After dominating the martial arts scene in UK and Europe, Chirag Lukha, a martial arts teacher and athlete from Leicester, has successfully brought home a plethora of gold medals from the world championships.

After 10 years away from the competition circuit to focus on empowering the next generation through martial arts as well as spending time choreographing fights for film and theatre Lukha, aged 29, discovered that the 2019 world championships were being hosted in the UK. BizAsia’s Raj Baddhan caught up with Lukha about his journey so far.

You’ve made a return to the competition circuit after an eleven-year sabbatical, why such a long break?
My teacher first sent me to a competition, after I achieved my black belt, so that I could take my training to the next level and learn from the very best. This lead to me competing for about five years, in that time I had the opportunity to travel the world, represent England across the globe and win titles for my country. I left the competition circuit to focus on other areas.

In 2008, I had the opportunity to perform for the King of Dubai which opened up many doors for me to work in the theatre and film world. It has been a passion of mine to explore the creative side of martial arts both as a performer and choreographer, which is what I now do.

Further to this, I went to university to study BSc Psychology, which would ultimately form the foundation of our breakthrough LIONS Self Defence & Leadership martial arts system where I empower kids and teens with life skills through life saving skills. Psychology helped me to understand child development and create a unique age adaptive process that would allow martial arts to be used as a vehicle to teach kids about skills like focus, discipline, teamwork, communication and confidence which can be used in all areas of life.

I had always left the door open for competition and always continued personal and professional development so I could serve my students on the highest level and return to the mat when the time was right.

What was the biggest reason for your return to the circuit?
At the start of the year I heard that the world championships were to be held in England. For martial artists, that is like the Olympics or football world cup coming to their home nation. This excited me and I just needed to be a part of it; so I called one of the world organisations presidents to ask if they need any referees or judges. He remembered me from my time in competition before and said that I should try out at the qualifiers.

I went silent for a few moments, something inside just felt right and my heart just said YES! I haven’t looked back since.

I strongly believe, as a teacher, that I should always continue my training and be on top form so I can set the best example for the future generation of martial arts. For some of my students, my previous world championship wins are “pre-historic”, as in, before they were born. So I also felt that this may be an opportunity to inspire them to understand that committing to mastery in any area of their life can lead to success.

Over the years, how have you seen the profession change/grow amongst Asians?
I think that attitudes to sports and extracurricular activities are changing in the British Asian families. From conversations that I have with our LIONS families and the local communities it is evident that there is more emphasis on allowing children to explore and experience additional activities with a view to make them more rounded individuals.

While growing up I was one of the only people, amongst my British Asian friends, who did an extra-curricular activity outside of the after-school clubs.

When I first took a martial arts class there were only a handful of Asian kids in the room. However, all these years later at LIONS we have 11 nationalities represented in our student base with many British Asian kids taking part. It is great to see that this sport and art being enjoyed by people from all backgrounds together. This creates cohesion in society and develops relationships.

It also brings health, wellbeing and fitness into conversation in the British Asian family unit.

On a national and international level in the sport, I have also seen many more Asian competitors this year than I used to 10 years ago.

I hope that this will lead to a wider acceptance of unconventional jobs and support for extracurricular hobbies from Asian families.

I remember in my first lesson I was so nervous that I didn’t even speak to anybody. We have all been there, I am sure, when we start something new and feel like everybody else will be smarter, stronger or in some way more superior.

What would you say to individuals who are scared or apprehensive about joining martial arts?
Much of the time, we are apprehensive to try something new because of the fear of the unknown. We don’t know what to expect or what will be expected of us.

I remember in my first lesson I was so nervous that I didn’t even speak to anybody. We have all been there, I am sure, when we start something new and feel like everybody else will be smarter, stronger or in some way more superior. Or we feel that we may be judged harshly because we are not good enough. The truth is that everyone starts out the same and is therefore supportive and welcoming.

In a good and supportive school there will be no ego’s and the people who start as your training partners will eventually feel like your friends and family.

The great thing about martial arts is, it takes you on a journey from where you are to where you need to be. To get started you don’t need to be able to do highflying kicks like Jackie Chan or punch with lighting speed like Bruce Lee. All you have to do is, turn up.

My advice would be, just take step one and turn up. The rest of the steps will be made far easier with the support of peers who are on the same journey.

I have said many times that when we start a journey we never know where it may lead. For me, martial arts has changed my entire life and enabled me to overcome asthma.

Every person has their own reasons for taking on such a sport, for you, it was your health, how has this changed your life?
It is true that when I was a child I suffered with such severe asthma which kept me in hospital much of the time and had a huge impact on my self-esteem and social skills.

It was then that my parents began to look for a martial arts school to help me overcome these challenges.

I have said many times that when we start a journey we never know where it may lead. For me, martial arts has changed my entire life and enabled me to overcome asthma. Also the small achievements like learning new moves and earning belts filled me with inner-confidence as a child and taught me the importance of self belief without arrogance.

Martial arts, which started as a Friday evening hobby nearly 25 years ago to help me overcome adversity has now become my career. I have the opportunity to explore my creativity in the theatre and film industry, work with celebrities, travel the world, inspire the next generation to dream bigger and achieve more and above all I am able to live from, what I believe is, my purpose.

When something has so powerfully impacted your life, it is inevitable that you want to pass the gift on and empower others to have the same transformation. This is why I feel privileged to be a part of my students journeys and serve their families.

When I teach kids about charity it starts with ‘random acts of kindness’ and giving their time to help someone like a sibling, friend or classmate to have a better day.

For me, my biggest win is hearing parents tell me that their kids have developed confidence, concentrate better at school and communicate more effectively.

You’re also supporting a number of charities with your work, tell us about this?
There is that line in spider-man that says ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ and I think we all need to realise how much power we have. I was bought up with a strong emphasis on the concepts of sharing and using what we have to make other people have a better day.

When I teach kids about charity it starts with ‘random acts of kindness’ and giving their time to help someone like a sibling, friend or classmate to have a better day.

Through my personal work, I have been able to support many organised charities by helping to raise funds and awareness. These events have served animal charities, nature charities, heart and cancer charities as well as hospitals and disaster relief.

I was taught to serve in silence, so I seldom speak of charity work but one of my 2020 goals is to invite our LIONS families to join me in making a bigger impact for a chosen charity. This will teach the kids about social responsibility and allow us to work together to serve society on an even higher level.

You’ve taken part successfully in the martial arts world championships, so where do you go after this?
I absolutely and unequivocally love martial arts and the journey or process of it.

I don’t want to misrepresent this year’s wins and make it seem like it was easy to come back and win 54 titles after 11 years away from competition. The truth of the matter is that I have been training or in some way, honing my craft, almost every single day for those last 11 years and have enjoyed every moment of it.

I will continue to train and grow in my own practice. After these 25 years I feel like I have just gotten warmed up and the best is yet to come.

My immediate goals are to introduce more charity work to LIONS self defence and to offer even more classes and workshops that will focus on families connecting through martial arts fitness.

Tell us about your choreography work?
Between 2004 and 2008 I spent all of my school holidays living with and training six to eight hours a day with my teacher Liang Yang in Blackpool. Liang is known for his stunt work in Hollywood from being a stormtrooper to fighting tom cruise in the bathroom fight scene in the most recent mission impossible.

During this time we both talked at length about our future goals and ambitions. He wanted to do stunt work and I wanted to teach martial arts and create fight scenes like those which inspired me. I am happy to see us both living those dreams now and we often reminisce about those days.

I began choreographing fights in 2009 with an adaptation of Alice in wonderland.

My passion is to create fight scenes which are stylised, similar in style to ip man or crouching tiger hidden dragon. However I am adamant that my fights must tell a story with every move in the same way a good ballet tales a tale through physical movement. We the audience should be engaged and invested in every move without ever feeling like the fight is violent. Choreographing a fight and capturing all of the emotions without having seemingly excessive violence is where the art is for me.

I choreographed a film called ‘Don’t Look at the Finger’ produced by Film and Video Umbrella and directed by Hetain Patel in 2017 which has toured the globe. This film challenges racial and cultural stereotypes. 2020 will see me work on a progression of this film.

I originally produced ‘Fangs of Fortune’ as a stage show in 2015, it will be recreated as a digital exhibition using augmented reality so that it can be enjoyed by a wider audience.

In 2019 I choreographed two fight sequences for ‘Stardust’, produced by Phizzical productions in association with Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. This was a Bollywood musical showcasing themes of Asian superstition, homosexuality and the music industry.

2020 will see me revive ‘Fangs of Fortune’ which is a physical theatre and circus narrative written and directed by myself. This production is based on the ancient Chinese legend of Madame White Snake, a love story that explores themes of love, separation and segregation in society. I originally produced ‘Fangs of Fortune’ as a stage show in 2015, it will be recreated as a digital exhibition using augmented reality so that it can be enjoyed by a wider audience.

Would you consider any other work in the entertainment/media space, if so what?
I have worked in many areas of entertainment and have enjoyed every element. At the moment I am very happy directing theatre and film but I am certainly open to working in other areas.

Final words
This year I have been honoured to raise the England flag on the No.1 spot of the world podium 8 times across 3 world championships. I have received a hall of fame award from esteemed peers and have won 54 titles which include being English champion, British Champion, Grand National Champion, European Champion and world champion.

None of this would have ever been possible without the love of my family, and partner, who are always there for me with encouragement and support. My thanks to the LIONS families for always believing in me. Also, my gratitude must always go to my teachers. Without them accepting, embracing and giving me the gift of their skills with nothing held back; I would not have had any of the opportunities that I have.

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