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Fighting for a Future

Photographer: Lola Levan


In the South West Sichuan region of China, 40 young Tibetan kids, all orphans of the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, are getting an opportunity to rewrite their lives. These children are all from Aba, an “autonomous” Tibetan prefecture in northern Sichuan province that was once part of Greater Tibet but has been partitioned off since The Liberation in 1951.


Now, these 40 orphans live in Chengdu, Sichuan, because of the efforts of their committed benefactor Mister Enbo. Also born in Aba, Mister Enbo is a former Special Armed Police member, Sanda coach, boxer, MMA enthusiast, and philanthropist. He brought these kids to Chengdu from poverty-stricken villages, where the conditions of life are very difficult and normal daily necessities are considered luxuries. In Chengdu, at the Enbo Training Center, these 40 orphans are granted a completely new perspective on life.


Located on the outskirts of Chengdu, Enbo is a well-equipped gym and combat training center where these 40 kids learn and train in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) under the supervision of former professional fighters from diverse combat disciplines. MMA is full-contact, competition combat sport that combines techniques and philosophies from various martial arts and other combat practices. At the Enbo center, these orphaned young fighters have access to classrooms, a warehouse space filled with weights, hundreds of squares meters of mat space, dozens of punching bags, and two Olympic-size boxing rings.


Martial arts have been an integral part of Chinese culture for thousands of years. It is widely held that martial arts were introduced to China during the Xia Dynasty (2070-1600 BCE) by Yellow Emperor ( Huangdi ). During the Warring States period (480-221 BCE) there was a cultural diffusion of martial arts that introduced ideas from India and other areas, which laid the foundation for China’s rich and deeply nuanced martial arts philosophy. Today, China is a huge market for MMA and the region has seen a marked uptick in MMA events and dedicated fighting gyms. As a nation, China produces large numbers of promising fighters every year. In Chengdu, MMA is reaching a rapidly expanding audience, and the Enbo Training Center is where many of the professionals Chengdu MMA fighters were born.


These 40 young Tibetan all live together under the supervision of a group of people, also from Aba, who take care of all their necessities from freshly cooked meals, to clothes and health assistance. Additionally, the children take classes to learn the Chinese language as well the Tibetan language so that they remain connected with their native heritage. Every Sunday, they are taken to the city center where they go to see movies or to the swimming pool and enjoy local food in restaurants.


Ultimately, these 40 orphaned fighters seem to truly love their new lives. They train hard and work with great determination to build for themselves a positive future and transcend their troubled pasts. Not all of them will become professional MMA fighters. But each is learning critical skills that will open a world of opportunities and pave a hopeful path into the rest of their young lives.