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One Saudi woman shows how to ‘Fight Like a Girl’

With the topic of gender equality being spoken about loudly in almost all races, religions and cultures, it’s a stigma and world understanding that women are usually the weaker of the sexes almost in all fields. But as of recent times, the world view is changing and more and more women are out to conquer everything they see, taking it all by storm one establishment and field at a time. Women of the Arab world, specifically Saudi Arabia are pushing harder to prove themselves and are succeeding; the sky is the limit.
Sports is a field known in the Kingdom as a male dominant field, but in recent years, more female athletes, fitness trainers and fitnatics are popping up, breaking that “male dominant” stereotype. One Saudi female is not only breaking that one stereotype, she is also breaking another by being the only Saudi female kickboxing and boxing trainer in the Kingdom as far as anyone knows. Halah Al-Hamrani, a 38-year-old mother of one, is a strong-willed woman who believes that all women must challenge themselves and push their limits. She’s doing what she does best, box, and she loves it!

Arab News caught up with Halah and spoke to her about her love for boxing.

Your choice to box and kick box is outside the known “exercise” regimen the Saudi women are used to, how did you progress throughout the years and why did you choose this path?
After graduating high school in Jeddah, I moved to San Diego and majored in Environmental Studies and minored in International Relations. I had already been doing martial arts since the age of 12, starting with karate, then moving on to different arts. I have a black belt in jujitsu too. When moving to the States, I decided that I wanted to learn how to “throw a proper punch,” something you don’t find in martial arts. I’ve been training myself in boxing and kick boxing for a long time, starting with Muay Thai, a very specific form of kick boxing, the art of eight limbs (characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins) and it’s the only form of kick boxing that involves knees and elbows. After coming back to Saudi Arabia, as a woman, I wasn’t able to find work in my field, so after two years I decided to start personal training. I got my certificate from NASM and have been training clients for 10 years now.

Was it difficult to train clients in boxing and kick boxing in Saudi Arabia, since it’s considered to be a male dominant sport?
I’m constantly surprised with the amount of attention this gets from the female population; I receive countless e-mails from women wanting to learn how to box. That’s their biggest attraction. It’s new and interesting for them and they do it as a form of a workout and I find it incredible how many women are excited about this sport.

When it comes to form and technique, is there a difference between kick boxing and boxing?
After practicing Muay Thai for six years, I met an amazing boxing instructor in the US and I decided to focus more on boxing. There is a very big difference when it comes to form and technique, with Muay Thai you learn how to throw really powerful kicks with your knees and elbows but the punches aren’t very pretty. It’s more about beating your opponent down, but with boxing it’s about understanding how to beat that opponent out. It’s more of a dance which I’ve started to fall in love with it and I continued with that for four years. Conditioning is pretty much the same for both kick boxing and boxing but technique can be varied from one who has trained in boxing first, then kick boxing, it will be harder to grasp the understanding of using both your lower body and upper body instead of a punch but easier if it was the other way around. The styles are different.

What type of other exercises do you incorporate in boxing and kickboxing to help increase your balance?
I did some calisthenics, which is body weight strength training and got attracted to yoga through that. To me yoga had postures that required more core strength and balance. I like to challenge myself and a.m. willing to try out different poses on my own to find that balance through the training I did with calisthenics. Yoga is a great addition to my workout, it helps with my flexibility in kicks, get some peace and serenity on bad days and helped a lot with my balance as a boxer.

Can you please walk readers through your classes?
Usually we start with a 5-minute warm up, moving on to light weight to concentrate on approaches and technique so they are able to strengthen their shoulders and after that the hard intensity cardio starts with the heavy bag. After the heavy bag there is conditioning such as pushups, jump squats, sit ups and abs training, ending with some stretching to cool down. The classes are between an hour and a half.

Many women have their doubts and are self-conscious about their body image, their ability to perform effectively and succeed in their goals in boxing. How do you approach such a person and motivate them after their realization that boxing is a tough sport?
Every student of mine would have a moment or two of doubts. I think what makes them push forward and continue on is realizing that they are getting better at it. I’m their cheerleader, I direct them and positively reinforce them. But if a student comes in defeated and is already intimidated by it, it’d be hard for me to veer them into the right direction with words, it’s their progression and ability to push through the workout that helps them. I never force my students to do something they’re not able to do, everyone starts off with their own level of strength and my job is to direct them through the training and allow them to realize their potential at the end of the day. Boxing and kick boxing is a mind set.

What is your philosophy in exercise and health?
There are things that need to be understood about attaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s a misunderstanding that “dieting” is what being healthy is, I don’t believe in calling it a “diet”. First, it shouldn’t be incorporated with “lifestyle” because dieting is something temporary, lifestyle is a lifetime choice. If everyone makes the time to include some kind of exercise such as walking or jogging and decides to cut out unhealthy foods such as sugars and processed goods, then that’s a lifestyle choice. To be healthy is a mindset, it’s not a strict regimen depriving oneself from everything, it’s ok to have a cheat meal every now and then and that balances everything out. Consistency is the key.

It’s a common fact that everyone wants to lose weight STAT. What’s your response to that?
It sickens me to see so many young girls who go through extreme measures to just be skinny and there is no need for it what so ever. It’s difficult and I understand when some girls come to class dreading attending and going through my tough workout but they inspire me when they go through with it. They do it, they commit to it and they push themselves past their limits and that is my joy in teaching. Skinny is not an option, healthy and fit is the goal each woman has to strive for. If I was able to help a girl learn how to do a pull up in a month’s time, that is an accomplishment for her and me.

Some might say that boxing and kickboxing isn’t for girls, what’s your opinion on that?
That’s not true, girls are just as strong as men in boxing and kick boxing. It’s a stereotype and it’s unacceptable. All it needs is learning the right moves and techniques, commitment and dedication and have the right mindset to be able to perform. There is no such excuse as “boxing is for men only”.

Why choose the title “Fight Like a Girl”?
Because it’s boxing and it’s seen as a male dominant sport. It’s supposed to be ironic but not really. “Fight Like a Girl” is not supposed to be a negative connotation, instead should be something positive because with training, women can be just as strong as men, you can do it just the way they can and be proud of it too.

Would you ever want to compete professionally?
That would have been my dream, but unfortunately they don’t accept women past a certain age to enter the Olympics for boxing. If I really wanted to, I could probably try professional boxing but I would be starting at the age of 38 which is usually not done so I doubt I will ever have the chance. InshaAllah I hope to find a Saudi girl that I can train and maybe give her the chance to be the first.
Laila Ali, the daughter of legendary heavy boxer Mohammed Ali, the best known sports figure in the world, got into the ring in 1999 and showed the crowd how it’s done. She has won many titles and gained fame as not only the daughter of the legendary boxer but also on the basis of her skills. She told how her father advised her on every negative thing associated with boxing but has never told her “don’t do it” instead he asked her to show him her best pre-fight stare down and then pretended to throw jabs at each other.
Women are the backbone of society, the strength of a woman’s will can never be tethered, Halah proved it and so can many more. Be sure to follow Halah on her Instagram page FLAGBOXING. For appointments, please e-mail the trainer at [email protected]

Email: [email protected]

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