On October 2018 at UFC 229 Dagestani MMA fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov successfully defended his Lightweight title against the always colorful Conor McGregor putting Khabib and his native Dagestan in the spot light. Khabib’s victory is however, not the only one for fighters from the republic, in fact Dagestan has been a Mecca for combat sports from wrestling Olympic champions to Sanda/Sanshou, MMA and other combat disciplines for several years. The Republic of Dagestan, is a federal republic of Russia, located in the North Caucasus region. Its capital and largest city is Makhachkala, the republic is centrally located on the Caspian Sea coast bordering Chechnya, Georgia and Azerbaijan. There are several different ethnic, religious groups and languages rooted in 36 tribal groups and 22 languages reflecting its rich cultural background. Some of the challenges facing the republic are associated with religious extremism, independence movements in the neighboring areas after the break up of the Soviet Union and tribal differences as early as the 1990s. Despite these challenges Dagestan has avoided the turmoil that has consume some of its neighbors, perhaps thanks in part to private initiatives like the Five Directions of the World Martial Arts School in the village of Halimbekaul to which we will turn our attention to in this post.
The Peaceful Warrior
In 1994 Verona Fonte (Fonte, 1996) a digital media maven and peace activist traveled to Dagestan to film a short documentary about the region and its challenges for peaceful coexistence given the neighboring wars taking place during that period, returning in 1996 to follow up on the progress achieved by those she interviewed earlier. Among notable figures was Mr. Gusein Magomaev who along with his wife Olga founded the Five Directions of the World Martial Arts School in 1984.
Gusein Magomaev Saygidovich was born on January 4, 1951 in the village of Kakhib, Republic of Dagestan. From a young age Mr. Magomaev was a sick child suffering from a heart condition that almost took his life, he was in and out of hospitals regularly. This reality only drove his desire to become physically strong and to that aim he used large stones he was able to find in the fields and used them to train his body. One of his uncles saw his persistence and bought for him his first set of weights which Mr. Magomaev used to train at every opportunity to be able to stand up for himself and against all odds he beat doctor’s expectations for a short life span (Von Schroeder, 2015). Dagestan is a republic where the “Warrior Ethos” is predominant in the Caucasus, warrior figures of old like Shamil (1797 – 1871) who resisted Imperial Russia in the 1800s are but one example of a proud warrior heritage. It is therefore shameful to show any cowardice behavior or to be weak. It is a man’s duty to protect his family at any cost, which can explain in part the region’s love towards martial arts and combat sports and the strong will instilled in a young Magomaev. Some time in the 60s Mr. Magomaev saw a book about Chinese Martial Arts and the seed was laid for him to seek training in the martial arts.
Mr. Magomaev entered the Dagestan Art School in 1968 and graduated in 1972, he became part of the Graphic Art Faculty, member of the Union of Artists of the USSR, Winner of the Komsomol (a political youth organization created in 1918 under the control of the Communist party) Prize of Dagestan in 1989, winner of the Grand Prix at the biennial of graphics in Havana, Cuba in 1987 and began to exhibit his work after 1985. It was during his time in the art school he met a teacher who was a martial arts enthusiast and Mr. Magomaev quickly became his best Karate student, training and coaching of champions from 1977 to 1983. It was in early 1982 that trouble started when for political reasons a crackdown on some martial arts began, instructors were jailed and Mr. Magomaev and his wife relocated from Moscow back to Dagestan in 1984 to avoid any trouble and the reason Mr. Magomaev started his work in Chinese martial arts. Thanks to his body of art work including several drawings with Chinese themes he was invited to present them at the Sino-Russian Friendship Society in 1988 in front of the Chinese ambassador including Wushu demonstrations by the Dagestani team. The ambassador was so impressed he extended an invitation to Mr. Magomaev to travel to Beijing, China where he attended intensive Wushu courses and received written material to help in the dissemination of Wushu in Russia.
Once in Dagestan they moved to a small trailer in the outskirts of Halimbekaul and started teaching martial arts. The 90s were hard times as the USSR was falling apart, social unrest by the political void was felt by the more vulnerable in Dagestan, the children. Mr. Magomaev and his wife saw the need for action and decided to act upon it to change the situation by building a school to teach not only martial skills but also academics and arts to the Dagestani youth. The project took years to complete given that the Magomaevs had no financial resources to draw from, but only their hard work and love which continues to this day.
The Five Directions of the World Martial Arts School
From its humble beginnings the boarding school is now internationally recognized as a creator of Chinese Sanshou/Sanda and MMA champions (Khasarov, 2011). Over four hundred students attend regular classes in subjects such as mathematics, Russian and English languages, history, arts etc. Students combine their academic work with martial arts training in Sanda/Sanshou and Taekwondo 6 times a week, this is possible because the students live at the school full time until they are allowed to go back home for their school break. It is clear the student’ success in not just thanks to mere talent, but the amount of hard work they put in their daily training. Admission to the school starts from grade 5 after passing entry examinations both academic and medical, with only boys qualifying for the live-in option. Local girls can attend the school’s academic and Taekwondo programs and after lessons they go back to their homes. There is also an option for boys to attend the Sanshou/Sanda program only. Applicants not only come from Dagestan but also from other Russian areas as the school’s reputation grows.
The school’s philosophy is deeply rooted on Mr. Magomaev’s martial arts training especially Chinese martial arts. The school’s logo is made out of a pyramid with a Ying-Yang symbol and the name reflects this approach. The Ying/Yang dichotomy is reflected in the Victory and Defeat of competition, students are taught neither to over indulge in the former, nor sulk in the latter’s and to always maintain balance of spirit. The four sides of the pyramid’s base represent the things that separate mankind towards different directions such as politics, religion, language, cultural background, nationalism etc. As the individual climbs up the pyramid ladder the four sides intersect at the top symbolizing a higher level where people realize they are all the same and harmony can be achieved. This concept is extremely important given the rise of Islamic extremism in the region (Dagestan has a Muslim majority, a fertile ground for recruitment by terrorist groups). Mr. Magomaev does not sugar coat it, there is a war for the soul of the Dagestani youth and he is doing his part to protect the children he is responsible for (Von Schroeder, 2015). The values Mr. Magomaev teaches are not in support of any particular side but to ensure peaceful coexistence among all human beings. Chinese martial arts teach the students about control, respect and the realization the enemies they fear are really within themselves (Fonte, 1996). Competition becomes a safe outlet for youth angst, peer recognition and aggression. Upon graduation the students move on to pursue advance studies in local or international colleges and universities or a career in combat sports. The school has many local and international amateur and professional champions some of which are currently competing in important MMA promotions.
Ataev Bozigit Atayevich, 1979
5 times World Champion in Wushu – Sanda / 1999 Hong Kong, 2001 Armenia, Yerevan, 2003 Macao, 2005 Vietnam, Hanoi, 2013 Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur
3-time European Champion / 2002 Portugal, 2004 Russia, Moscow, 2008 Poland, Warsaw
K-1, Pride, Rings, PFL, Kunlun MMA competitions
Beletov Dzhanhuvat Nabiylaevich, 1981
3-time World Champion / 2001. Armenia, Yerevan, 2003 Macau, 2007. China, Beijing
5-time European Champion / 2000. Holland, 2002. Portugal, 2004. Russia, Moscow, 2006 Italy, Venice, 2010 Turkey, Antalya
Salikhov Muslim Magomedovich, 1984
5 – time World Champion in Wushu – Sanda / 2005 Vietnam, Hanoi, 2007 China, Beijing, 2009 Canada, Toronto, 2011 Turkey, Antalya /, 2013 World Championship silver medalist Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, gold medal World Championships 2015 Indonesia, Jakarta.
3-time European Champion / 2004 Russia, Moscow, 2006 Italy, Venice, 2008 Poland, Warsaw
Holder of the title “King of Kung Fu” 2006, Gold medal of the Olympic tournament in Beijing
M1-Global, Kunlun, UFC MMA competitions
Sabir Bagautdinov, 1990
Russian, Canadian Sanda, Muay Thai Champion. Cage Wars, CNY Battleground MMA Champion
Zabit Magomedsharipov, 1991
Russian, European Sanda Champion/ ACB & UFC MMA Champion
This brief article introduced the work of Mr. Gusein Magomaev and his wife Olga at their boarding school in the Republic of Dagestan where academics and martial arts complement each other helping in the formation of Russian children. The inclusion of Chinese martial skills and philosophy has helped ward off to a certain degree the forces that are trying to seduce the youth into extremism and violence surrounding the region. The values taught at the school are aimed to peaceful coexistence regardless of political, ideological and other differences. As a testament to the founders’ efforts the school graduates had successfully move on to become professionals in different fields including martial arts. In a following article we will interview one of such graduates, Mr. Sabir Bagautdinov with whom I spent a few days training intensively in January 2019.
Fonte, V. (Director). (1996). A PEACEFUL WARRIOR [Motion Picture].
Khasarov, R. (Director). (2011). Caucasian Shaolin: King of Kung Fu emerges outside China [Motion Picture].
Von Schroeder, K. (Director). (2015). Dagestan’s Peaceful Warriors [Motion Picture].