Yao Honggang & Yao Zhikui

Yao Honggang Yao Zhikui
Yao Zhikui fighting for The UFC

Yao Honggang and Yao Zhikui are two brothers that are professional MMA fighters in China. What makes them especially interesting is that they originally came from a background in traditional Chinese wrestling {Shuai Jiao}. Shuai Jiao is an ancient system of grappling unique to Chinese heritage. The objective of Shuai Jiao is to grab your opponent and forcefully yank, pull or push him off balance then aggressively throw him to the ground, all while wearing short sleeve durable wrestling jackets.

Yao Honggang the older brother of the two now 36 years of age, {and still competing successfully} was the first to move to Beijing and begin to train as a full time wrestler. The school was a solo building that looked like an army bunker fully equipped with mats, weights and traditional Shuai Jiao training equipment. It was located in a remote area In Beijing Chao Yang district. Yao Honggang went on to become a Shuai Jiao champion, winning many championships. About a year or so after Yao Honggang’s younger brother Yao Zhikui came to join him.

Shuai Jiao in China

Yao Honggang Yao Zhikui
Yao Hongang presenting the Author with his black belt certificate in Shuai Jiao

Shuai Jiao in China is similar to judo in that it is not a professional sport, and difficult to make a living from. Yao Honggang being ambitious and success driven figured he could begin a career in MMA. His first fight earned him a mere 5oo rmb {Chinese currency}. He won that fight and since has gone on to become a successful fighter, at one point holding the Legends Fighting Championship Title.

Yao Zhikui affectional known as little Yao, has gone to have a successful career as a fighter as well. Some of his highlights are having been a member of the ultimate Challenge China in 2013 the reality tv show that pits up and coming fighters. Yao Zhikui has also fought for the UFC in the flyweight division.

The brothers started from a humble beginning. Growing up in ZhouKou Henan in the village area of Shangshui. The sons of a local junior high school physical education teacher. When the two brothers were children they would often enjoy their time playing sports and other physical activities such as playing basketball, running and practicing traditional wu shu.

The Fighting Bros Gym

Yao Honggang Yao Zhikui
Yao ZhiKui training

The two now run a successful school in Beijing called {The Fighting Bros Gym} that teaches, Shuai Jiao, boxing, Thaiboxing, Brazilian jiujitsu and MMA classes.  Though Yao and little Yao have gone own to create their own little empire, they still live a simple modest lifestyle. On my recent trip back to Beijing to visit my original Chinese coach, I got to see first-hand what it is like to be a professional fighter in China.

The fighting brother’s school is located within a residential building complex, in a downstairs area. The apartment they share with several others is just behind the school, less than a minute walk away. I shared a room with big Yao and a profession boxer. There is a bunk bed in one corner of the spacious room and Yao has a single bed in the other end of the room. There are two other bedrooms in the apartment each with more than one person living.

Yao Honggang Yao Zhikui
Yao Honggang on the fight card, front left holding belt

The fighting Bros gym, is both a gym for full time professional fighters as well as open to the general public and the non-professional.  Watching the full time fighters train in grappling was really an eye opening experience. I remember training in various grappling arts mostly throughout the 90s and early 2000s.

After an hour and a half class I was fully exhausted and beat up. The session I watched of the professional fighters consisted of two hours of technically practice followed by an hour straight of rolling [grappling sparring]. After this grueling training session I witnessed one of the fighters go directly to the pull up bar to blast out a set of pullups. This of course is followed by an equally grueling training session in the afternoon consisting of striking skills.

Life with Yao Honggang & Yao Zhikui

Yao Honggang Yao Zhikui
The author at the Tain Chi Shuai Jiao school, bottom right blue jacket Yao ZhiZui at 16 years old

While there for three days, I had the opportunity to participate in one of the kickboxing class open to the public. The class was an hour and a half long. Began with some warm ups, partner drills then several four rounds each on the pads with a partner. Then into sparring with different partners. The class ended with the strenuous sit up and planking session. The class was excellent and was run by a Brazilian coach, one of many I saw during my short trip.

My experience with Yao Honggang started way back in about 2008. Yao was still primarily a full time Shuai Jiao wrestler at the time. The coach I was training under had a small group and every so often some new wrestlers would pop by for a little training. Yao Honggang was one of those guys and during a training session I got the wrestle him. I clearly remember him throwing me with ease. His throws however did not hurt, on the contrary he used just enough force to down me but not excessive force in doing so.

A short while later the full time new training facility named the Tian ChI Heaven Pound Shuai Jiao School, previously described was opened. I went on to become good friends with Big Yao and eventually ask him to coach me.

Yao Honggang Yao Zhikui
Yao Hongang fighting in a competition

Little Yao came after and he was a young teenager at the time. Small, thin and hadn’t yet developed the massive explosive power and physique he now has even as a flyweight. I remember one wrestling session I had with little Yao around this time. Big Yao had set up a make shift gym once he rented his own place. I was able to toss little Yao around easily. Eventually I moved from Beijing to Shenzhen [southern China]. Several years later the two were now successful professional fighters.

The Yao brothers were in Shenzhen for a competition and I got to hang out and have dinner with a crew of fighters. There was a kind of tour boss and I was seated next to little Yao, only he wasn’t so little anymore. I don’t have to think too hard to know he would now be able to rip my head off in a competition type environment with little effort.

The fighting bros have come a long way and I am proud to be assonated with the two. May they continue to have a long and successful career as both as fighters and coaches.

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