Time: April 17, 2018
JEDDAH: Saudi girls have started taking martial arts seriously. Some of them have even received international recognition by winning gold in various competitions.
This is a bad news for those who have long enjoyed harassing women in the streets or malls, as they may be about to receive a lesson that they will never forget.
Amira Al-Agha, 20, is one of a new generation of women taking up the sport.
Al-Agha told Arab News that she started learning martial arts five years ago when she was 15. “I was just trying it with an international coach who decided to establish the first Saudi Taekwondo team,” she said.
She said that her family expected her interest to last no longer than two months. However, she said: “I continued training until the Saudi Arabian Taekwondo Federation crowned my efforts with a black belt, along with other five girls. We took an oath to observe the tenets of Taekwondo and to not misuse it.”
According to Al-Agha, they were the first group of Saudi women to become holders of black belt.
Her family gave her the green light to attend training sessions, but when she told them that she had been chosen to represent the Kingdom in a competition in Jordan she faced resistance.
“This was something uncommon in my society. Nonetheless, my family hesitatingly agreed. They accompanied me on my trip to Jordan,” she said.
After that competition, where Al-Agha won a gold medal, things changed as the Al-Agha’s realized that a member of the family might one day be an Olympic athlete. They started to unreservedly encourage their daughter and told her that she could freely go anywhere to represent her country.
Al-Agha told Arab News that she gained self-confidence through the sport. She said that, unlike before, she could stand before any gathering and talk in a self-assured way.
“Taekwondo is not an aggressive sport, as many people think, but rather a sport that fills you with confidence. I can now go out without being afraid that I might find myself in a difficult situation. Now I know what to do.” She said that sport, in general, teaches patience, self-control and how to quickly and effectively think or respond to situations.
“I was an eyewitness to a traffic accident one day. Although other people handled everything, I felt like I could composedly interfere and help. I did not have that feeling before Taekwondo; I would just oversee from a distance.”
Al-Agha said the number of girls wanting to learn Taekwondo is increasing. “There are now many girls who want to acquire self-defense skills. Some of my university friends are willing to receive training,” she said. When she first started five years ago there were at the most 10 girls learning martial arts. “Now there are more than 30 who are attending private training sessions,” she said.
Al-Agha said that she is now doing training courses to get enough coaching experience to set up her own Taekwondo training center. However, it will not take her away from her studies — she is a biology junior student at King Abdul Aziz University — Taekwondo will remain a hobby.
“Education is my top priority, then comes my hobby. After graduation, I may work in a hospital or laboratory, for instance, and I will continue to be a Taekwondo enthusiast,” she said.
Al-Agha believes men and women in Saudi society have become much more respectful of any female who has struggled to learn the skills of a sport, and says that she is determined to achieve all her goals.
“Practicing sports never degrade a woman. It gives her respect and support. The General Sports Authority — the highest sports governing body in Saudi Arabia — is doing its best to support us,” she said.
She advised her female compatriots to learn Taekwondo, or any other martial art so that they can defend themselves when they need to.