Krav Maga Seminar Day 1

Sunrise over the Ganges. Our intrepid team got up early (I’d say ‘woke’ but that would imply we’d slept through the morning prayers and yoga practice). Our cafe base is directly on the Ghat which is beautiful. It’s also a built-in alarm clock as the day kicks off in earnest at 5.35am. So our 6.30am breakfast was practically mid-morning.

As project manager I learned that for the Dutch ‘half six’ is what we in the UK call ‘half five’ so I now give all meeting times in 24 hour clock for the Dutchies, and in numerals for the Indians. Our Norwegian representative is always early for everything no matter what time we say. Here’s the team after their morning coffee:

We had a record 45 minute journey across the city in the early morning traffic so arrived at the venue an hour ahead of schedule. I mention this detail mostly for the benefit of Floris Eland (our previous project coordinator) to make him weep a little bit. We had plenty of time to admire the huge banner Devesh had created with life-sized pictures. We tried to recreate our poses.

Guy wasn’t quite ready to confront his doppleganger without more coffee in his system.

I like how my picture is managing to look into the camera here although I failed completely to do the same.

The seminar got underway with a large gathering of students from all over the city. Most of these students have worked with FairFight before on our previous visits and it’s a huge pleasure to watch their development. It’s also wonderful to bring them together with our Disha girls who have not had the opportunity to train with other young people in karate until now. We hope they will be inspired by seeing their peers as role models.

All the students were a delight all day – keen and focused. The standard of their martial arts continues to do great credit to their teachers.

Guy explained the principles of Krav Maga and the differences they would see between their Shotokan karate practice and the raw self-defence-in-motion work we would be undertaking. They learned how to adapt their stances and hand placements to drop into a defensive position quickly; using simple and small basic moves to evade, deceive and counter-attack.

We are finding a big increase in the girls’ confidence on this visit. Ashadiya Foundation has made such a difference to these rescued young women. Their laughing, outgoing, friendly personalities are a credit to the stability and love provided by Disha. This seminar contained a lot of practical and rough close-contact work with which they all engaged effectively and with interest. When you consider the distressing circumstances which brought them to Disha you have to feel that the programme is doing powerful work. Here’s Menka, Neelam and Susmita enjoying the day.

It was my pleasure to nominate Pankaj as assistant for the medium-range attack section.

It’s the delight and honour of the assistant to continue to attack, knowing that whatever happens next isn’t going to be much fun. And as the following pictures demonstrate, Pankaj was a great uke (assistant) treating his pain and discomfort with unwavering humour.

Pankaj attacks, is given a nose bleed and a quick visit to the floor.

Guy considers the options. Perhaps he will remove the arm.

Look, no hands!

Pankaj makes a comfortable kneeling stool for the explanation of the principle.

Having quelled his attacker, Guy gently guides his head towards better decisions in the future.

Harald was a helpful horrible attacker which made the girls laugh a lot. Here he is trying to get Kajal to counter:

Drilling is important. A real attack doesn’t allow for thinking time … but the dojo is where we get it wrong until we get it right. Here our attacker is serious, static, and patient. Two of those qualities don’t happen in real life!

And here Lalita works the technique with increasing confidence and always a smile on her face.

Deadly combat can be fun!

Here Anita works her defences with Rishika:

Neelam and Charlie had a lot of fun practising the drills together. Neelam is 16, Charlie is 18 but there’s quite a size difference …

Jet worked with different partners all day and enjoyed getting to know the girls better.

Ujala practising her knife defence against a brutal attacker:

‘Didi, didi, selfie!’ The girls love to take selfies even though they don’t see them posted!

We wrapped up in good time and now we’re getting ready for day two. Guy and I are about to have our prep meeting on the roof so I’ve got my body armour prepared.

Special credits for today to Sensei Sohan, Devesh, Amit and Pankaj for supplying a great venue and super students. Also huge thanks to our enthusiastic local translation and travel team – Dheer and Moyee for their constant positive attitude and problem solving.

Final shot for today is Dheer taking us home through a sudden herd of buffalo. Standard traffic for Varanasi but Charlie is really glad she didn’t have to take her driving test here!

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Impromptu dance parties, plans, and a fashion show

It was another early start for Harald as he captured some beautiful city scenes with camera and drone.

We breakfasted together to plan the day.

Here we are working through the seminar plan on the roof. At least – that’s what Guy said. Either that or he felt my morning meeting deserved 100 kicks to the groin

…and a shoulder lock:

The afternoon saw me visiting two former Disha girls who are now developing their studies with support of Bharti, who also coaches the other girls. Here you can see Lalita sitting by her chemistry charts! Rinki passed her board exam and is now studying business. They’re joining us for the seminar tomorrow.

I rejoined the team at Disha house to find an impromptu dance party had developed in celebration of the new access to YouTube made possible by the two laptops FairFight sourced for the girls.

Here’s Jet working with the girls on the laptops:

and here’s Charlie with the dance party.

Meanwhile, Guy was encouraging the girls to work on their punches. I can’t upload the whole video so you just need to know Anjali and Bharti are watching from the side here:

Muskan, Ritu, Pooja and Anita had a lesson in focal distance … punching beyond the target. Mostly they enjoyed hitting Guy.

The girls received a ton of new clothes sent from the students of my dojo. They immediately raced to try everything on.

We also brought games so here is Charlie teaching them Dobble.

Katie just sent us a lovely ink of our smallest Kajal meditating.

We finished the day with a group meal at Open Hand cafe Evaluation complete: goals met. And tomorrow … a very early start for 9am seminar in Sarnath! Goodnight all.

The gathering

After a light doze (somewhere over Afghanistan) it was breakfast and immigration time. The majestic hall makes an impressive backdrop to the tedium of fingerprints and facial scans.

Charlie made the most of the opportunity to soak up the local atmosphere in Delhi airport’s glorious food plaza.

And we were delighted to meet Jet right on time before heading to Varanasi.

Making our way from the airport into the city, we were surprised to have to pull left to avoid an elephant. It was magnificently decorated – I only caught the departing view. The use of elephants in local celebrations is controversial. I have heard some terrible stories about how abused they can be but in this instance I can only say it was enchanting and incongruous to be sharing the road with such a fabulous creature.

Safely installed at Ashish Cafe: regular readers will welcome the sight of the opposite bank of the Ganges. We didn’t see this much in January due to the smog.

Pawan has been repainting the cafe since our last visit. Guy, Jet, Charlie and I have the whole of this floor and Harald is nearby at Haifa Hotel.

Here, Charlie shows off the new mural by her room.

This is my room, all rigged up for the mosquitoes.

Plenty of interest in the Ghat although the banks are quite chewed up here. The river is low.

The walk to Disha took in the usual range of animals: here’s some paddling pigs.

It’s not monkey season but they’re here anyway:

…in ninja gangs…

And finally I got to see the lovely girls and meet Anandi for the first time. This picture looks like the ones I’ve experienced on Skype since January, but a lot more real. It was brilliant to see them all 💕💕

We will go back tomorrow with everyone’s gifts 🙂

The streets are bright with festival preparations:

And we finished the day with a dinner sitting cross-legged around the low tables which would have been a lovely picture but I didn’t take it because I am quite tired now! We welcomed Harald into the team and I’ll be introducing some of his pictures to the blog tomorrow. Guy arrived safely too and we had a solid couple of hours martial arts chat before everyone was ready to admit jet lag and resume tomorrow.

An international expedition

Welcome to the project blog for Fairfight Varanasi October 2018. I’ll be your host for the next ten days, keeping you updated with pictures of our work … probably quite a few puppies, monkeys and many cows as well.

The packing was an immense challenge due to the kindness of everyone sending presents for the girls. So far they haven’t made me pay overweight baggage so fingers crossed the 2 extra suitcases will make it all the way. This was me finally sewing on my new Jindokai badge, given to me on the summer by Sensei Stephen Chan who has been a great support to the development of Fairfight UK

Here’s a wonderful ‘good luck’ card from Kacy Scott – one of my red belt students. One to treasure.

Here’s the banner Devesh has made for our seminar at the weekend. Much more on that in the next few days.

Here’s Charlie and me arriving at Heathrow. As I write, we’re waiting for boarding information; all checked in and through security.

Jet is already in the air from Amsterdam on her way to meet us in Delhi. English/UK readers please note she is pronounced ‘Yet’ as opposed to ‘Jet’ like the gladiator.

Guy left a few days ago and has been having an awful time admiring views and drinking coffee in Dharamsala. It’s so hard when you can’t get a long haul flight without a decent stopover.

Harald is already in Varanasi. He’s reacquainting himself with the area and we are looking forward to meeting up with him tomorrow afternoon. He has travelled from Norway to join our work and is planning a documentary about Disha and the effects of karate training for our girls. More about his work here: http://applaus.no/

It’s not the first time he has been to Varanasi as suggested by this picture below. Although with that glasses/hair combo it could be anyone, frankly, so I’ll be quizzing him for further details of his previous travels.

Meanwhile the power of FairFight is fizzing elsewhere as our Zimbabwe project has already begun. Here’s the road ahead for them as captured by Ginie earlier. We know that Zim is in a difficult time – fuel shortages and cash crises are potential hazards for the team there but they are making a strong start.

I’ll talk more about the different goals of the projects as we go on but for now, thank you for checking in with us. The blog will be updated every day; sometimes this might depend on WiFi stability.

We should arrive in Varanasi tomorrow afternoon and hope to visit the girls at Disha when they get in from school. This will be especially exciting for me as I’ve chatted with them on Skype many times since January but it’s not the same as being there in person. This was the last sight of them when I left in January. Tomorrow I will post the first sight of our promised return.

Countdown to departure: 7 weeks…

The team is confirmed; the plans are made; now we need to raise the money and get out there to do it!

Last weekend we met with the FairFight crew at the charity’s home in The Netherlands. It was really productive to plan the work together and to look ahead to the impact we want to make, both in Varanasi and our sister-project in Zimbabwe. The FairFighters are a diverse bunch of big-hearted nutbars all bringing a different perspective to the group which I believe is an incredible strength. Between Ginie’s swords and Enrique’s ninjitsu there was plenty to explore, even before Floris and I decided to fight for the future leadership of the India project in a very literal sense.

Here’s our India team for October – Guy Shpak, Charlie Stevens, me, and Jet Huwae. For biographies see www.fairfight.nl

Guy took us through some concepts and strategies for self defence which is one of the key parts of our Varanasi outreach this year. I can already see how big an impact this will make, not only for our girls, but in the ripple effect across the city; a city where the tide is turning on a culture of harassment. For more on that see: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/07/india-female-students-eve-teasing

Charlie will be helping to document our work and develop awareness using social media. It was good for her to meet with Alex and Myrthe (FF board members) to get some guidance on this. We also began to plan the impact evaluation which Jet and I will do together with Bharti (the girls’ after-school coach) and Moyee (a new bilingual recruit who also lives in Varanasi).

I’m currently working on the updated student manual for the girls to understand their karate training and its potential. I am lucky to have Devesh’s input on the syllabus and terminology from the Varanasi end. In the UK Charlie is helping with transcription, and Russell Blythe is kindly helping to polish the content to give the book some permanency and quality which was definitely lacking in the rough draft I made back in Varanasi in January.

Last time I went to India, I was funded entirely by donations from family, friends, and members of my own classes. This was an amazing effort on their part and I was determined not to be repeatedly asking for money from the same sources. With a cause so worthy – would it not be easy to access some corporate funding to make this happen without shaking a bucket under the nose of every person I encountered? Well…it transpires that without being a registered charity in the UK, funding options are much more limited than I knew, and I am indeed now shaking a bucket everywhere and daily writing begging statuses on Facebook and Instagram to try and access the money we need to do this work. However, we are now initiating the complex process to get FairFight UK registered as a charity because we fully believe that the work we are doing is new and powerful. We believe our approach is working. We believe more people want to help. And we believe FairFight needs to grow.

So that is the future, and we are trying to make it happen as soon as possible. For now, though, I am still shaking my bucket so please donate, pass on our details to friends and ask them to donate too. You are making a difference now, as every pound helps to strengthen our 23 girls in Disha. Donate at https://www.gofundme.com/fairfightdisha

You are making an investment in the future of women in India, challenging harassment and empowering them to fight for independence and equality. For more information about Act and Help/AshaDiya see: https://www.actandhelp.org/homeWe will keep you updated!

What’s Next?

Welcome back to the Fairfight Varanasi blog. My last post was written on the eve of our departure. The plan to double classes, add instructors and halve the group size was still wet paint as we boarded our flights back to the UK and NL; ambitious goals had been set for the team but the future of the project was far from safe.

Over the past 3 months a consistent commitment has been made by the instructors and the girls have made dramatic progress in their skills. Devesh has led the team, with enthusiastic support from Amit, Pankaj and even Sensei Sohan. Here’s Amit working with the white belt group:

And here they are preparing their kata for their grading:

Devesh reports that not only have their technical standards improved but crucially the girls are now more focused and disciplined in their approach to karate. As Fairfight instructors, we passionately believe the benefits of martial arts come from the mental benefits combined with the physical abilities and confidence.

On March 28th all the white belts passed their grading so all 22 girls now have yellow belts. Rishika got a special commendation for her work. She had been particularly sad not to pass in January so I’m happy to see that this led her to work hard to succeed as opposed to losing motivation.

A moment of reflection here as the students prepare to bow out:

Meanwhile back in the UK we have tried to maintain as much contact as possible through Facebook, Skype and messages. Katie and I have met up to record drills, slightly hindered by the snow…

I have worked on sustaining interest and promoting the work of Fairfight through chatting on the local radio and at an event for International Women’s Day to raise awareness of our work.

Here’s the lovely Rozeena from M & A Social Enterprises who organised the event. Their mission is to support under-represented communities and promote inclusivity.

It was an emotional occasion for me, not only because I was narrating the events from our visit to Varanasi but because the girls with Devesh had Skyped me just before I set out.

That was the day I decided to set the date for returning to Disha. With all the girls asking ‘when will you come back?’ I realised there was no reason I was saying ‘I don’t know’. It was time to make a plan and follow through on my commitment to support the project and its strength and growth.

So here’s the plan! I wanted to go soon enough to build on the relationships we’d developed in January. I wanted to minimise the impact on my own school here in Oxford. The obvious time for me would be during the summer break but Varanasi is mostly underwater in August due to monsoon; it’s not the best time to get things done! So I’ve decided on October half term – to go for ten days from 17th-27th. Fundraising is now up at GoFundMe.com/FairfightDisha although this time I’ve got a bit longer to work on a more corporate approach and am asking for ideas for publicity and sponsorship. Last visit was possible due to the immense generosity of people who know me personally, or individuals who recognised the power of the idea. Of course I’ll welcome all donations – however I’ll be working on companies and events rather than repeated pleas on my Facebook 🙂

I want to make and take a decent syllabus book and also some reading books for the girls. I’d like to take so many things – I may reserve money for an extra suitcase. I am looking forward to walking back up this alleyway – and when I do I will be carrying the ongoing love and commitment from all of you. Please subscribe to this blog for developments and let me know if you have inspiration for fundraising ideas. Thanks for following!

Time’s up

This will be the last of the daily posts on our project. Myrthe is now on her way to Delhi and tomorrow we will be following her. Today we said goodbye to the girls and have been finalising our observations and proposals for FairFight.

Here’s a couple of arty animal shots courtesy of Myrthe. Mine would have been a much less classy selfie with my favourite cow but while I was chatting with her and getting ready to take it I realised there were actual grownups in the alley watching.

Today you can see a bit more across the river. Still seems unlikely that there are mountains over there though.

I like the early morning light in the street by the Ghat.

And here’s my ironing friend already working at 8.30 this Sunday morning.

We took a rickshaw to Disha as the roads were quiet. Our bartering technique is now completely solid. We decide what we’re going to pay and just repeat it firmly until we get an agreement. Typical conversation goes ‘how much for 4 of us to Samne Ghat?’ Rickshaw driver ‘200 rupees’ Us. ‘No. 100’ Him: ‘150’. Us: ‘100’. Him ‘120’. Us ‘100’. Him – indicates with head we should get into rickshaw. Works well. If the driver gets upset we walk off until he agrees anyway. Or open up to alternative bids.

I haven’t taken enough pictures of small children on motorbikes. Here’s one.

And more delivery shots. There are a lot of gas canisters moving around the city.

And milk churns, usually 6 or 7 at a time strapped to a bike or a motorbike. I mentioned I wanted a milk churn picture and then immediately a delivery came into view. I then said I wanted one million rupees but the spell was already broken.

It was difficult for us all to say goodbye. They made us lots of notes and pictures. This was especially lovely:

Rinki wrote this on it on behalf of all the girls:

We handed out the lovely packages made by Mae Zantout whose son Danny trains with me in Oxford. They were very excited and especially loved the fact that each little bag of treasures was labelled for them personally.

We also gave them their handbooks and were happy to see how keenly they began to study them and ask questions.

Here’s Rishika organising the present bags. She is very dynamic and energetic; always to be found where the action is.

There’s always time for a rooftop selfie:

But soon it was time to go.

We waved until we had to turn the corner. It felt emphatic.

Tomorrow we leave, and we cannot know whether or not our plans will work for the girls. We don’t know if we will have funding to return. We could not promise anything or answer the questions about if we will come back and see them again.

We live in a world of advanced communications though and we can Skype, we can email and with the older girls we can Facebook. We have a responsibility to them; a duty of care. Children who have already suffered too much cannot be subjected to a revolving door of well-meaning voluntourists.

So time’s up on our visit here but the story is far from done. There are more questions than answers now. How can we best support the team here? Should we plan to return? If so, when? How can we make the project here as strong as the Zimbabwe FairFight programme? Where should FairFight go next?

What can you do? Maybe you have answers to the questions – feel free to email me your ideas: mary@schoolofmartialarts.com

To find out more about FairFight visit http://www.fairfight.nl

To support the work of Ashadiya go to Ashadiya.com

Thank you for sharing our project. I will update the blog periodically when there is news. FairFight has a wonderful mission and I passionately believe it will change the lives of some of the most vulnerable young women in the world. Tell everyone ✅

PS If you’d like to contribute to the costs of this trip (which still managed to outstrip my estimates!) then thank you! Please chip in at https://www.gofundme.com/fairfightvaranasi