Females in Combat Sports: TALK BACK

By Lin MacMillan

Any female who's ever tried taking an interest in combat sports, whether it be with the dream of competing, or just to get into better shape, will be familiar with this scenario:

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You walk into a dungeon-sized gym and your senses are assaulted by the smell of sweat and fear, amplified by the fact that there's zero air circulation, and no windows. Sweaty adrenaline- fueled men beat heavy bags hard enough to rattle the chains that hold the bags right up to the ceiling. There’s the dull thud of bodies hitting the ground and the sharp snap of focus mitts meeting gloves at just the right speed and accuracy to cause enough brain damage to ruin someone's life - it’s like you’ve walked into David Flincher’s Fight Club.

It's one of two feelings: excitement, or overwhelming nervousness. Perhaps, it’s a combination of both.

Chances are you just wanted to try it all out, find a fun way to get in shape, but this environment seems a little much.

So, you take a deep breath, step onto the mats and take your place. Hands wrapped, gloves up, ready to persevere. You’re next to five guys who have at least a half foot on you - or more if you're as short as I am - and are a minimum 40 pounds heavier than you. If you're lucky, there's one small-ish male, who's still large by comparison, likely skilled enough to bust your skull or break your arm, and there’s a distinct possibility that he’ll exhibit poor self-restraint.

Sound familiar yet? Allow me to illustrate further...

The instructor or "kru" leading the class pays just enough attention to make sure your skill is at least slowly escalating to progress, but not enough to notice that your training partner is marinating in testosterone and hitting back far too hard or just not taking you seriously enough to give you any resistance at all.

Nonetheless, you told yourself you had a goal and that you're going to stick to it, even if it means acting as your own silent cheerleader just to make it through the class without wanting to slink off to the almost always empty girls’ change room to hide.

Sound familiar?

I'm certain it does, because I hopped around from gym to gym in the Greater Toronto Area for almost five years now, and have been very fortunate to find one that I now call home. I have teammates who treat me with patience, kindness, and respect. I have a coach I can always talk to.

But, I had to mine a lot of coal to find the diamond of a home that is King Jiu-Jitsu.

When I first started out, it was at a dirty dungeon-y little warehouse gym in North York. The scenario I described to you earlier was indeed initially too scary for me, so I paid a boxing coach about $160 to $200 weekly (yes, weekly) for private lessons until I was comfortable enough with the basic skill sets to participate in classes. I was initially so nervous to mix with these groups that I actually felt I would throw up.

Never go backwards unless you’re luring them into the corner.
— Lin MacMillan

Weeks turned into months, and my skill-set escalated quickly. My 7-year background in power-lifting and bodybuilding made it easy to dedicate myself to accomplishing new fitness goals. Months turned into years, and I was spending at least 3 hours a day at the gym -  kettlebell circuits in the morning and boxing or basic MMA classes in the evening. Having trained there long enough, I earned a key to the gym and supplemented my daily workouts with late-night bag work. I even ended up teaching kettlebell classes, and eventually was teaching my own military style circuit training...and I loved it!

You can imagine my confusion when my repeated requests and inquiries about competing were swept aside or blatantly ignored. After months of being polite and patient, I verbally blindsided my "coach." I asked him point blank why he refused to take action on my request to compete. He hadn't expected me to call him out on the matter, and was even disturbed that I had taken the initiative to do so. My "coach" told me I was being impatient, that fighting would ruin my face - and why would I want to do that? "Don't you trust me?" he'd say, when I tried to disagree.

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It turns out that a few other male coaches felt the same way, despite the time and dedication I was putting in. I was even able to hold down men much larger than myself in wrestling class. My 5 - 6 day a week training schedule, 5 - 10 km roadwork, and almost daily strength training didn’t matter. I tried one gym and then another, trying to figure out where I could fit in.

It didn’t matter how many times I asked, or how patient I was. I was brushed aside as coaches busied themselves preparing male fighters for upcoming bouts. Coaches missed one-on-one sessions with me, or failed to show up to teach their classes.

No male instructor, coach, or kru ever took me seriously, until I took an aggressive stance against them. If they tried to touch my butt, or use training as an excuse to be inappropriately touchy and close to me, I would verbally and physically lash out. That behaviour, I assure you, came to a grinding halt.  

Instructors and coaches would try to "break" new students, to test perseverance and deliberately drive away some individuals. One coach even to this day, though I left that gym over 6 months ago, still sends me messages:

"You should stop fighting before you die in the ring/cage.

You are not at the skill level to be fighting,"

This is a message I received just weeks ago.

It wasn't until I stopped being polite and patient that anybody took me seriously. When an instructor would miss one-on-one sessions for no good reason, I stopped relying on the safety and comfortable monotony of expensive personal sessions. I sharpened my skill set by working with other prospective competitors within the martial arts community of Toronto. I branched out and my horizons stretched into the distance. I had yearned to grow and expand, instead of repeatedly running into the ugly roadblock of closed-minded misogyny so hard, it made my head ache.

Through hard work and a lot of back-talk, my male training partners in striking and grappling came to see me as an equally valuable training partner; I was smaller and less physically strong by comparison, but I was also faster and equally aggressive. I was a different sort of fight to prepare for.

Each and every one of my male training partners taught me invaluable lessons in intricate footwork and blocking, energy efficient pacing, as well as attitude and timing. And scientifically speaking, some of these skill sets are simple and are taught from a male perspective, which taught me early on that being physically cautious can simply be counter-productive. My male training partners, without ever knowing it, taught me, or perhaps even pushed me to not be afraid...and I'm forever grateful.

I have met a few other females trying to make it in combat sports along the way, but those gems are far and few between. I cherish these women, even the ones I don’t know. They are full of encouragement, words of wisdom, hugs, and support from afar. We are always ready to watch one another’s competitions on social media or tv, no matter how many time zones apart we happen to be. We don’t have to discuss our previous hardships of trying to make it in a male-dominated sport in order to understand one another. You know why? Each one of us as a female has made that journey.

Each one of your female training partners and your revered female athletes has walked that twisted path. Let's stand together and continue to straighten that path until it becomes a road for our future generations of female fighters.

MMA fighter Lin Macmillan talks about her experience in combat sports, food, training and other interesting observations.

The moral of this story:

As a female in combat sports, more often than not, you will be training with men until we encourage our fellow females to not be afraid and take chances, and tell them just how worth it the end result of the journey is. Don't be discouraged when some men are intimidated by your willpower or skill and lash out at you.

While MMA, boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, jitsu, and most other combat sports are absolutely male-dominated at this point, women bring a completely different dynamic to the table that is invaluable to any group that wants to make progress socially, economically, and psychologically. Be patient and remind your male counterparts of exactly that.

Speak up, don't take no for an answer - unless it's conducive to your health or your safety is a concern. Talk back, and as any good striker knows, lower your half guard but never your standards. Never go backwards unless you're luring them into the corner.


Lin MacMillan has been training in a mixture of six different martial arts that involve striking, ground grappling, and weapons training over the past five years. She currently trains at King Jiu-Jitsu in Toronto, Ontario, with an athletic base that stemmed from power lifting and body building. Though Lin doesn't have much spare time between working in the field of security and soon to be Canadian Military as a fitness instructor, she enjoys seeking out fine cuisine or creating her own, hiking, and photography.

Stop Empowering Me

By FLG

When I get grouped in as an instructor in the female empowerment movement, I feel like I need a strong anti-itch cream to deal with my immediate visceral discomfort.

I used to teach stand-up fighting and weapons to both men and women. Now, that I’m specifically focused on teaching women, I notice a tremendous amount of emphasis on the word “empowerment.” When I’m teaching a women’s only class, it somehow automatically becomes synonymous with women’s empowerment. I realize that there are different styles of self-defense. The style that I teach focuses on practical, physical skills that can be used to create or avoid tremendous bodily harm. The style I’ve observed in most women’s self-defense classes focuses on the concept of empowerment where “your voice is your strongest weapon” for de-escalating a dangerous situation. I believe that this is good, but it’s not enough.

Empowerment methodologies are not enough

If I’m saying it plainly, most self-defense classes that are designed and marketed for women make me cringe.

Don’t get me wrong – I think these classes are well-intentioned, but the skills taught in these classes create a false sense of security. One of the dominant skills taught in these classes focuses on the use of an open palm and emphatically saying “STOP”, “NO” or “BACK OFF!” as a method of warding off a potential attacker. When I hear female self-defense teachers say “your voice is the most powerful weapon” I frown and develop very strong indentations between my eyebrows – which I now treat with botox.

Women are taught primarily how to use their voices, while men are taught how to use their bodies.

This concept throws skills out the window and presents self-empowerment as sufficient for self-defense. I’ve seen many female self-defense instructors rely on strong communication skills and “empowering” methodologies instead of a strong physical and practical skill set. This may seem to be enough. More than enough. Actually, it may seem fantastic!

But, your voice is not your strongest weapon

If I imagine myself relying predominantly on my voice to feel strength and power, I actually feel kind of useless. When women are taught this particular “skill” I feel it’s because it’s the easiest thing to do. The focus is on short-term skills that are easily acquired in a limited amount of time. This strategy however, does not build true confidence – it indicates a LACK of confidence in a woman’s ability to learn a solid skill set in the combat arts.

Your voice is not your strongest weapon: owning the power of your voice is important, even essential, but I stand by the belief that women should have ownership over their bodies in order to have true ownership over their voice.

The physical skills that are taught in these classes – knees to the groin, basic strikes using elbows, fists, and knees, grab releases, escaping a mount – can be effective, but in order for anyone to be proficient in these skills, they must become fit, strong, and dedicate themselves to practice.

Language is more powerful than you think
Do women’s fitness and self-defense classes need to be framed around the language of empowerment? Are men too proud to say that they feel empowered after a boxing class? Or, is it that they are taught to use different words to describe the same feelings?

The assumption is that men are not in need of empowerment because they already enjoy a position of power, while women are disempowered by default and so, they NEED to work up to a certain level of empowerment. By constantly feeding this idea, we’re perpetuating the false notion that women begin from a starting point of ‘less than.’ This assumption does more harm than good. If you define women as disempowered from the start, it lowers expectations in performance and value.

Personally, I’ve not been raised with the notion that I’m disempowered due to my gender. I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do and have seldom thought, “I can’t do this because I’m female.” I’m aware that an uneven power dynamic exists and that it’s something that we need to consistently combat. However, I do not believe that women are in a state of disempowerment because of the inequalities in society. I think the problem lies partly in the language we use. Using the language of dis/empowerment functions as a way to make women feel that they are always in need. Women may be disadvantaged, but they are not disempowered.

By nature, men are designed differently than women. They are stronger on an absolute level, but that doesn’t mean that women are weak. Women are equally as strong in relation to their design. Just remember, one punch from a five-year-old to a big, strong man’s balls can leave him whimpering in dis-empowerment.

True and lasting empowerment takes time and consistent effort
This leaves me thinking – what kind of standards are we actually trying to achieve? The concept of doing “just enough” to get by because it’s convenient and efficient is part of the problem. If we want to empower ourselves – really and truly – we must invest the time to develop a strong skill set. And as qualified instructors, we must emphasize the right skill set.

An effective self-defense program is not a voice-centred, empowerment program. In any self-defense program I offer, I place great importance on body language, then voice, action/reaction, and overall fitness.

Because most communication flows through body language first, it is a priority. You cannot mask lack of skill through a loud voice – your lack of strength and coordination will be amplified through your body language. Strong body language speaks louder than words.

Self-defense has the most impact when it’s treated as a combination of consistent skills that must be regularly practiced. For self-defense classes to be effective, there should be an understanding that short-term workshops are a seed for potential future growth in the world of fitness; it is far better to use workshops as a method of sparking interest in self-defense and martial arts rather than relying on them to be the only answer.

Perhaps empowerment is not just about endorphins, but about how much stronger you can actually be.

 

 

INSIDE OUT: A Strange, New Place

By FLG

I arrived in Taiwan and was punched with the heat.

My relatives picked me up from the airport in Kaohsiung. They were very skeptical of me - they saw me as a failure and believed I was bringing them misfortune. They didn’t think I would last more than a few weeks in Taiwan. But, I really love proving people wrong. My relatives did help me find a job teaching English on the beach three hours away in a place called Henchun. They were happy to be rid of me, and I was happy to be on my own. It was a mutual parting.

I worked for a crazy lady named “Melody” who hired me because she was super pregnant and needed someone to teach English to elementary and high school kids. Melody was such an unusual character. She chose Melody as her English name because she liked to prance around singing and playing guitar. But, on my first day, she gave me a megaphone and two beating sticks with little hands on the ends. I was coming from a place where you would get fired or go to jail for smacking a kid. This was all a bit of a shock for me.

The beating stick.

The beating stick.

One day, when I was teaching, Melody noticed a little boy at the back not paying attention. Suddenly, she turned into an Olympic athlete; she hurdled over the desk and coordinated an amazing stick slap to the head of that little boy. I was shocked, amused, and also sad for the boy...but they were used to it. Maybe it was all these stick strikes that drew me to arnis.

When I would help prepare food for the children during my lunch break, Melody asked me not to use too much peanut butter because the children would get fat. I once watched as she called two little boys into her office and ordered them to hand over their little lunch bag treats. She then scarfed the treats down in front of them. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.

Melody would guilt me into doing extra chores like cooking, cleaning, and handing out flyers because her feet hurt, her back hurt, her head hurt - there was always something. I soon found Melody’s presence suffocating - it felt like she wanted to keep me there forever. She would park her car outside of my apartment every night to see if I was home. She kept close relations with my relatives in Kaohsiung to assert her presence in my life - she wanted them to believe she was saving me, and that I should stay with her for a long time. This was a secluded area and finding another “foreigner” to do the jobs she needed would be very difficult. I felt trapped.

*

A view from FLG’s apartment in Henchun.

A view from FLG’s apartment in Henchun.

I had a lot of free time on my hands so I biked a lot, ran, hiked, and explored. I remember running up a hill once and running into a water buffalo. Sometimes rabid hungry stray dogs would bite at my heels. I’d run past fish farms, people frying fish, and people selling fish. Lots of fish. I enjoyed the beach at night because I was alone and I liked to swim. The Taiwanese believe that ghosts roam the beach at night. I would swim far into the ocean under the moon. One time I reached my arm back over my head and it felt like I had grabbed a skull. I did not go swimming at night after that.

Weighing fish at the fish market.

Weighing fish at the fish market.

At the beach.

At the beach.

I used Internet cafes to connect to the outside world. I discovered a gym in Kaohsiung called “The Forge.” It was a gutted apartment building with judo mats. It was there that I met my Muay Thai coach.

On the first day of training, people looked at me like I was crazy because of how intensely I would push myself. I had been taught to focus half of my workout on conditioning, but the people at this gym hardly did anything other than fighting drills. There was also a Filipino guy teaching stick fighting (arnis), which intrigued me. I was completely mesmerized by the movements. I could imagine myself decapitating my enemies with a sword.

After class was over, everyone sat around and conversed, which was not what I was used to. They were so curious about me. This community driven gym culture was totally new to me. In Canada, no one cared about you unless there was something in it for them - training is done, go home. In Taiwan, people brought you drinks, asked if you were happy, and always wanted to eat together afterwards.

Arnis seminar.

Arnis seminar.

Every weekend, I would bus 3.5 hours to my gym in Kaohsiung and 3.5 hours back because this was the kind of environment I wanted to be in. I really had nothing left to do in Henchun. I had completely rehabilitated myself and hadn’t touched any drugs. I still smoked like a chimney though. I decided it was time to move to Kaohsiung.

*

A few friends helped me find a two-storey apartment in a busy shopping district. One of my neighbours was a lady who paced up and down our walkway in the late morning moving no faster than a snail. Another neighbor had a tiny dog caged beside his outdoor toilet. I turned the first floor of my apartment into a school where two evenings a week, I would teach an adult English class. To supplement my income, I taught music while also teaching at elementary and cram schools during the day.

I was on the move all day and didn’t take my shoes off until midnight every night. I had to have my place fumigated twice because of cockroaches. I was sleeping inside of the gym in the winter time, freezing my butt off. At this point my Mandarin was strong enough so that when I visited my relatives I could understand what they were saying. I knew they were spewing insults about me and so, despite all the hardship, I knew I would rather suffer alone than stay with people who didn’t respect me. It gave me the motivation to keep going.

Training at The Forge.

Training at The Forge.

Around that time, my coach convinced me it was time to fight. He wanted to showcase Muay Thai in Taiwan because it was new and he was the only one teaching it. He decided to match me against the National Taiwanese Sanda Champion, Peyleen. I was excited; I wanted badly to fight and advance my skills.

In order to fight, I had to lose 15 pounds in a month to match her weight.

I then had my first experience with a personal trainer. He told me to meet him first thing in the morning with two sets of clothes and an empty stomach. I was excited to train. He tortured me on the treadmill for a long time until I was completely drenched in sweat. Thank God for the extra clothes. After that, he destroyed my chest, shoulders, and abs in the weight room. Then, he told me I must train this way and only eat one sandwich a day to lose the weight rapidly. The thought of being “overweight” on fight day motivated me to do what he said and then some. I lost 13 pounds.

*

On the day of the fight, I was still a bit heavier than my opponent, but they let us fight anyways. My coach thought I would knock her out without preparing me at all! I had hardly even sparred anyone! All I had done was run and hit pads. In my mind, I thought anyone who I faced off with would end up in the hospital! HA! I learned quickly that this wasn’t the school yard or the street. This was a ring. This was a sport.

Low kick to Peyleen.

Low kick to Peyleen.

Although Peyleen was shorter and smaller than me, she was very experienced. She was smiling at me in her corner. I looked at her thinking, ‘awww, look how cute she is!’ When the bell rang Peyleen tried to take my head off. I had the reflexes to avoid her initial barrage of punches. I quickly realized that my boxing skills sucked, so I kept her away with a lot of low kicks to her thigh. When she got in range to throw punches, I grabbed the back of her head and threw a lot of knees which ultimately got me the win. This was physically the the most exhausting thing I had experienced in my life. The fatigue is some next level ship!

After that fight, I became all the more obsessed with training. I thought - this is something I can do that people will respect and value. I pushed my body to its limit every training session. I ran in the mornings until my legs were wobbly. I followed a strict diet. I weighed myself every morning. I tracked all my runs. I had no time to socialize; I only had time to train.

This is PART II of INSIDE OUT - a blog series about FLG’s fighting memories. Check out our Instagram and stay tuned for the next installment!

Ramadan-o-rama: Practical Tips for a Challenging Month

By FLG

Are you ready for Ramadan? You don’t have to be, but here are some tips to help keep fitness in your life during this challenging month.

Fitness

  • Work out close to iftar time (30 - 40 mins prior)

  • If you’re already active, don’t shoot for the stars. Focus on keeping your body trained

  • If you’re inactive, it’s a good time to set small, daily goals (ex. five push-ups a day)

  • Some activity is better than none

  • Be gentle on yourself

  • If you don’t exercise, it’s okay!

Work out just prior to iftar time. Image by Emma Simpson @esdesignisms.

Work out just prior to iftar time. Image by Emma Simpson @esdesignisms.

Nutrition

  • Drink a lot of water with your meal - aim to drink 1 more glass than you usually would with a meal

  • Eat foods that take longer to digest (ex. nuts, avocados, meats, cheese, chickpeas)

  • When you break your fast, try to your best to eat slowly

  • Try having two mini iftars instead of one massive meal

  • Limit your sambusas, rooh afza, falooda, spring rolls, jelabis, chips, ice-cream sundaes, pakoras, taquitos, gulab jamuns, and other festive delights for special occasions (ex. THE END OF RAMADAN - EID!)

Image by Sara Dubler @ _ahungryblonde_

Image by Sara Dubler @ _ahungryblonde_

Ramadan is a time of sensitivity. If you feel bloated, you’re not able to drink Pepto-Bismol or pop a TUMS. Eat until you’re satisfied, but remember tomorrow is on its way.

INSIDE OUT: Fighting Since Five

By FLG

How did I get into fighting?

I didn’t want to fight. Fighting came to me!

In kindergarten, I was a beautiful, shy, androgynous mystery child. My earliest memories of school are of being bullied. I remember an older kid who would cross over to our section of the schoolyard and taunt me. He would make fun of my clothes, my skin, and tell me I was poor. It was very puzzling to me. I remember him looking at me with hate one day and spitting in my face. I did not break eye-contact with him as I wiped it off my cheek with my sleeve. I was so confused.

I don’t remember all the things that were said and done, but I know it happened frequently. Eventually my mom noticed I had bruises on my arms. My mother’s solution was to enroll us in a Kung-Fu school downtown - I was being hurt, she thought my brother was a weakling, and my older sisters could benefit by joining as well. One big happy family.

FLG at 5 years old.

FLG at 5 years old.

I won’t get into the years of suffering and torment I endured as a young child at this school - it was an emotionally humiliating, physically torturous, abusive environment that has scarred me for life. I used to pray to GOD that we’d get in a car accident on the way there. My family didn’t protect me from that experience and that’s something that has always hurt me. The torment inside those walls bred a fierce and hungry beast on the playground. I fought bullies at school on what seemed like a daily basis. I remember body slamming, clothes-lining, kicking kids in the face, knocking the wind out of them, and smashing them over my knee. I remember feeling very proud and strong.  

At that amazingly fun Kung-Fu school, I was emotionally abused for being a “fat slob.” If I didn’t perform with energy, it was because I was “fat.” At home, my family called me fat. At my parents store, their friends called me fat.  At school, the kids called me fat, poor, and a he/she. I fought back so much when anyone made fun of me, but then I would go home and cry A LOT by myself because it was shameful to cry openly.

*

FLG at 13.

FLG at 13.

When I was 13, I started smoking cigarettes and weed. I stopped playing all sports and my weight ballooned to 200 lbs in a very short period of time.

When I was 14-15, I had my heart broken and stopped eating for six months. I lost 50 lbs.  

When I was 16, I started getting into chemical drugs and by 17, I had a great little business going. All my friends got sick and we all looked gaunt. I was now underweight and weak. But it didn’t take long for my weight to rebound.

I did terribly in school because I hardly showed up. When I did show up, I was high and selling to other kids. People my age were scared of me. I intimidated them and took their personal belongings as collateral if they didn’t have enough money. I didn’t value school because it was something I was told to do by adults. I didn’t trust adults because I didn’t have a reason to. Any routine that had been prescribed to me had caused me pain.

I took pride in being a good dealer because it gave me control. It protected me from pain. It earned me respect and gratitude. I was respected for the skills I had: accounting, weighing, measuring, maintaining contacts and relationships, and meeting people’s demands on time. I was running a successful little business.

But this lifestyle took a toll. Climbing the ladder in this position came at a heavy price.

People around me went to jail.

Guns were pointed at heads.

I experienced psychosis from tasting the rainbow.

But, nothing scared me more than my parents finding out.

*

At 19, in high school. FLG just posing for the camera.

At 19, in high school. FLG just posing for the camera.

When I was 20, I  joined a Muay Thai club. I badly wanted to feel better - I just wanted to beat the crap out of something. Training at the club gave me such an endorphin kick that I forgot all my problems in the time I spent there each week. In each two-hour session, four days a week, I gained confidence in my physical and mental strength by surviving the torturous workouts: hundreds of squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and screaming while punching pads. Whoever endured the most pain was highly valued; it meant that they had the most willpower. I saw new possibilities for myself. I wouldn’t need to get high if I could feel like this.

When I was 21, I knew I needed a big change. My heart was broken, my friends were gone, I didn’t want to go to school, and I couldn’t see a future for myself anywhere. One day, my mom casually mentioned that I could get my citizenship in Taiwan (where she was born), if I went soon.

That idea was all I could think about. I knew the only way things were going to get better was If I left the country.

A brand new beginning.

This is Part I of “Inside Out” - a series about FLG’s fighting memories. Follow us on Instagram for updates on the next installment.

Tasnia Hussain: “I’m not afraid of my body anymore”

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Tasnia Hussain

is Sister of the Month!

Our March Sister of the Month has been selected by Coach FLG from our East End location. Tasnia’s great attitude, her ability to lift others around her, and her focus in class has earned her this mighty recognition. Read Tasnia’s interview below!

Name: Tasnia Hussain

Age: 24

When and why did you join Sister Fit?

Until recently, all I cared about was being an economist. Since I was young, my small physique forced me to accept that physical strength wasn’t for me. So, I didn’t care about my body – as long as I could work for hours, I was happy.

But in 2017, I got injured. I couldn’t work the way I used to work. At first, I hated my body for its betrayal. But at some point, it hit me that strengthening your body is as important as working on the soul and mind. Yet after years of neglecting my health, I didn’t know how to care for it; I also feared getting more injuries. To become strong, I had to risk getting hurt again.

In order to heal, I took a break from economics in 2018. Sister Fit came into my life soon after when they showcased boxing drills at a gala I attended in May 2018. What I saw moved me. The girls up there were my size and they were so powerful! Most athletic people I saw didn’t look like me at all! So, I approached FLG *immediately* after and told her I wanted to box. But, after being injured for so long, I feared my body. [Coach FLG] said, “that’s exactly why you should come.” I joined SF that weekend.

To be strong, I had to risk getting hurt again.
— Tasnia Hussain
Art by Tasnia (2019).

Art by Tasnia (2019).

Preferred class: Muay Thai Boxing at Toronto Striking Academy!

How has SF enhanced your life?

Because of Sister Fit, I’m not scared of my body anymore. I realized that it was always strong and resilient, just not trusted enough. Boxing was completely new to me. The moves felt strange and I made a lot of mistakes. But the more mistakes I made, the better I got. I just had to show up each week to witness that change.

When I took a year off, I thought I’d be alone but joining SF introduced me to a community. Many have their own struggles but show up every week. Their resilience is inspiring and I am better for meeting them.


 



Don't treat me equally; treat me fairly.

By Coach EL

I was on my way to a downtown gym to attend a Level One boxing coach course with the National Canadian Coaches Program (NCCP) and I couldn’t help but wonder how I would be received in such an environment. I mean, let’s be real. It’s not very common to find a fully veiled Muslim woman in a co-ed boxing coach course.

I walked into the gym, and as expected, I got the odd stares and curious looks as if to say, “what’s she doing here?” It was almost amusing to see some of their facial expressions. We sat down, introduced ourselves, and the course began.

As the course proceeded, we were put into groups and each assigned a portion of the material from the course text to present; I was given the section on the code of ethics. I found it interesting and also quite ironic that the one to speak about ethics was the Muslim woman who looked different from everyone else. Stereotypically, I’m supposed to be the oppressed one, the one with the backward mentality dressing the way I do, covering from head to toe - including my face - and there I was, expected to present in front of a predominantly male audience about the sport code of ethics. When I looked at the pages and skimmed over the material, one of the points stood out to me. It read:

 

Respect - ensure that everyone is treated equally, regardless of athletic potential, race, sex, language, religion, or age.

 

I paused for a second. The use of the word ‘equally’ didn’t seem to sit well with me. It implied that people be treated the same, but is that what we really want? It is true that men and women are created equally in the eyes of Allah. Allah tells us:

«And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer - those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed» (Surah an-Nisa 4:124).

 

He also tells us:

Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so - for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. (Surah al-Ahzab 33:35)

 

We are equal in our pursuit of knowledge and education; in our servitude to Allah and our rights that we have over one another. My issue of contention, however, was with the physical aspect. We are equal in many things, but as far as physiology is concerned, we are not equal at all. Biologically, we each serve a purpose and we have different roles. We were created differently for a reason and to be treated the same would be an injustice.

We see the recognition of these differences in competitive sports where athletes are usually categorized by gender and weight. Very seldom will you find men and women competing against each other and this categorization happens for a reason. Generally, male skeletal structures are larger and thicker than that of a female. Research and scientific studies have shown that joints and bone density differ between the genders and this leads to differences in their mechanical functions. Similarly, muscle size and type will be apparent between the male and the female. A man’s wrist, for example, will be bigger and thicker. His punch will generally be stronger and will cause more impact. For this reason, we don’t see men and women compete against each other and if they were to do so, it would be dangerous and unjust.

Now, translate this into the world of boxing, a traditionally male dominated sport. It wasn’t until the 1990s where women really started coming to the forefront. Even then, women weren’t matched up against men. Boxing bouts are very gender specific and make careful considerations for a competitor’s weight, height and reach.

I don’t doubt that there are women out there who have the skill set to outdo a fellow male athlete. Sure, there are women that can beat men and vice versa. It’s not uncommon to see athletes use the opposite gender as training partners. However, no matter how much she can match up to a man, the fact remains that she is still a woman and she should be treated and respected as such. Her skills and abilities should be acknowledged but the differences in physiology should also be recognized. If a man and a woman were to start sparring with one another, his punches could potentially knock her out and cause a concussion. She needs to be given what she’s able to handle. And if anyone is ever in doubt, simply ask her. She would know better than anyone else how hard of a punch she’s able to handle.

With science aside and from a very personal perspective, I don’t expect to be treated equally, but rather I expect to be treated fairly. This implies that I am treated according to my individual needs and circumstances. I am Muslim and since my conversion to Islam, I started wearing hijaab and  stopped shaking hands with non mahram men. This is just the way I’ve chosen to practice my Islam. I don’t usually train with my hijaab on and when I do take it off, I make sure I’m in an all female environment.  It can’t be assumed that I’ll be shaking hands with men and hugging everyone after a great workout session. That’s just not me. So, in an environment like this NCCP course where everyone else was not Muslim, I wanted them to understand that while I understood the intent behind this ethics code of equal treatment, I had a different perspective and I wanted to shed light on this. I’m 4’9” and I don’t want to walk into a sparring session and go up against someone twice my size. Add to that, I definitely don’t want to be going up against a guy, oh my!

I shared my sentiments with the other coaches taking the course. It seemed to have resonated with many of them and as I concluded, I watched a few of them nodding their heads in agreement. I also appreciate that the facilitator found my point intriguing and thought-provoking enough to want to speak about it in future courses.  So, don’t treat me equally; treat me fairly - like the lady I am.

December's Sister of the Month is Ayesha Chatha!

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Sister of the Month

Ayesha Chatha

December’s Sister of the Month has been selected by Coach EL and Coach ESS from our Brampton location! Ayesha brings her A-game to each and every class, has a great attitude, and has shown comprehension in her boxing skills, Masha Allah!

Ayesha was presented with her Sister of the Month award at our annual gala where she shared an inspiring speech on the challenges and triumphs of moving out of her comfort zone.

Read Ayesha’s interview below!

Why did you decide to join Sister Fit?
I started SF about a year ago. My daughters, and other close family members had started a few sessions before me. I was working 7 days a weeks and was feeling lethargic and overwhelmed. I realized that I needed more energy, an outlet for my stress, and something to do for myself. My daughters encouraged me to attend a Sister Fit boxing class. They thought I would enjoy it and they were right.

What's your preferred class?
I’ve only attended the boxing class that is offered in Brampton. I attend this one because it’s not too far from where I live. I would be interested in other classes offered.

How has Sister Fit enhanced your life?
I've never really considered myself to be an athletic person. I’ve always been a little hesitant to try new things due to my lack of physical abilities. I’ve tried other activities, but none have made me feel as confident as boxing. This sport also makes me feel strong and energized. I’m grateful to say that I have learned something from each instructor I have come across. I now look forward to my Sundays.

Congratulations, Ayesha!