Choosing Actual Empowerment Over Talking About It

Today was a talk by Dr Leila Ahmed, Professor of Divinity, Harvard Divinity School on “Contemporary Trends in American Muslim Women’s Activism.” It covered just about every topic I get excited about lately: women’s rights, politic change, faith. Dr Ahmed is personally inspirational and her talk sure to be fascinating.

I 100% did not attend. I went to kickboxing class instead. After basketball ended about a month ago, I have not had a steady source of endorphins (other than dancing in the Qatar Foundation’s production of Oliver!). But more than that, it has been nearly 3 years since I stood in a martial arts class as a student rather than a teacher (annual visits to my home dojo aside). The rush that I felt when we–10 men, the female friend who invited me, and the female friend who I forced to come with us–began punching exercises was intense. I have very much missed feeling capable and physically strong.

Jogging in a circle, doing push-ups, shadow-boxing, stretching or refereeing (turns out I still remember my World Karate Federation referee training), I felt grounded and high at the same time. The teacher, a bulky, four time world kick boxing champion, did exactly what a good teacher does in a room dominated by men nervous about women newly in their midst: he treated us exactly the same (with a little slack on the push-ups). He won major brownie points for letting me ref on my first night there. Bouncing around the ring, calling out points in a mix of Japanese and English–and later, punching and kicking at the teacher when it was my turn to spar–I felt such joy!

I think this joy is more than the endorphins talking, or even my mental association of martial arts with my best friends at my home dojo. Sparring with a larger man–scoring points on a larger man–reminds me why I fight for women’s rights. Because, unhandicapped by low expectations and allowed to compete on equal footing, women kick ass.

I am sure I would have heard some good talking points about Muslim women’s activism if I had gone to the talk. But I doubt I would have felt as ready to take on the world as  I did walking out of that sweaty kickboxing class.

To me, that feeling is the real empowerment.

Inspirational Quote:

“Karate begins and ends with respect.” — Master Anko Itosu (one of the founders to Shito-Ryu Karate Do)

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