Kon “Pappy” Papaioannou has been involved in martial arts all his life. He's competed at national and international levels in Wrestling, Sports Jiu-Jitsu, Pankration, Sambo, MMA, and Boxing. Now the former champion wrestler and professional boxer, who was recently voted and named ‘Coach of the Year’ by the International Sports Karate Association, is the owner of ‘The Fight Lab’ a gym in Sydney, Australia.
Living in a multi-cultural Australia in the 1970’s, where there was a lot of racism and violence at school, Kon started wrestling at Newtown PCYC at the age of 15. By 17 he was state champion, and by 20 he was Australian Champion travelling around the world, competing in different championships.
Kon said learning and starting martial arts at a young age “changed his life” and says “you go to school to big kids picking you up to shake you. You are upside down, your lunch money falls out, you are drinking toilet water, people are stealing your lunch and because you are depressed, you don’t want to go to school. I feel for all those kids suffering from bullying. Then all of a sudden you walk into a playground and little guys are throwing big guys around.”
“I established the fight lab to teach Hellenic Martial Arts and to give my four decades of experience to my students and other people- whether they want to be athletes, want to lose weight, get fit or they have low self-esteem. I wanted to give because someone gave to me when I was a little kid.”
One thing Kon wants to highlight is that martial arts isn’t just about movements and techniques, it also involves mental training. “You are learning to hold your composure while under duress stress, perhaps some danger of injury, and it makes you a lot stronger. You find a lot of people come here for stress relief- they had a hard day at work and they wrestle with their friends (punch and kick in a safe and controlled environment), and they feel a lot better about themselves, they start to lose weight, feel a lot more attractive and their love life certainly improves.”
At the Fight Lab, Kon teaches Hellenic martial arts, Olympic wrestling, Greek kickboxing, and Pangrati (Hellenic Martial Arts) which is MMA to the rest of the world. It is the most competitive club with about 14-15 tournaments a year, and Kon is proud that his students do very well in competitions which he credits to his small classes. Not everyone who goes to the Fight Lab is an athlete or wants to be, some people just train for the fun and social aspect of it.
The former champion wrestler and professional boxer trains architects, lawyers, doctors, and people that would never think of getting into Pangrati, and then all of a sudden love it! Kon says one of his clients, an optometrist recently lost 18kg and feels fantastic because of his training. "He wasn't active, apart from play sport in High School, and now in his 40’s he has turned his life around, and even wears clothes he hasn’t worn in decades because of his confidence," says Kon.
"What many people don’t understand is that martial arts’ goal is peace. For parents that are hesitant to enrol their children in martial arts due to fear that it promotes violence, it doesn’t. If we teach children to look after themselves, to look after their bodies, feel confident in difficult situations, more than likely people will leave them alone, and there will be peace. With martial arts, it's about promoting health, both mental and physical.”
For those interested in Hellenic martial arts, Kon has some advice he would like to share with GCT followers, “Walk into my gym, change your life, you will never be the same. We promote a different way of thinking. Our philosophy is so democratic, everyone has a say. If someone knows something better than me, I’m happy to listen. I myself in my 50’s are a student of martial arts… people just don’t come here to train, they join my family.”
“Society is pushing the individual into vanity so much these days that life is like fighting, it’s a team sport. We need each other. We need our teachers, friends, and parents. Yes in life you will go on by yourself to do what you have to do. Yes, a fighter will get in the ring on his own. But all the people behind them to get them there includes their parents, coaches, and friends. Life is a tea, sport, just like fighting.”