‘You are not helpless’: For London women, learning to fight builds confidence


LONDON The sound of fists hitting fists echoed throughout the studio as the pair of women circled each other, kicking and stopping them, focusing on the singular. A woman’s solid voice revealed a persuasive murmur from her sweaty partner. Duck looking forward to another left hook.

“Just two strikes! That’s enough! “The instructor called.

Women lawyers, teachers and retail workers from across the city practiced the techniques of the Crow Maga defensive system at a North London studio.

“If something happens to you, there are many things you can do to combat it,” said Jia Li, 26, a business consultant who said she joined the class this year because a person on the street physically abused her. “You’re not completely helpless and powerless.”

Martial arts such as boxing and martial arts and martial arts such as Crow Maga are gaining popularity in the UK as a form of physical fitness and protection for women, many trainers say, before the risk of close contact with the epidemic increases.

But after a year marked by high rates of loneliness and isolation caused by the virus and violence against women, gyms say interest in women who want to learn how to fight and defend themselves has resurfaced.

Fightzone London, a gym in East London, has doubled the number of women looking to take classes after reopening this year than in 2019. At the Miguel’s Boxing and Fitness Gym in south London, 70 per cent of the members are women, and the demand for boxing training is so high that it adds several new classes per week. Many branches of Safari MMA have a martial arts gym for women and waiting lists.

“When we started opening after the lock-up, we were in a frenzy,” said its founder, Khadija Safari. He said the waiting lists were long and people had to turn up early at the gym. “These are new people reaching out,” he said.

Many women said they were inspired to defend themselves because the physical and mental fitness they needed helped ease the number they experienced during the locks; The training helped them build confidence, reduce stress and make new friends.

“A lot of people during Lockdown are down to an all-time low,” Ms Safari said. “It was very difficult for them to return to social situations. When you feel vulnerable, you look for strength.

There are differences in sports such as boxing, martial arts and craw maga, developed by the Israeli Defense Forces and gaining skills from other martial arts as a way to teach martial arts. In fact, Grove Maga’s instructors say that when a person faces a dangerous situation, fighting should be the last resort; For example, they advise people to give up valuables in robbery attempts and to avoid conflict as much as possible.

Many women said their experiences of harassment or assault were a factor in their decision to engage in fighting sports.

Shaista Lalla-Saip, 22, a recent university graduate who completed a Thai kickboxing class in East London, said “it plays a big role in choosing this sport.” “I feel more confident.”

He said he was tired of being harassed by drunks at night with friends. “You know at least a few moves not to fight with someone, but to basically get away with it,” he said.

Sarah Brentler, an instructor at London Grove Maga, said she was intrigued by organizations and individuals who wanted to learn martial arts after young London girl Sarah Evert was abducted and murdered by a police officer in March.

The details of her murder which sparked a national outcry over the safety of women became a catalyst for conversations about violence, she said. “It brought a lot of fear and anger, and it definitely made people share their experiences,” Ms Brentler said.

For women who had already taken the usual precautionary measures walking on well-lit roads and wearing bright clothes Ms. Evard’s murder horror was further intensified.

23-year-old Dimple Corsia said, “When I heard about Sarah Everde, it hurt me a lot.

He said that after escaping from a violent crime many years ago, he took Kraw Maga as a way to work in the aftermath of the attack.

Ms. Corsia said she now hopes to be a full-time instructor. “I had a small area, which is why I make self-defense a way of life,” he said. “It strengthened my interest in making this a career.”

On a recent Sunday morning, Ms. Brendlor classified a dozen women with warm-ups before connecting them to do exercises. For example, many said they had already used certain lessons by creating distance, for example, not turning their backs on the attackers.

Yet, that intensity was offset by a sense of camaraderie. A punch aimed at a couple of miscreants made them laugh. Ms. Brentler threw jokes as she revealed some techniques.

Above all, he said, classes should be practical and fun.

“It’s a good place to interact with other women and find out that you are not alone in the situation,” said Ms Li, a business consultant who described being attacked on the street a month before Ms Everest was murdered. “It has come true that I have a chance of something like that happening,” he said. In addition to classes, she went to therapy to help her cope with the aftermath of the attack.

Gyms have noticed renewed interest and are trying to accommodate new students and make the culture more inclusive.

“Historically the martial arts environment has been a very threatening environment, there are a lot of aggressive people, and nowadays it’s not like that,” said James Roche, owner of London Fightzone. He said only women on weekends check the gym in the classroom to measure curiosity.

“A lot of girls find it very difficult to go to first class,” Ms Safari said, adding that Safari MMA instructors were trained to deal with the worries and insecurities of taking on a combat game for the first time.

“We try to make it as realistic but as respectful and fun as possible,” said Ijaz Akram, founder of Urban Grove Maga 360, where classes are kept small to customize. “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”

Although learning martial arts and techniques gave them more confidence and protection, participants lamented the need to live in a community where such classes were necessary.

“It shows how unfair it is because it’s men’s responsibility to stop being poachers,” Ms Li said. “But now it’s our responsibility to pick up the martial arts or stop these poachers.”

Nevertheless, she said the course gave her lasting hope that she was not insecure. “I’m going to be strong from what I experienced in class,” he said.


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