The PFL fighter talks to Al Jazeera on how training Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg inspires him and the “beauty” of martial arts.
Khai Wu, a mixed martial artist, acknowledges that he is a “late bloomer,” but he has always approached things a little differently, which has led to both successes and disappointments along the road.
Wu was raised in California and Taiwan, the country of his parents’ birth. He was teased at school when he was a little child, lacking confidence. In addition, he lacked coordination and athleticism; he used two hands to dribble the basketball.
Three of his children entered the medical industry because their father wished for them to attend Ivy League universities and pursue careers as physicians or attorneys. Wu made a lot of effort in school, but he struggled academically and didn’t get good marks.
Rather, when he was nine years old, his brother-in-law introduced him to jiu-jitsu, and eventually martial arts transformed his life.
In his first amateur MMA match, Wu was 21 years old. “What am I doing here?” crossed his mind as he stood across the cage from an opponent who appeared to be larger and bigger than him.
Wu circled his opponent as the bell sounded, too scared to strike. After almost a minute, Wu grabbed control of the fight, landing a barrage of blows to win via technical knockout (TKO).
Over the next few days, as the triumph began to sink in, he came to the realization that he was never in a race with anybody else, that his own issues were the root of his difficulties, and that he could develop coping mechanisms to handle uncomfortable circumstances.
And he realized that “everyone is on their own journey” and that comparing oneself to others will not bring happiness or joy.
Tongue-in-cheek, the now 28-year-old told Al Jazeera, “I’m like the black sheep [of the family].” “I became a pro fighter in the end.”
Wu expects to soon create more news with his fighting, even though he’s already become well-known in unexpected ways—training Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, giving a TED presentation, and becoming viral for the way he diffused a racially heated incident.
In his Professional Fighters League debut, Wu (7-4-0) will take on Phil Caracappa (9-3-0) at featherweight on November 24 in Washington, DC, on the undercard of PFL’s 2023 World Championship.
It should be a challenging battle against a skilled opponent.
Speaking online from California, Wu stated, “The guys that really force you to discover a part of you that you never knew existed or really level up, those are the guys that really get me anxious.” “Yet they also excite me.”
“Life and martial arts are related.”
Wu became known as “the Shadow” because of his enigmatic combat abilities.
When he became professional in 2018, his family pushed him to do so because they wanted him to start earning money. Prior to that, he was just 3-1-0 in amateur MMA matches.
He remarked, “You don’t get paid to fight as an amateur, and you’re still taking damage.” “[But] they were unaware that you might need to advance in your career a little before moving up to a more advantageous position.”
He was signed by Bellator MMA after winning his debut professional bout, however he was unsuccessful in his first two matches there. He lost several of his early fights since he was battling opponents who had many more amateur fights under their belts, but he also picked his skills quickly.
He went on a four-bout winning streak under different organizations from 2019 to 2020, lost two fights during COVID-19, and prevailed in his last fight via split decision.
He joined with PFL in June. He said that he was drawn to the promotion’s tournament style and point structure and that they weren’t painting an unduly positive picture of it.
He remarked, “I just find it interesting to work with businesses that approach things a little bit differently.”
Although his most recent bout was in February, he claims that the intervening period has given him the opportunity to hone and expand his skill set, something that isn’t often feasible during the grind and strategy of a fight camp focused on a single opponent.
Wu stated, “A lot of my wounds from past fights healed up, I’m getting stronger, discovering my weaknesses and really covering those cracks or holes.”
In the meanwhile, he feels that his student attitude and his work as a trainer at the Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu academy strengthen his abilities.
The creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is his most well-known customer. He had anticipated that the tech billionaire’s training would be a one-time event, but the Meta CEO kept returning.
“I make a lot of dad jokes, so he probably liked my jokes or something.” And we have been getting along and training ever since.
(Wu talked to Al Jazeera prior to Zuckerberg tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during fighting) He stated that he doesn’t think the proposed battle between fellow billionaire Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg would ever take place and that Zuckerberg will go on to something more important.
A genuine battle sounds exciting until you actually [think about] the blood and eyes getting sliced open and all that stuff, so I believe Elon realized Mark was legitimately training.
He claimed not to have discussed Zuckerberg’s reasons for taking martial arts so seriously, but he does believe that fighting is fundamental and that there is “beauty” in the honesty and terror of entering an octagon or ring.
“Because you’re in there by yourself when you get there, regardless of who you are,” he said. You are able to declare yourself a jiu-jitsu black belt. There are no justifications for fighting, though, if your abilities aren’t evident when you enter.
Wu also promotes the benefits of martial arts outside of the gym.
The more quickly your respiration and pulse rate rise and blood rushes to your brain when you’re being strangled in jiu-jitsu, the quicker you’ll lose consciousness. Learning how to remain composed and patient under pressure may be beneficial off the mat.
Wu had the self-assurance and foresight to remain composed before the collision a few years ago in his automobile accident; as a result, he avoided injuries and collected the other victims with composure.
“Basically, without my martial arts training, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do all that or process it.”
Then, in 2021, during a spike in anti-Asian incidents, Wu was seen on camera coolly addressing a man who was acting aggressively in his neighborhood boba (bubble) tea business in Tracy, California.
All of that came from training in martial arts. I went in there with the confidence to defuse the situation, and guess what? Nobody was harmed. Therefore, I believe it is crucial to understand all facets of martial arts and how they apply to daily life.
“The King of Boba”
Wu values his Taiwanese background and culture, and he is known for his legendary love of bubble tea, or “boba,” among his devotees, who have called him “the Boba King” and occasionally ask him to autograph their boba tea cups.Wu associates it with his early bonding moments with his father, when the two of them would go grab boba tea.
“I’ve always felt very nostalgic about Boba,” he remarked.
He’s excited to see MMA become more popular in Taiwan, maybe by starting gyms and other businesses there. He claims he draws a lot of inspiration from Zuckerberg’s constant pursuit of new knowledge and creative product development.
It’s really motivating. And I’ve been getting the urge to launch my own company lately,” he said.
“Maybe I can reverse engineer that thought process and make something work too—him being a businessman going into fighting.”
But his own battling is what’s on his mind at the moment.
Though he acknowledges that most winners are quickly forgotten, he believes that while winning titles is something he aspires to, his true goal is to realize his own potential and keep chasing the unachievable.
“I don’t think I’m holding back; rather, I think I’ve been battling around 50 to 60 percent of my true ability. I’m a late bloomer. I haven’t quite found my rhythm yet, but during the past few fights, I’m starting to piece things together,” he remarked.
“It took me a while, but being a late bloomer doesn’t mean you’re a bad person; it just means you improve with time.”