In the wake of our project visit I have asked for reflections from the team. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did – they repeatedly underline the purpose and value of what we are doing!
Devesh Verma and Pankaj Jain (FairFight local instructors)
This was powerful for us because it was the first time any WKF competitor had visited in the history of Uttar Pradesh, and so the first time we could train with someone at the peak of our sport .
We loved the warmup techniques, drills and so many swipes of Alton Brown. Our chief instructor, Sohan sir, was really impressed with the bean bags drills and has already introduced these in his own dojo.
We were happy to see the Disha girls mixing with the girls from more privileged backgrounds. As with last year’s FairFight seminar, the girls were really pleased to meet other girls learning karate and seemed delighted to catch up again. Our Disha girls dream is to be a WKF fighter like Alton Brown; they really absorbed the learning from Alton with enthusiam.
We all felt really inspired by Alton Brown and believe it will help us improve our competitive skills for the future.
A special memory of the visit would be the signing of an official collaboration between ISFKUP (our association) and Fairfight. It meant a lot to have Ginie (chair of FairFight) visit the project after 3 years since she was part of the team which began it in 2016.
The future of Fairfight is very bright in Varanasi because empowering girls through martial arts is effective. Through martial arts we can create self confidence, respect, independence, self discipline and many other things in girls as well as cultivating the skills of self defence. ISKFUP is fully dedicated to the FairFight outreach.
Nivedita Sarveswaran (project evaluation)
Most powerful moment
Sitting in on discussions between our project co-ordinators and the school administrators at Sunbeam Bhagwanpur and Project Mala. To hear how enthusiastically the schools identified with our vision of female empowerment, and how valuable they considered future collaborative workshops for their students’ wellbeing, demonstrated a huge level of respect and trust in the Fairfight mission.
Given their experiences as martial artists and educators, Ginie and Mary were highly persuasive regarding the importance of youth development. I’d also like to particularly commend them for their consistent sensitivity to differences in economic and cultural context between Europe and the countries Fairfight operates in. It’s been truly inspirational working with them!
Most unexpected response you had
The girls loved looking through photos on our phones. They often asked about our family members and friends, and they were adorably delighted to see that I dressed up in a saree once in a while! They also got hugely excited seeing the photos we had taken of them training over the course of our visit – we were so used to sharing the photos through the daily blog posts, but only then did I remember the girls don’t have access to any online platforms. It was a nice reminder that social media still has some positive elements, allowing us to share these stories globally.
Most overwhelming moment
Definitely receiving the handmade thank you and happy Diwali cards from the Disha girls on our last day. I remember the first time I met the girls, they asked me if I was Indian or spoke Hindi – when I said sadly not, there was a small flicker of disappointment and I was worried we would struggle to connect. Fortunately, after spending a lot of quality time together during our daily visits and a full weekend of karate training seminars, we learnt a lot about each other. I can’t wait to see them flourish in each of their special ways.
This one has to go out to the evening the Fairfight teamplayed Jungle Speed! After a whirlwind few days acclimatising to the new project, and the first half of the weekend seminar out of the way, I was ready to pack it in for the night. I’m sure sensing my weakness, Alton decided this would be the best moment to introduce us to a card game that depended on quick reactions. Soon the delirium and competitiveness kicked in – a cutthroat but hilarious bonding exercise!
A special memory with any of our Disha girls
I’d really been looking forward to interviewing the girls as part of the project evaluation; I wanted to take thisopportunity to learn more about their individual personalities, aspirations and how karate may have helped their personal growth. The most telling response came when I asked the girls how they’d felt about their past belt gradings and the future black belt grading – a daunting moment for any martial artist.I was so proud to hear that their few worries were outweighed by their excitement for the challenge! Developing this mindset early on is something many fellow martial artists credit for their successes on and off the mat, and I’m so happy to hear it has taken a hold of our girls too!
A takeaway from the seminar
The importance of testing your opponent early and to always keep looking for opportunities throughout the fight! It was so cool hearing about how athletes reach that level of consciousness but still manage to stay relaxed – something to aspire to! Also loved the beanbag exercises for reaction training…I’m so not planning our Jungle Speed rematch.
Why you’re missing the other team members
Another special moment at Ashish Café, we realised the trans-continental background of our group – India, France, Netherlands, Ireland, UK, Jamaica, Norway, Australia and Sri Lanka all represented. Despite the diversity of our life experiences, we shared a set of values taught through martial arts training that helped us both endure hard times and motivate our accomplishments. To have been surrounded by a group of people so full of strength and kindness is something I’ll cherish forever.
Alton Brown (Seminar leader, Jamaican Olympic hopeful, all-round awesome team player)
My funniest moment was Dheer getting well into the training session. He was so competitive with the beanbags.
Most powerful moment(s)
Speaking with the young people at Disha, the school, the editorial team/assembly, and absolutely the advanced seminar on day 1
Most unexpected response you had
A big thing for me was how hungry to learn all of the Disha girls were. That blew me away. They were so keen to get a turn and learn more. Usually you get that from 1 or 2 people but it is rare from such a large group.
Most overwhelming moment(s) you had
Seeing first hand how the girls live, sleeping arrangements etc. Training bare foot on the roof top etc. I found that overwhelming.
A special memory of any one or more of our girls
Our selfie moment on the roof taken by Harald, after our karate and dance session. That was pretty surreal and a great memory.
A takeaway from the seminar.
I just wish I had more time to share. It was great to see some of the girls really get to grips with certain drills and movement patterns and one thing I took away is how much potential there is to really impact their growth through the sport.
And: why you’re missing the other team members both from India and elsewhere.
It’s just great being around people who are keen to make a positive impact on others. It’s rare to be surrounded by like minded folk so getting home was actually a bit depressing. Took me a couple of weeks to readjust.
Harald Herland (Director of Applaus films, Norway)
Juliett Guiot (Act and Help/AshaDiya Foundation)
At the beginning I did not see the girls interested in karate. But as I thought sport is good : « un esprit sain dans un corps sain ». Maybe some girls would continue and like it . Who knows ?
3,5 years later, it is just phenomenal. They are all interested in karate. Some of them have green belts, others are orange level.
Some of our girls had a very difficult start in life. When I first met them (3,5 years ago) they still had strong stigmas. Now they have blossomed and karate has helped them a lot.
Karate, and the FairFight crew who follow them very closely. They also offered them the possibility to meet and work with amazing people : last year with Guy Shpak, and the this year the cherry on the cake: smiling 2X world champion Alton Brown.
I feel very close to Mary Stevens because she is a mother in her private life as I am but I think she also has 20 daughters at the other end of the world.
I am also very thankful to Ginie who never gave up with all the discomfiture we had to face.
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