After over 15 years of experience in martial arts, Abdulmohsen Al-Babtain, founder of Sidekick Academy, decided it was finally time to open a school devoted entirely to this sport. With his passion, enthusiasm, and utmost dedication, Sidekick Academy was born, making it the first state of the art martial arts school in Kuwait and garnering over 48 world-class trophies.
Khaleejesque sat with Al-Babtain for an exclusive interview to learn more about his love of sports, martial arts and what inspired him to create the academy…
Khaleejesque: Tell us about yourself…
Abdulmohsen Al-Babtain: Well, my name is Abdulmohsen Al-Babtain. I’m soon turning 34 years old. I graduated from the University of South Florida, Tampa. I studied business, nutrition, muscle mechanics and physiology. I’m a health freak, a neat freak, and a very picky person. I entered the sports and athletics field by mistake but immediately got hooked all thanks to great instructors.
K: Which sports do you focus on?
AB: At Sidekick, we teach two things. The first being modern Tae Kwon Do, which we call American Tae Kwon Do just to differentiate it from others. Our second sport is Gracie Jiu Jitsu, which is basically a grappling or the ability to control your opponent to the ground without the use of strength.
Being a certified personal trainer, I took the Tae Kwon Do background that I got from the US, along with Gracie Jiu Jitsu, and taught the Sidekick trainers, while also adding personal training and conditioning.
K: What is Sidekick? And what does it have to offer to would-be athletes?
AB: It’s a playground for every athlete. You don’t have to be a martial arts expert to be in the academy. It’s a place where any athlete in any sport can get or gain that extra edge they need. It’s not just a martial arts school. We offer classes in modern Tae Kwon Do and Gracie Jiu Jitsu, and fitness classes.
We offer two programs geared for women. One of the women’s programs is our “Be Safe Program” which is modern Tae Kwon Do with added elements of self-defense and Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
We also offer full kids classes. The difference between us and other martial arts schools is the fact that other than martial arts training, we also focus on the development of the child by linking their training to their academics and personality.
K: Do you consider your work in Sidekick a career or hobby?
AB: When I finished my studies and came back to Kuwait, I started working as a treasurer at an investment company. I taught martial arts to several guys as part time. After the success of my class, I decided it was time to get my own place to teach. It took me around one year to find this place. This was back in December 2009, and that was when I really thought about opening a full time martial arts academy.
K: What challenges did you face when you first established the academy?
AB: From a financial point of view, we were competing with government clubs that offered classes for free, albeit with amateurish instructors. In addition to that, finding sponsors to fund our trips for the tournaments was difficult at first. We had to self-sponsor our trip at the beginning, but it got easier because of our achievements.
Another challenge included the women’s classes. Bringing a brand new concept in Kuwait and trying to introduce it to women was difficult and a real hassle. I was extremely patient because I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy. However, once the word got out and they saw the effect it had on the girls, people started coming in.
K: How was the people’s response regarding martial arts?
AB: After seeing what we’ve managed to achieve with the academy and our students, it’s easier now than it was when we first started. We don’t have to be as active to market our product since 80% of our students are here because of word of mouth. As you can see, in this place there is no branding and everyone encouraged us to keep it this way because we offer a good product. With our 2011 achievements, people are becoming more and more interested in learning about martial arts.
K: Do you have any future plans? And can you tell us about them?
AB: Of course! I’m always thinking and jotting down ideas on my notepad. As for martial arts, we’re trying to get more competitors to compete in the tournaments as well as the kids to compete along with us. I’m also planning on doing something with athletic training. I used to be the assistant conditioning coach for the South Florida football team. I believe that we're falling behind in sports when it comes to Kuwait, so I believe that we can do something about that by helping to kick start real athletic training. Personally, I’m still trying to heal from a torn Achilles heel but I’m still planning on participating in more tournaments in the future. In a nutshell, I live to play sports, it’s my release, and it’s the air I breathe.
For more information on Sidekick Academy, visit their website www.sidekickacademy.com
– Hadaya Al-Othman
Images courtesy of Abdulmohsen Al-Babtain