The Secrets of Afghan Women and the Art of Shaolin

(AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)
During the time when Afghanistan's Buddhists were carving out massive sandstone statues in Bamiyan around 500 A.D., Chinese Buddhists were crafting martial arts in the Shaolin temple in Henan Province. Fast forward 1,500 years and we find ten stunning Hazara women and young girls who are practicing the same martial art of Shaolin. Set on a hilltop just west of Kabul, these inspiring ladies are prepping their bodies and minds for the day when Afghanistan can officially send their female team to the Shaolin world championship's that take place in China.

AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini
Twenty-year-old, Sima Azimi trains nine other female students in martial arts to get them ready for Olympic competition, while additionally teaching them to protect themselves on the strikingly dangerous streets of Kabul, where women and girls are incessantly harassed. Azimi often recalls a run-in with a thief who attempted to steal her purse. However, thanks to her impressive martial arts background, she fought back and save not only her purse but potentially her life.

One hopeful, Raihana Amiri, who is also twenty years old, hopes to begin competing in international Shaolin competitions to bring honor and pride to Afghanistan, which has so long been battered by decades of war. When these women aren't training on the snow-covered hills surrounding Kabul, Azimi will train her students in an unimpressive, dark club that is financed by a young movie actor. Azimi expresses just how hard it was to come by all of the essential tools that were needed to train her students. For example, she had to order a Shaolin sword directly from Iran (which is where she studied the martial art for three years); and they also couldn't locate any Shaolin uniforms, so they took it upon themselves to design and order them directly from a local Kabul tailor.

AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini
While she was studying in Iran, Azimi competed in two different competitions where she took home gold and bronze medals. It was only a year after she returned to Afghanistan that she decided to train girls who lived in the Hazara-dominated neighborhoods of the capital city. The vast majority of her students are teenagers, and a few of the older students study at local universities. She charges anywhere between $2-$5 a month depending on what the girls and their families can afford.

She also said that it took some of the families a bit of coaxing by way of understanding before they allowed their daughters to practice martial arts. She states that "some of my students' families had problems accepting their girls studying Wushu. But I went to their home and talked to their parents." In such a religiously conservative country such Afghanistan, females are all too often strongly discouraged from participating in such aggressive sports. And sadly, a good number of parents actually fear that a sporting accident could result in a young girl breaking her hymen prior to marriage, which would be considered extremely shameful to the family. While there have been a number of incredibly strides being made for the better of these women in Afghanistan, Azimi believes that there is still an incredible amount to chang and she strongly believes that females are more than capable of being able to stand toe-to-toe with males in Shaolin. In fact, in a recent Olympic Committee competition that took place in Kabul, Azimi took first position among female Shaolin participants.

While it is going to be incredible when these women have their goals realized by way of  their permission to compete in China finally be granted; just seeing them pursue their dreams at all in terms of finding mental and physical strength and peace of mind is remarkable in its own right.

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