Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam has emerged as an unlikely role model to the next generation of martial artists in his native Sweden, but it is a position he relishes.
The ONE Welterweight World Champion – who will defend his crown against Kiamrian “Brazen” Abbasov at ONE: DAWN OF VALOR this Friday, 25 October – was an unruly youth who was often in trouble with the law.
To look at him now aged 29 and at the top of his sport, it is hard to see anything other than a humble, disciplined martial artist, but he admits nobody would have looked to him for inspiration during his troubled teen years.
“I was on a criminal path. It was just a downward spiral,” explains the Pancrase Gym representative.
“I only saw one direction around me. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t know anything else at the time.”
Kadestam had all but given up on doing the right thing and leading a righteous life, but when he immersed himself in martial arts, that all changed.
He had dipped his toes into a couple of disciplines throughout his young life, but when he fully committed to his training, he began to reap the benefits like never before and turn his life around.
“I didn’t think myself or any of my friends had any future, so when I look back, I’m like, ‘That’s a whole other person,’” he continues.
“Now, all I’m thinking about every day is trying to plan how I can reach my goals, and how I can reach my potential.”
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The 180-degree change of course in his teens changed his outlook on life. It didn’t pay dividends immediately, but as he continued to work hard and improve himself in the gym, success followed.
Now, he wants to lead by example and show the youths in his gym that they will be rewarded for their dedication, discipline, and teamwork, rather than any quick fix.
“It feels like the younger generation are looking at me. They see that I came here through hard work, and they see I still put in all that hard work,” states the Stockholm resident.
“I’m here [at the gym] first and I leave last, so I feel like they see what’s possible through hard work, and that’s what I want to show.”
Aside from being a World Champion that leads by example, “The Bandit” also passes on his knowledge to the next generation of martial artists in a program he offers to under-15s for free. Giving them enjoyment, fulfillment, and focus – so that they do not repeat his mistakes – is the only reward he wants from it.
However, he would not erase the missteps he made in his life, as they were crucial in putting him on the journey to where he is today.
Without them, he could not espouse the transformative qualities of his dedication to a goal, and he can atone for his sins by helping to set Stockholm’s youth on a more positive path.
“The kids are the future, and I know from my experience what martial arts gave me. It gave me my life back. If martial arts can find its way to any of these kids, I’m very happy,” he says.
“That’s the plan – to give back a little bit and spread the word of martial arts. I hope in the future, these guys will love it as much as I do.”