When German national Hisham Al-Haroun fought in the Ming Wu Mixed Martial Arts competition in Hsinchu earlier this month, the odds seemed stacked against him.
During six months of training for the competition, Al-Haroun caught cat scratch fever, which caused him to lose 5kg. He also did not have a sparring partner.
Fearing that he was not fit to fight and could be injured, his wife tried to talk him out of participating.
But he insisted on joining the competition.
“I didn’t want people to think I am a chicken, because they didn’t know what’s going on behind the scenes,” Al-Haroun said in an interview with the Taipei Times few days afterwards.
The first five minutes of the round was his moment to shine. With just three weighty kicks, he knocked his Russian opponent to the ground.
Al-Haroun recalled hearing spectators shouting his Chinese name, Chiang Yu-shan (江玉山), and cheering him on.
“In the second round, however, I began to feel the [effect of the] antibiotics I took,” he said.
“[Toward the end] I thought I could turn the match to my advantage in just 10 more seconds, but it was too late. I couldn’t raise my hands and I was out of power. My opponent, also out of power, knocked me out with one punch and I lost,” he said.
But the setback did not daunt the 37-year-old Berliner, who wanted to set a good example for his students. Al-Haroun said he was already prepared for his next fight.
“If a martial arts teacher never had the experience of joining a fight, whatever he taught his students [would only be] theory,” he said.
Everyone loses some time, Al-Haroun said.
“The point is how to stand up and continue. It’s a philosophy of life,” he said.
Now a permanent resident, Al-Haroun first came to Taiwan 13 years ago to deepen his knowledge of Wing Chun (詠春拳), a Chinese martial art he learned while serving in the paratrooper special forces of the German Federal Army.
His fascination with Chinese martial arts, however, began in childhood.
“My father was a Syrian from Damascus and owned a movie theater in Berlin,” he said. “It was in the 70s and the theater was the only one in the city that played Kung Fu movies from Hong Kong, which were all dubbed into German of course.”
As a boy, Al-Haroun would watch films starring Hong Kong action stars Ti Lung (狄龍) or Chen Kwan-tai (陳觀泰) and imitate their moves.
Sometimes, he would invite his friends to watch and they would act out parts of the movies.
After completing his military service, Al-Haroun spent 12 years exploring different martial arts in Asia.
In addition to Wing Chun, he has also studied southern Shaolin-style martial arts like Lohan Quan (羅漢拳) and Wuzhu Quan (五祖拳), as well as Xing Yi Quan (形意拳) and Bagua Quan (八卦拳) in Taiwan.
Al-Haroun recalled an experience he had practicing monkey boxing in Tainan’s Wufu Temple, which is dedicated to the Monkey King.
“I was meditating in the temple before I started practicing one day,” he said. “All of a sudden, I felt that my body was not mine and I kept asking myself: ‘What’s happening to me?’ The next thing I knew, I saw a clear sky and monkeys jumping from one cloud to another. And I started doing moves that I have never learned before.”
Four years ago, Al-Haroun married a Taiwanese woman and the couple opened a martial arts institute in Tainan. As an expatriate certified to give martial arts lessons in Taiwan, he teaches his own combat system, which incorporates his previous trainings in free-style wrestling, taekwondo, karate, monkey boxing and other martial arts.