Written by Fatima Khodair.
About two years ago, I started throwing myself into many different forms of self defense classes. I did Martial Arts for a while before moving on to Krav Maga. Soon after I decided on Kickboxing, which I loved and have stuck with since, even going through university.
Learning self-defense methods has been the best thing I have ever done for myself. I wake up better, happier and more energized. I have found that my posture has dramatically improved and my mental health becomes better everyday. With each class, with every technique I learn, I grow in confidence, stability, and tenacity.
The only problem that I have come across in my journey of self-defense training is, in fact, not a problem of my own — but the problem others find in me training.
Let me provide you with a picture: One day I arrived to my kickboxing class 15 minutes early. There was still a class going on with children. Their parents sat patiently waiting for them. I took the opportunity to prepare a bit while I watched them as well. Across the room sat a couple. The father kept looking at me, giving me dirty looks. At one point, he leaned over and whispered something into his wife’s ear. She looked toward me and shook her head in disapproval my way. The hostility shocked me.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have been on the receiving end of disapproving stares because of my athleticism. When people see me playing basketball, training, running, or anything that takes me out of the kitchen, they tend to walk up to me and give me “advice” consisting of guilt-smothered scenarios in which I could be, and am, harming my family and “future” — because ultimately no decent man would want to marry a girl like me. Ironically, never once have they stopped to ask me if I want a man who doesn’t appreciate a girl who believes in exercise.
Back to the couple giving me dirty looks… quite frankly, it made me uncomfortable and made me want to leave. That is, until their little girl came and sat between them. She had wide eyes, pigtails reaching down to her tiny shoulders and her hands were clutched together, buried deep into her lap. She was watching her big brother on the mat and you could see the excitement on her face; the desperation in her straightened back and forward posture; the desire in her eyes to join her brother, to put on a white uniform, and learn how to kick high and punch hard. I saw it, and her parents didn’t. At that moment, that little girl gave me strength.
I got up, walked up to her and introduced myself. I helped her get started, we warmed up together, and I gave her tips on how to secure her scarf when doing specific techniques. That day, I made a friend.
Then, almost as if it were a sign, another woman wearing a headscarf walked in — the first I’d seen since I started the class. I felt so proud to have another woman like me there. I thought maybe her parents didn’t approve of her taking this class either. Maybe they didn’t know she was taking the class. She was probably advised not to take kickboxing like I was told, I thought. Yet, here she was. So I got up, walked up to her and introduced myself. I helped her get started, we warmed up together, and I gave her tips on how to secure her scarf when doing specific techniques. That day, I made a friend. That day, I didn’t feel alone on this journey of health and wellness.
When my class was about to start, I looked over my shoulder to the couple who was giving me dirty looks earlier. The father was on the phone while the mother was helping their young son out of his gear. Their daughter still sat between them, but now staring at me and my new friend. I imagined she was thinking how different we were from what she was used to, and maybe gained some hope that one day she would get to be learning self-defense as well. I imagined that she was thinking, “Wow, that’s so cool. One day I will get to be strong like them, too!” I smiled at her, and she smiled back. My heart melted.
I hope that little girl gets the courage to learn how to fight for herself one day, both at home and on the mat. I hope she learns that to fight like a girl means you are stronger than you think. God knows that on the day I needed encouragement, she, that little girl with pigtails, gave me the courage I needed to keep going.