF TO GULL KHAN.
Nomad
May 31, 2012 11:40 pm
GUL Khan --- Go you tube... upload your art on youtube and show it to the world.... Gul _ Khan _ Kang Fu Best of luck
ahmed
June 1, 2012 2:29 am
the govt and military should teach this to all would be militants...martial art imparts self control.
Salman Shahid
June 1, 2012 4:27 am
I am fascinated with the idea & would love to join the training classes. Please let me know the places where the classes are being conducted along with contact info if possible.
shahmir
June 1, 2012 8:00 am
i am shahmir ali syed and i train shaolin kung fu from jannat gul and my brother is the fat kungfu panda in the picture plz come and join this fantastic and wonderful excercise with us
Dawn.com
June 1, 2012 11:56 am
Please send an email to blog@dawn.com and we will provide you his contact details.
Muhammad Rizwan
June 2, 2012 12:53 pm
you can meet Jannat Gul at Karachi Shape Club opposite Karachi race cource gate or contact Jannat Gul directly 03243378208
nadeem
June 4, 2012 4:10 pm
Nice article...
Nadeem
June 3, 2012 9:31 am
I am training in Hapkido in Scotland and come from a Pakistani background,would like to know if anyone is doing Hapkido in Rawalpindi?
tariq khan
June 4, 2012 8:49 pm
sir. jannat gul , ek behtareen ustad hain , mujhe fakher hai in par , main gul ,ka purana shagird hon
dhiraj garg
June 8, 2012 12:34 pm
My best wishes are with you Mr. Gul :)
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