China / Expats experts

Young Afghan teaches Shaolin wushu

By Agence France-Presse in Kabul (China Daily) Updated: 2017-02-04 07:09

Young Afghan teaches Shaolin wushu

Sima Azimi (Center), 20, a trainer at a Chinese martial arts club, poses with her students after lessons on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 29, 2017. Photo / Reuters

Sima Azimi frowns as she pirouettes in the snow, suspended for a moment against the sky on a hill overlooking Kabul and above the conservatism of contemporary Afghanistan.

There is still a need for boldness among young Afghans who wish to indulge in sport - even more so with a martial art like wushu, popularized by stars such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li, which Azimi has taught for a year in the war-torn capital.

Earlier this week the 20-year-old woman left her club in western Kabul, sheltered from prying eyes by a discreet but heavy metal door, to train her young pupils in the open air. In black or pink satin pyjamas, their hair covered, they practice the modern sport derived from traditional Chinese arts mastered by, among others, the monks of Shaolin in northern China.

Mixing boxing and blade control, sabers and daggers, wushu can be a choreographed exhibition of acrobatics or a full-contact sport, a challenge to gravity that requires bodies of steel and rubber. On the warm-up mat, faces sometimes twist under stress and pain as Azimi, a black belt, presses and pushes them.

Azimi's family took refuge in Iran when she was 2 years old, with Afghanistan still under the Taliban regime. There the slender young woman was introduced to wushu. When she returned one year ago she immediately opened her club in a stronghold of the ethnic Hazara community, of which she is a member, in Kabul.

"My family never opposed my class here, my father was just concerned for me, he found me too small and he feared I could get in trouble," said Soraya Rezayi, 19, with the silhouette of a twig like her fellow pupils.

"But thanks to my training I became more powerful," she says. "If someone came to harass me I could certainly defend myself."

"I am the first lady in my family to do sport," says Latifa Safayi. Just 15 years old, she already sees a long way into the future: to overcome her parents' reluctance to let her train, she proclaimed her dream of "representing the country and ... raising the Afghan flag abroad".

"I want to change the image of Afghanistan, too well-known for war and drugs," she vows.

Now she trains three times a week, the aches which overcame her body in the beginning fading to a sport she describes as "demanding and complete".

For their master Azimi, the biggest obstacle was readjusting to her country of origin.

"Iran is a developed country but here in Afghanistan there are some very conservative thoughts to fight," she says. "But it is only up to women to do something for themselves. So please, get out, show your capabilities, and don't let anyone choose for yourself."


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