After decades spent competing in a variety of different martial arts across the world, Mostafa Sabeti is returning to his kung fu roots.
Last month, the 38-year-old Semiahmoo Peninsula resident – who runs Golden Glory Martial Arts in White Rock – was named the coach and manager of Wushu Canada’s national team that will compete at Wushu World Championships this fall in China.
Wushu originated in China and is the official name of kung fu and one of the most popular forms of martial arts, Sabeti told Peace Arch News. The sport consists of two parts – taolo, or forms, and sanda, which is one-on-one fighting. Sabeti’s expertise comes in the latter discipline.
“Wushu is a really big sport in the world but in Canada it’s fairly new. It’s bigger in Ontario and Quebec, so now I’ll try to get it more attention in B.C.
“I want to expand the sport,” he said, adding that wushu is the foundation of popular, modern combat sports such as mixed martial arts.
Sabeti – who came to Canada a dozen years ago from Iran – is an accomplished boxer and kickboxer. In 2011, just a week after being officially sworn in as a Canadian citizen, he won a national gold medal in kickboxing, and last August in Orlando, he captured gold on the international stage, winning his division at the IKF World Kickboxing Classic.
Now, however, he will focus his attention on kung fu – which was his first love as a boy growing up in Iran.
“I’ve been training in wushu, in sanda, since I was a kid, 10 years old, along with my other sports activities. I started with karate and then turned to kung fu,” he explained.
“I’m almost 40 and most people my age who love martial arts started because they loved Bruce Lee. You watch Bruce Lee movies and want to start training in martial arts… that’s why I started.”
Though he may not have the same Hollywood cache as his idol, Sabeti hopes that, in his new position with Wushu Canada, he can inspire a new generation of martial artists in B.C. and across the country.
“As I get higher in the sport, I’ve wanted to give back to young athletes in B.C.,” he said.
“I wanted to teach kids the proper way to compete.”
The benefits of such a boost for the sport would be twofold, Sabeti said. For starters, more young people would be getting active and interested in athletics. And second, the bigger wushu – a sport recognized by both the International Olympic Committee and many national bodies – gets, the better chance that funding will come its way, thus reducing costs for individuals who have the skills to compete at a high level.
“We have lots of good potential, and lots of good athletes here in South Surrey/White Rock – and all of B.C. But for many of them, funding is a problem,” he said.
“Right now, I have a very good kid who is training very hard, but when it comes time to compete, he has to fly to Toronto… and that’s for a national championship. If he gets to an international event, there are further costs. So the solution is to work as hard as we can to bring awareness of wushu, gain more members and hopefully get funding.”
Sabeti worked with Wushu BC before earning his national appointment, and was attracted to the sport over other similar disciplines because, unlike many others, it is recognized by enough high-level governing bodies. It may even become an Olympic sport for the 2024 Games in Paris, he noted.
Fighting through roadblocks – financial or otherwise – is something Sabeti has plenty of experience with. It’s why he is so passionate about helping young athletes and is, in fact, the reason he came to Canada in the first place.
After training in wushu as a teenager, Sabeti transitioned to kickboxing and boxing when he was 18, and spent the next several years travelling to international competitions around the world. Eventually, however, political strife in his home country made his Iranian passport a hindrance to his competitive goals.
“When you are training to be a champion, it’s very hard. You have to sacrifice. You have to watch your diet, there’s training, and you miss a lot of opportunities with your family. And you have to leave the country for competitions, and usually they’re in western countries – North America or in Europe,” he explained.
“And I could rarely get visas to go to those countries because of issues (in Iran).”
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Though he’s been gone more than a decade, similar issues still plague Iranian athletes, he noted.
Just last month in Japan, Iranian judo champion Saeid Mollaei defected to Germany after he was told by Iranian officials he had to quit in the middle of world judo championships because he was scheduled to face his biggest rival – an Israeli. Mollaei told media he was afraid to return home after refusing to quit.
“Just because of regulation and law in Iran, he lost an opportunity to become a champion,” Sabeti said.
“For me, I kept losing opportunities, too, and I could not make it any further.”
He chose Canada after narrowing down his choices – the United States and Australia were also considered, he said – but the decision to leave was still not easy, he pointed out.
“Immigration is no easy thing, because you have to leave everything – your parents, all your belongings – all that stuff back home,” he said. “When I came here to Canada, I only had a thousand dollars in my pocket.”
In the years since, he has continued to grow Golden Glory, and earlier his year he was named businessperson of the year in the self-owned category at the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards.
Now, he’ll focus his attention on the 10 Canadian athletes – including one of his own local students, heavyweight-division fighter Cam Carr – who will accompany him to Shanghai for the world tournament, which is expected to include competitors from more than 140 countries.
“It’s one of the biggest competitions in the world,” Sabeti said. “We are hoping for good things for Canada.”