Would you be surprised if I told you that I love my job? In fact, I love it so much that in my spare time I hang out at my dojo for fun! I am always thinking about my job and about ways of being able to do it more often, offer it to more sisters and often I am asked if I can teach sisters to do what I do.
As a revert I was searching desperately for somewhere to train and keep fit, to the point where I really didn’t mind what sport it was as long as I could find something. I couldn’t believe that so little was on offer for Muslim women. And here began my journey into setting up the Safari Muay Thai camp.
What is Muay Thai?
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art that is believed to have stemmed in the pre 1200’s in Thailand. It was developed to help defend against perpetual invasions from neighbouring countries, when the only weapons available were short range weapons, such as spears, pikes and clubs. Instead of pads (like we use now), they would train by kicking banana trees.
Muay Thai uses eight limbs of the body: fists, elbows, knees and shins. Boxing gloves were only brought into Muay Thai in the late 1920’s. The lighter version, commonly known as kickboxing, was adapted in America, and removes the use of elbows, knees, clenches and low kicks.
Muay Thai is for anyone wanting to get ultra fit, stay in shape, tone up and learn how to defend themselves. It’s fast, technical and super effective. It provides the best work out of any sport and it’s suitable for all levels of fitness. Muay Thai provides a high impact, calorie-burning session that will leave you fully charged with positive energy. Most sisters training have given up their gym memberships to opt for Muay Thai as their choice for fitness.
Bringing women together
Shattering the presumption that Muslim women are oppressed, controlled by their husbands and sit at home all day cooking and cleaning, one hour inside our Safari’s Strictly Ladies Muay Thai class demonstrates this is not the case at all! Sisters come to my sessions for many reasons, primarily for fitness and weight loss, but the variety of women is an eye opener as to how much our society needs this.
In our classes we often have sisters who are battling with a severe lack of confidence, or are victims of domestic violence, or are victims of gun/knife/racial attacks. We have sisters who are lawyers, doctors and bankers. We have sisters who are desperately looking for a way to relieve stress, depression, infertility as well as other health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure and sickle cell. We have niqabis who are looking to defend themselves from being attacked. I had not realised the level of attacks on niqabi sisters until I saw a steady flow of them telling me how they had faced attacks just walking down the street. This one martial art has brought all of these ladies together!
Just last week we held a charity Fight Night, where sisters got a feel of what it’s like to have your own corner, with just one minute water breaks between rounds. If you saw these sisters in the mosque, you would never think for a minute that they are capable of throwing almighty blows like that!
All classes start with a three-minute warm up, either skipping or jogging with weights. A paired circuit is kept ready, consisting of squats with weights, press-ups, stomach crunches, explosive jumps, back dips and much more.
Since pairing partners offers encouragement, sisters are put into pairs to begin the “cardio killer” circuit. With just two minutes on each station and a 30 second break between each point – we get moving. I haven’t named it the ‘cardio killer’ for nothing! You would think that sisters would try to skip this class, but burning calories is so high on their wish list that the idea of aching muscles the next day is more than tempting. The circuit continues for 45 minutes, when the class finally receives their first two minutes of a break.
Now sisters grab their boxing gloves and making sure their hand wraps and ankle supports are on, we head for the dojo to get on with the part they’ve been waiting for: Muay Thai training.
I begin by demonstrating the technique that I’d like them to work on. One person wears a pair of pads to receive the attack and the other wears her gloves, ready to attack. Fifteen minutes in, I extend the technique to complete it with a final take down; a great example of how the moves learnt could be used in a self-defence situation. Questions are asked, techniques get tested and I make sure I see a clear sweat breaking from each mirror in the room. The steam on the windows symbolises to me that it’s time to swap partners so that one half of the class can get a break.
With crucial techniques in place, I now demonstrate the use of speed, combining punches and kicks, building up in number. One punch, one kick, two punches, two kicks, three punches, three kicks and so on up to ten. This really works on increasing stamina levels; the more speed used, the more calories burnt, and when repeated every week the results are unbelievable.
If you haven’t exercised since you were last forced to at school, or know that your fitness level isn’t what it should be, that doesn’t mean that Muay Thai isn’t for you. The great thing about it is, no matter what is being asked of you, you are able to take it at your own pace. Eight week beginner courses are always a favourite for sisters wanting to try something new, and breaks them in gently, allowing them to learn all of the core techniques, improving fitness levels, targeting problem areas and improving confidence. This prepares them to not only be able to train more often, but also to have the opportunity to take part in grading, the process used to achieve belts. With eight belts in total until black belt, I haven’t met one sister who isn’t aiming high. This also comes with the opportunity to be able to go on to teach these skills to other sisters, the youth and children.
What is more rewarding is knowing that it is a Sunnah for us to know how to defend ourselves, keep fit, healthy and to unite our community together. At the same time, this has also allowed non-Muslim ladies an insight into Muslim women, as we all train together. Getting fit, getting rewards and breaking down stereotypes – all in one class!
The chance of being so unfit that you can’t join in is slim, and so is the chance that you’ll be too fit that you won’t break a sweat! What’s stopping you? Sign up for a Muay Thai class in your area now!
Raised in Milton Keynes, I dreamt of a 10 day week so I could take on more hobbies – singing, dancing, sailing and much more. At 19, I moved to London to study graphic design and advertising, where I also discovered my love for Islam, Muay Thai and my husband, Karim Safari. As a black belt in Muay Thai and kickboxing, I now aim to pass my knowledge on to as many other sisters as possible.