Martial arts isn't usually a paying proposition in India. At best, it's a hobby and most 'masters' charge a measly Rs 300-500 per student in classes that are often conducted in neighbourhood parks. But Kanishka Sharma, 26, is different.
In fact, as the first and only Indian to train at the world-famous Shaolin Temple in China, he is unique. But what makes him perhaps more so is the fact that Sharma has turned his so-called 'hobby' into a paying enterprise.
One certainly more profitable than the career he gave up in marketing management. When Sharma quit his job with Reliance in 2001 to pursue martial arts full time, it was an unconventional decision.
Today, with several TV shows, a successful teaching academy, training sessions at schools and with corporates under his belt, there's no doubt that Sharma made the right choice. Sharma's dream project, a grand Shaolin Temple school, the first such branch of the original in India, is all set to kick off later this year.
As a child, I was an introvert and was very shy, and quiet. I used to watch a lot of Bruce Lee films and was hugely interested in martial arts.
My father thought it would be a good idea to enroll me in a karate class so that I would gain in confidence. I joined master Murrugan's classes in Chanakyapuri in 1987 and he was a great teacher, already a Fifth Dan (fifth grandmaster level after the Black Belt). I learnt from him for three years and then from several other teachers.
Apart from karate, I learnt various other martial art forms such as Chinese kick-boxing, kungfu, and even the south Indian martial art, Kallaripatayatu.
These gradually changed my personality and I became much more confident. When I was about 10, my father had presented me with a cassette of the film 36 Chambers of Shaolin. I used to keep watching this. From that time onwards, my dream was to train at Shaolin and eventually become a master myself.
I did my MBA in 1999-2000 from Holland, where I was a gold medallist. I then came back to India and joined Reliance. But my heart was not in my job and I wasn't giving it my 100 per cent. Every evening by 5 0'clock, I would want to run home to practise and exercise. I soon decided that I would never fit in and would never make a success of my job.
Around the same time, I saw a programme on National Geographic Channel about Shaolin and the greatest living Master Shiheng Jun. I made up my mind to go to China and train under him so I asked my boss for three months' leave. He refused. I will always be thankful to Anil Ambani, whom I approached and who intervened.
The course was going to be very tough. In China students train for as much as 49 hours a week as opposed to just three in India. My father had passed away but my mother, Neelima stood by me despite the emotional and financial crunch she was going through.
Shaolin was an expensive investment. I had some savings and my mother gave me the rest. Putting together just about Rs 100,000 necessary for the training, I left for China for the first time for two months in 2001.
There has been no looking back since then. I have done various TV programmes for channels like DD Bharti, Star Plus and now National Geographic where I have co-anchored with Akshay Kumar teaching him Shaolin kungfu and Nuay Thai.
I am also going to be directing and anchoring a new programme called The Way of Warriors for a new, soon to come-up channel. I take classes at home as well as at various schools like Vasant Valley.
I also train corporates in de-stressing techniques and have been called in by companies like BHEL, Seagrams and Coca-Cola. Recently, I started a martial arts institute in Andrews Ganj, Delhi, called the Shaolin Academy, which is doing quite well. But my biggest dream will be fulfilled soon.In October this year, I hope to launch a Shaolin Temple branch in Delhi. This will be like the monastery with the same ambience and at least one monk from Shaolin Temple always present throughout the year. My teachers are coming down from China. This will be a first of its kind project in India. My dream will finally come true.