Khadijah Safari, Professional Kickboxing For Faith, Women And Community

Khadijah Safari, Martial Arts Pro
Everybody was Safari Kickboxing: Khadijah, owner of women's self-defense training in London, often "boxes" with husband for stress relief

"A place with far too many roundabouts", is how Khadijah Safari describes her hometown Milton Keynes. With an English-Italian heritage, Khadijah moved to London eleven years ago which grounded her towards a stronger faith and established her women's only fitness class, Safari Kickboxing.

Khadijah is no ordinary Muslim woman. She is a professional Black Belt Muay Thai Instructor. In a MUSLIMNESS interview we ask Khadijah Safari why she dropped conventional female roles for a physically disciplined path.

What lead you to the realm of martial arts and what was your aim for it?
"As a teenager I was one of those who wanted to do everything. I used to wish for a 10-day week so that I could take up more hobbies. You name it, I did it; tap, ballet, modern, contemporary, jazz, singing, piano, violin, lace making, sailing, and then came Taekwondo.

I was actually 18 when I took up Taekwondo but loved the whole idea of becoming a black belt. But at 19 I felt the need for something new and so I applied to London College to study Graphic Design & Advertising.

It was in my first few months that I searched for the nearest place (I was in Earls Court) where I could take up martial arts again. It was here that I found Muay Thai, and also the first time that I really felt like I was training hard, as I actually got to punch and kick pads unlike in Taekwondo where I'd spent so much time punching thin air. I couldn't walk for one week after my first Muay thai session, my muscles were in shock! That's when I knew this was the Martial Art for me!"

For those not aware of the martial arts culture, what is Muay Thai? Who is it for? Is it difficult? 
"Muay Thai is an ancient martial art, originating in Thailand believed pre 1200's. It was developed to help defend against perpetual invasions from neighbouring countries, when the only weapons available were short range, such as spears, pikes and clubs. Instead of pads (like we use now) they would train kicking banana trees.

Muay Thai uses the 8 limbs of the body, fists, elbows, knees and shins.

Wearing boxing gloves was only brought into Muay Thai in the late 1920's. The sport is now recognised world wide, and was calmed down when it reached America, where they removed the elbow, knee's and low kicks and released the more commonly known Kickboxing."

After muscle pangs and kickboxing shocks, are there any health benefits to Muay Thai?
"Muay Thai is for anyone wanting to get ultra fit, stay in shape, tone up and learn how to defend themselves. It's fast, technical and super effective. Muay Thai possibly provides the best work out from any sport that you could find. We have athletes who have completed marathons and triathalons come to take classes with us at Safari Kickboxing, and they leave the class sweating, claiming it was the most intense workout they've ever experienced! Imagine, you're using every single muscle in your body in every single move you make. (Don't worry if you're a beginner, you'll be built up slowly)."

That sounds intense. Can anyone join Safari Kickboxing classes?
"I run 9 sessions a week at my gym in London, each class is different, here are a few examples:

Traditional Muay Thai - focuses on the technique and moves used in Muay Thai, learning swift attacks at the same time how to block attacks. This class also combines toning, conditioning and proves successful as a full body workout, letting all sisters find muscles in their body they didn't even know exist!

Cardio Killer - the name describes it exactly as it is. So far, with no exception, I believe this is the most intense workout in London. Perfect for ladies wanting to burn off those excess calories, get in tip top shape and really increase fitness level. It features a 'circuit' and 'stations' and exercises designed for professional fighters to get fit, so you can imagine the results.

El-hamdulillah (praise is for God) I trained 7 ladies last year who were trying to conceive. They had been trying for a baby with no success, and with Allah's mercy after 6-8 weeks of training they actually conceived. As I noticed a pattern I asked a doctor about this (also a client of mine) who informed me that with the intensity of the workout it was very likely that a rigorous workout kick started the body back into action and increased fertility weight.  With Allah's mercy, the more healthy you are. the more capable your body is to deal with pregnancy and child birth. Not to mention getting back into shape afterwards.

MMA - Mixed Martial Arts - I opened up the heavier MMA course just last month, thinking that maybe it's a bit too full on for ladies, what with having to pin each other down while trying to get each other to tap 3 times to give up... Oh how I judged wrong! Within 1 hour of me announcing the ladies only MMA course it was fully booked! MashaAllah (as God wished) I couldn't believe so many sisters were keen to get in with the heavy stuff.  We do insist on no punching to the face, but you'd have to see to believe, these sisters are fearless!

Self Defense - I actually combine these sessions with Muay Thai classes. The beauty with self Defense, Muay Thai and MMA is that it doesn't matter what the size of the person is attacking you, there are ways to take that person down. Certain parts of the body do not bend certain directions, it doesn't matter how strong your muscles are. This really helps to improve confidence amongst sisters. We learn how to defend against general attacks as well as gun and knife disarming. This is very important.

And the most famous: 8 week beginners course - I didn't realise how popular this would be, as it really gives a great insight into Muay thai, is an excellent work out and allows sisters to train comfortably knowing the everyone else is in the same position as them, starting from scratch."

Phenomenal. With such results Safari Kickboxing ought to request endorsement from fertility clinics. We are all cautious of homegrown dangers and aspire to defend ourselves from any attack. What other reasons do you find women choose to train?
"I run classes suitable for women of all ages and backgrounds. My youngest student is aged 3 and my oldest 65. MashaAllah you would not like to try and steal her bag!

Sisters train for many different reasons. I have ladies who wear niqab (a veil). who face weekly attacks in their area, to sisters who travel to Gaza by Flotilla and are faced with weapon attacks and want to learn how to protect themselves.

Many women simply look to losing weight and letting off some steam."

MUSLIMNESS viewers would be keen to know how your daily routine pans out. So, what would life in a week of Safari be like?
"A week in the life of me is pretty hectic, but ultra rewarding. During the week I have private clients starting at 6:30am going through until 10am when I run a morning class aimed at mothers who have just dropped the little ones off to school.

My breaks come during the day when most people are busy and classes start again from 4:30pm until 9:30pm.

On the days when my husband teaches the mens only classes I get a minute to catch up on vital things such as housework. But I also fit in some home visits for evening clients."

 Khadijah Safari,
Black Belt 3rd Dan Muay Thai (kickboxing)

And life as a kickboxing wife?
"When I do have my free time you'll either catch me spending time with my wonderful husband mashaAllah over a coffee or lunch or you'll find us both in the gym with our boxing gloves on throwing punches and kicks at each other - its the solution to a stress free relationship, we love it!

Ask me if I'd prefer to be a sit at home housewife, the answer would be a firm NO WAY!

I love being able to offer something to our sisters and community, there's so little available strictly for women only and I wish I could do more to open more locations so women can keep fit and learn self-defense. Trust me, I've been looking for something for myself and I can't find anything similar to our classes."

Many people would oppose Muslim women in self-defense classes. Is there a place for martial arts in Muslim communities?
"Before opening our centre, the first thing we did was visit a mosque to speak to an Imam about the Islamic view on martial arts. We were informed that it is haram (prohibited) to punch someone to their face and to fight for money in competitions - gambling - for entertainment purposes.

However, it is a Sunnah (prophetic tradition) for us to know how to defend ourselves, keep fit and healthy and to unite our community together. At the same time studying self-defense has given an amazing insight to non-Muslim ladies to learn about what Muslim women are all about. The word 'oppressed' gets shattered within minutes. El-hamdulillah we even had a lady who reverted to Islam and in the coming days I will be taking a young girl to an Islamic exhibition after she expressed interest in a discussion with Muslim women over incorrect Islamic presumptions. It's a great opportunity to get the chance to show people the truth without saying a word."

Historically, self-training is an intrinsic part of the Islamic lifestyle. However, Muslim women have not always been at the forefront of such training.  How do you motivate yourself to be efficiently disciplined and balance life as a working Muslim woman?
"I get such pleasure from passing on my knowledge of training to others, that I never feel like I have to forcibly discipline myself in training in this area. It's a complete joy. At the same time I learn so much from all of my students in areas of Islam every week; there are so many sisters from different backgrounds, different cultures and different languages, yet this one religion unites us all.

I reverted to Islam two years ago so I feel like I can never get enough knowledge about our religion. When we train, I make sure everyone's training hard, there's no excuse. And when the Adhan calls from prayer, the prayer mats are there ready.

I believe that to be a good Muslim you need to keep a good balance, perform your duties and do your best in all that you do.

When the classes are finished my husband is waiting so I get to honour all the wonderful duties a wife has. When it comes to a Friday it doesn't matter how much you ask me to teach you, it's a firm no. That's my day for Mosque."

What 3 pieces of advice would you give to Muslim women aspiring towards martial arts?
"1. Do your research -- Make sure that you know about the martial art you are looking to do and make sure that it's what you're looking for. So many people have launched new named martial arts, but you're best to go to an original form, and check what's involved first and whether you're able to use it in self defense.

2. Check the instructor, the location and it's teaching -- as a Muslim lady you will be looking for a female only class. Although there are many 'women's only' classes available, often you find that they are taught by men, or that men are present. You then need to check that you will be taught technique and not just put in a ring to fight (known as sparring).  So check that they will be happy with your religious needs and not push you to do anything that you may feel uncomfortable with (e.g bowing to the instructor, training with music, attacking directly to the face)

3. Have Fun! -- Learning Martial Arts is super fun. It's high impact, you burn excess calories and you get to work out all of those muscles you forgot existed. But make sure that you take a bottle of water with you and please avoid eating 2 hours before training - you want to feel light when training, not like you're ready to have a little nap after a big meal.|

The 2012 Olympics will be the first time Muslim women are competing and women’s kickboxing is entering – do you see yourself in future competitions? 
"With regards to the 2012 Olympics, it's not really feasable for Muslims to participate in a Halal (Islamically permissible) way, as the rules will state that you can't wear head protection and that you may punch to the face by a means for entertainment purposes.

Personally I love to compete and fight, but I keep in within the restrictions of a women only environment. There is however a Muslim women's sporting event which is held once every 4 years. I am keen to try to enter kickboxing into this as the category doesn't exist at the moment. It's a Worldwide event so quite a big project to undertake. We are currently looking for funding to help organise and train women for this.

I'm currently involved with school visits, giving talks, demonstrations and allowing ladies to try it out for themselves. At Safari Kickboxing we are focusing on crime prevention and weapon disarming. Schools, Youth Clubs and Universities are the main areas to target. Recently we ran a free open day to help support the Elimination of Violence against women. There is so much to be done, with so little time."

Lastly, what’s in the future for Khadijah Safari the kickboxer?
"My dream is to be able to open a large sports centre in London, ideally with a swimming pool, to offer full services to sisters with complete segregation and assurance that they are free to do just as much as every other citizen here in the UK. Of course it would have to have a boxing ring and a fight cage. This way I could arrange professional fights in the right way.

I hate to see barriers, especially when some of the most dedicated and hard working students I have are sisters. The intention is there, but the facilities are not.

But one promise is that I will keep fighting as hard as I can to make it happen for our community. I fought for my black belt 6 days a week, 4 hours a day over one year and a half, because I was determined to achieve it. It usually takes around 10 years. So my dream of opening a gym is not impossible, I just need Allah's will and some support from others and inshaAllah (God willing) we can make it happen.

Shukran, thank you Khadijah for sharing your enthralling work with us.

Images: flickr, Khadijah Safari ©

For information on Khadijah Safari's classes go to: 

t | (UK) 07880 550011

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