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In our Spotlight series, we talk to entrepreneurial mums from around Brunei and find out more about them, their families and their business. This month, I sat down with Norfaziah Abas (or Fazi for short) who is the dedicated super mum of an active 3 year old, a full-time civil servant and one of the owners of Khalifa Mixed Martial Arts (“MMA”). Khalifa MMA is owned by Fazi, her husband, Eazy Anuar, and her husband’s cousin, Adi Elmi.
Khalifa MMA is an academy/community that provides a place where people can train in a variety of Martial Arts and Combat sports that make up MMA such as Brazilian Jiujitsu(“BJJ”), Submission grappling, Boxing, Muay Thai. They also provide strength and conditioning (S&C) programs and Kickboxing Conditioning programs (run by Adi Elmi) to help build functional strength, endurance and improve cardiovascular fitness. They currently provide a BJJ program for kids aged 8-14 as well as a Women’s BJJ program (run by Fazi).
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a full-time civil servant, a mom and a wife. I’m obsessed with my 3-year-old boy who is my every reason for living. My other obsession is martial arts and I was always looking for that one perfect martial art/combat sport. I did Taekwondo, Aikido, Muay Thai, Judo, Wrestling and even did boxing with an Olympic boxer. It was not until my husband, Eazy, and I started BJJ in 2009 that I felt that I found the perfect martial art for me.
BJJ is a great martial art for women and children and was created specifically to allow the smaller person to overcome the bigger, stronger, more aggressive opponent. My husband and I love BJJ so much that our vacations revolved around BJJ gyms. Since we didn’t have a black belt in Brunei until recently, we used our vacations to train with black belts. Even our honeymoon was in Brazil, the birthplace of BJJ.
Your passion for BJJ really comes through when you talk about it, can you tell us a bit about your journey to setting up Khalifa MMA?
Eazy and I trained with an expat CfBT teacher by chance – he was a blue belt from New Zealand and was looking for people to train with. But over time, he could no longer commit to teaching, so Eazy took over and found a business partner to hold classes. At that time, I had moved to Singapore for work where I pursued it seriously, training under a Brazilian BJJ black belt before coming back to Brunei in 2011.
When I returned to Brunei, Eazy was teaching a BJJ program at a local gym and, because he was also Brunei’s Rugby captain, teaching, coaching and competition was second nature to him. He had a good number of students (that number has now grown to almost a 100 students) and was already an active competitor by then, making a name for himself in the ASEAN circuit and recently the international circuit having finished in the top 8 in the Worlds Masters in Las Vegas. My husband is currently the highest ranked Bruneian in Brazilian Jiujitsu, which is at brown belt level (1 step away from black). He is also Brunei's head MMA and grappling coach and has produced several Bruneian MMA fighters in the ASEAN circuit.
I only started competing in BJJ in 2012, incentivized by Eazy of course, and won several gold medals so that was quite an adrenaline rush for me. Then I took 3 years off to really focus on motherhood. I started competing actively again in 2016 and 2017 where I managed to win a few more gold medals.
Over time Eazy and his partner began to disagree over where the gym was going. His partner was more interested in other fitness programs which I felt was deviating from the name mixed martial arts. I won’t go into the details of the disagreement, except to say that at that point we had been effectively running the gym and investing our personal finances and lots of our time. We begun to feel under appreciated and I told my husband that it was time to go. We took a leap of faith, took out our life savings and just opened up Khalifa. Sure enough the students and the coaches from the previous gym followed us to Khalifa. This time, we made sure everyone is well taken care of. At Khalifa, we try to make everyone feel welcome. We’re like a family. I believe that shows because people keep coming back. So Alhamdulillah for that.
Above all, one of our biggest inspirations for starting Khalifa was our son. We want him to know that all our time on the mats, training and competing was not in vain. We did this all for him, to leave something for him in case we’re not around anymore. We want to ensure his future is well taken care of.
What obstacles have you come across?
On the business and marketing side of things, we have very little experience so it is a huge learning curve for us. And although BJJ and MMA are the fastest growing martial arts in the world, it is a challenge introducing something as new and revolutionary in Brunei. Compared to other forms of martial arts, BJJ is arguably one of the hardest to achieve a black belt in and this can influence people to make a switch. We also found that since MMA and BJJ are so new in Brunei, people are not aware of how complex it is and the experience that is needed to teach these martial arts. So people sometimes choose to train at other gyms that lack the credentials or experience, foregoing safety and quality for a cheaper price.
However, the biggest challenge comes from the personal side of things. My husband and I manage Khalifa on top of our day jobs, parenting and our marriage. We’re usually exhausted by the end of the day and the end of the week and I’m usually ridden with mommy guilt.
Is there any advice you would give to mums who are interested in starting a business?
One piece of advice that resonates with me the most was something that Oprah Winfrey said: “Find your calling. And your real job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is, who you were meant to be, and to begin to honor that in the best way possible for yourself." It is only recently that I finally understood what this meant. When I started BJJ I had no idea of the impact it would have on my life and that I could use it to set a positive example for women and children in Brunei. I have to admit it is quite remarkable to be winning gold medals in international competitions for a sport that is relatively new in Brunei, and the fact that we never had a resident black belt to guide us all these years.
We had always realized the dream was to open a MMA academy of our own, but we felt we couldn’t do it. My only regret was not starting sooner. I was always afraid of failing and that fear held both my husband and I back. Although I now feel that things fell into place at the right time, if I had know that this would be the outcome, we would have planned financially to take this step a lot earlier. It was only out of necessity, that we had to make that long time dream come to fruition in less than 2 months. So my advice is if you have a dream, plan and work to achieve that dream. Find your true calling. 5 years ago I would never have thought I was capable of running a business and teaching a women’s program but here I am. In the end this is a legacy we want to leave to our son, so we have invested everything into this for him. When you have a goal that is bigger than yourself, InshaAllah you will achieve it.
Check out Khalifa MMA's Facebook page
for more information