I had the opportunity to interview Vighnesh Nathan, the Owner and Head Coach of Indian Combat Sports Academy (ICSA). Vighnesh is not only a badass combat sports athlete but he also possesses a keen mind for business, which has helped him slowly but surely setup Bangalore’s numero uno MMA facility.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to Stannals, Vighnesh. You have built a successful venture in the form of ICSA. How did ICSA and your martial arts journey begin?
I am primarily from a health and fitness background. I am NSCA certified in Strength and Conditioning (CSCS) and an American Council on Exercise (ACE)certified Physical Trainer. Apart from the usual childhood martial arts classes, I had not been in any kind of martial art training. My journey with MMA and ICSA was a random but very fortunate accident. It primarily began because of the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which had completely captured my attention, and I began experimenting with it. Fortunately, I was quite skilled in breaking down techniques, which led to me learning the sport rapidly.
At the same time, I met my business and training partner, Jitesh Banjan, who was already a known name in Combat Sports, having represented the country in Asian Indoor Games and having fought several Kickboxing bouts. Initially, ICSA began as a quest for the two of us trying to build a “Fight Team” to compete as well as help the two of us compete. But we immediately realized our potential and what we could offer to the people.
Which styles do you prefer in MMA and why?
We like to keep it very basic when it comes to a fight, so only the effective and efficient sports. Dutch Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling and Boxing are the ones we prefer due to their proven effectiveness in the ring/cage/street.
Tell us more about ICSA.
Over the years, we have added a few more verticals to ICSA’s scope of work. The “fight team” and our fighters are of course always our priority and our pride, for whom Jitesh and me, hold separate and specialized training and fight camps. We have been blessed with having loyal and hard working fighters, several of whom have relocated from different parts of the country or have quit their jobs to be part of Team ICSA. State, national and international titles have been secured over the last few years.
Apart from that, we currently have a couple of academies in Bangalore, with probably the largest number of students for an MMA academy. A lot of these students come in for improving their fitness or losing weight etc., but our focus and passion for MMA always keeps them engaged unlike regular fitness centers. We promote MMA as a lifestyle not just as a fitness alternative or a combat sport. To be quite honest, our students have a different kind of addiction to the sport, a lot of them, even get the craving to compete at a professional level (despite never having competed before), and several of them despite having full-time jobs are going to do so in the coming year. Apart from that, having already conducted several workshops with the leading corporate in Bangalore, we are promoting a new campaign “Fight your Fright”, exclusively for women, giving them the physical and mental tools, which we have honed after years of competing as professionals.
What is the long-term vision with ICSA?
With ICSA, we want to change the perception of martial arts as a fitness alternative and a business as well. Over the last few years, we have had the opportunity to meet people from various walks of life, who always, thought of martial arts as a hobby or something for the kids. But, as we have shown already it is a very intense experience, something that even most fitness addicts need training to endure. Even as a business, the model of an MMA academy is very different. It is quite easy to promote MMA as a fitness source, by focusing only on the physical aspects. But, our objective is to grow our academy by training all our students the way we do our fighters.
In the coming year itself, we are looking to expand, initially in Bangalore and later in other parts of the country and have already started attracting VCs for that. Also, we want to keep continuing to utilize our particular skills by tying up with NGOs and corporates and providing them combat training. And lastly, we are also looking at attracting sponsorships for our fighters to give them the opportunity to compete with the best organizations across the globe.
What is the scope and future of MMA in India?
As with most sports in India the moment there is any scope of earning money politics enters the sport. The same is the case with MMA too. It is already getting commercialized with the MMA associations caring more about themselves than the fighters. We have an incredibly large pool of very talented fighters across the country, but unfortunately not enough stage for them to showcase their talent.
Even in the fitness space, primarily because there is money to be made by utilizing the name “MMA”, a lot of regular gyms are hiring unskilled workforce to teach MMA, which will in the long run, do more damage than good. India and sports has never been a good combination. We at ICSA are trying to be the change at least in the MMA space.
How important is the promotion of combat sports?
Combat sports is highly important for people of all ages, gender, and skills. For kids and for adults it’s a source of fitness, discipline, self-defense and confidence. Everyone in the military and police forces can certainly utilize MMA concepts for hand to hand combat. And with the kind of hectic and frustrating life most of us lead, who doesn’t deserve to blow off a bit of steam by just working it all out in the academy!
Who are some of your favorite martial artists/fighters and why?
Being from a Jiu-Jitsu background, my favorite martial artists are also Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. Marcelo Garcia, Rafa Mendes, John Danaher and my professor, Olavo Abreu being a few of them. Apart from being great technicians, the names I have mentioned are a great source of inspiration mainly due to the lifestyle they lead and the kind of philosophy they preach. Plus all of them are brilliant teachers, giving all the knowledge they have, never withholding anything.
Do you have a message for your fellow entrepreneurs from around the world who might be reading this?
Never give up. When one is moving towards their goals, hurdles and plateaus are always part of the journey, and it is these obstacles due to which reaching the finish line gives even more satisfaction.
As one of my favorite quote says :
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill