Zenab Awan of the KJR Academy in Calgary is hosting a self-defence workshop for women next weekend. Awan has competed in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for two years and says she’s long believed women, of all faiths should learn self defence.
“We’re all women, we all empower each other.”
In the wake of recent hate crimes in Canada against Muslims, including a Toronto mother being beaten by strangers while picking her child up from school on Nov. 16, Awan said she has heard from peers who “became fearful of leaving their homes” and wanted to learn how to defend themselves.
The Calgary mother responded by organizing a two-hour women’s self-defence workshop on Dec. 6 at Calgary’s KJR Academy in Ranchlands.
“I’m glad women are taking interest in self-defence,” said Awan.
“It surprised me it took someone to get attacked in public for people to start taking (self-defence) seriously.”
Since falling in love with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu a few years ago, Awan has tried to introduce fellow Muslim women to the rough, and often male-dominated, sport, but is continually thwarted by a lack of interest.
While the workshop was sparked by the recent attacks on Muslim women, and the pink event poster shows two women in hijabs, Awan said the classes are geared toward all women, no matter their faith. The workshop will include concepts from Aikido and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Awan said she’s keen for all participants to reap the benefits of martial arts.
“Everyone should learn self-defence. Just like you teach your kids the ABCs, you should teach them self-defence,” Awan said.
Awan, a tiny woman who said she’s been teased for being “so small and so skinny,” began practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu nearly three years ago after launching KJR Academy with her husband.
The mother of two young children trains several times a week, and she’s come a long way from the early days when she left training sessions in tears of frustration.
Today, she’s an award-winning competitor and has earned a blue belt.
“It’s very empowering to me.”
When she competes, Awan wears a hijab that she designed and sewed herself and she knows she’s one of only a few female Muslim fighters.
“In Canada, especially, you don’t hear about too many Muslim women doing rougher sports. In Calgary it’s almost unheard of … You just don’t hear about Muslim women doing combat sports,” she said.
Awan described Calgary’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community as a big family and said she’s never been made to feel different than any other female competitor because of her faith.
“We’re all women, we all empower each other,” she said.
In addition to providing useful self-defence tips, she’s hopeful the workshop will show women what Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is all about and spark their interest in a sport, and a community, Awan has grown to love.
Men are not welcome, so the female attendees have the privacy to remove their hijabs. If women would rather keep their head covering on, they can look to Awan for inspiration — she designed and sewed her own sport hijab for practices and competitions.
“I actually find it a lot easier to roll in a hijab than without one,” Awan told the Muslim Female Fighters Tumblr page. “When I roll at home I usually am not in a hijab and I constantly have to stop in the middle of a session to fix my hair. It is very inconvenient.”
Women who attend Awan’s class will learn both verbal and physical techniques for self defence.
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