Posted on February 23, 2017 by Society Nine
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Farinaz Lari (@farinazlari) is a BCRPA Personal Trainer, International kickboxing coach, Muay Thai coach, World Kickboxing Champion (WAKO) Athlete Committee member of the International Federation of Muay Thai (IFMA) and a Professional fighter with 20 fights (15-4-1). She's co-owner and one of the head coaches of District Warrior in Vancouver BC.
This is her story.
I started kickboxing at the age of 18 because my family didn't allow training in martial arts for women, so I had to wait until I was old enough to make the decision to. They said kickboxing is below our family values and martial arts is not for women.
When I went to university, I started working at a clothing store and with my first paycheck I immediately signed up for an all ladies kickboxing class. After a few months of training I realized that this is the sport I want to compete in. My friends told me in order to win, I would have to have a male trainer! I asked around and found a man named Ali Khanjari, who was the best trainer in Iran. When I called, he immediately said he doesn't teach women because they are not serious enough about training!
Finally, after a lot of begging, he agreed and after training with him for some time, I won my first national championships! Shortly after that, I won a few more until I finally got into the national team.
For the first international event, I was sent to Vietnam for the Asian Indoor Games, with the national team of Iran. Iran is an Islamic Republic, and the Hijab is mandatory for all women, even when you get in the ring! So naturally, all of my training was with a hijab.
The night before the fight, I was notified that the President of Iran didn't like the idea of women competing in kickboxing, so after all of that hard work, they said no! I went to his hotel with some officials and begged him to reconsider!
He agreed, but only if I added 5 centimeters to the length of my shorts. They said, "Even with the shorts lengthened, you either win gold or you will never get a chance to compete internationally!" I won silver, and that was devastating. I apologized to the public on national news right after the fight.
After that event, I was sent to a couple of other international events, every time with a fear of women not being permitted to fight. Every time they would send a team, there were 1/3 of the number of female competitors compared to men, with a good chance of women being eliminated all together.
On September 2013, I became the first Iranian (man or woman) ever to win the World Kickboxing Championships in Brazil. The Iranian officials were horrified, and they barely congratulated me.
I was living in Canada at the time (I still am), and the National Kickboxing Federation of Canada invited me onto their team. However, Iranian officials said I needed to be on probation for TWO years before I could switch teams (which later, I found out was a lie to stop me from competing for Canada!)
Fast forward; now I have been living in Canada for 6 years, and I'm a full time trainer working 9 to 11 hours a day, at a studio owned by me and my coach/ husband. I'm now fighting professionally and recently became the Canadian Flyweight Champion and on April 1st, I fight in Seattle for another world kickboxing title.
I come from a place that women have almost no rights. The thought of a woman competing in combat sports is highly frowned upon, and women teaching combat sports is not taken seriously. Even when I moved to Canada, before opening my own studio, I started training at a gym that didn't even allow women in their "fighter training classes"! The coach once had me in his office and told me: women don't belong here...they need to be in their own corner, doing their little things to get fit!
I responded, "But I want to fight!"
And he said, "What if you get punched and get ugly? What would you do then?"
I know my story is not unique. I know women have struggled a long time to simply have a fair opportunity to train and have had to fight to get equal opportunity to set whatever goals they want to, just as men have the right to do. This reality makes me want to fight even more...to show not just women, but to show everyone that if you put your heart into something, no matter how out of reach it seems, you can achieve it.
Posted on December 05, 2016 by Society Nine
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Susan is a mother of two, badass engineer and when she isn't taking life head on she is battling Parkinson's Disease. Diagnosed when her daughters were young, Susan set out to show them that no challenge was too great and to set an example of strength and fight. Along her journey, she was directed to the Rock Steady Program where she found a community of support and her love of boxing.
I have always used the words of others who said I could/should not reach for a goal because of my gender as motivation to reach that goal. I have taken the path I wanted to take, not the path others told me I should take. Sometimes that path was the conventional one and other times it was not.
Growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis in the 60s and 70s, I never understood why I could not attempt anything I wanted to simply because I was a girl. When I was a little girl my grandfather nicknamed me Susan B Anthony because I wanted to be the first female cadet at the air force academy. Unfortunately I was born about 6 years too late. Someone else beat me to it.
The idea that anything except an individual’s abilities dictates which paths are open and which are closed to that individual has always rubbed me the wrong way. I believe every individual is unique and deserves to pursue his/her dreams as long as they stay within societal ethics and morality. I am an individualist and this belief still drives me to this day.
In college I earned degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and turned those into a career as a control systems engineer. I started my career at a small consulting firm in Tallahassee. My boss was a terrific mentor and I learned a lot from him. However, when I went to site, I was the only female working in the production area and the head of maintenance felt I needed a babysitter and proceeded to assign an engineer to stay with me. The reasoning, I was a woman.
Outside of work I did not fit in very well either, there were very few people I could relate to because of my field. The breaking point came when I was at a barbeque and I was talking to an older couple. They asked me what I did. When I responded that I was an electrical engineer, both the man and woman looked at me as though I had grown another head. Then in a thick southern accent the man said “You must be smart.” And the woman said, “You are a role model for young girls everywhere.”
I did not want to be known just for being smart and I sure as heck did not want to be a role model. The last thing I needed was to be put on a pedestal. I simply wanted to be the best engineer I could be and I wanted to connect with other people like me. I wanted to have friends that were young and single. I also wanted a job that offered me more opportunities. It was time to move on.
Eventually I found a job working at a rubber compounding plant in South Carolina for a major tire manufacturer. One of the possibilities that had attracted me was the potential opportunity to work overseas for a period of time. A year and a half later I was asked to go to France as a trainee for six months to be help with the design of a new production line to be added here in the United States.
While I was in France testing the controls at the vendors facility, I saw safety flaws in the design that would pose a serious danger to anyone working on the line. I spent HOURS attempting to explain my stance to co-workers. At first none of them understood what my objections were but I was able to get them to agree that maybe, just maybe, I had a point. But they were not going to change the design. In the end, I refused to accept the design and my boss in France overrode my objections allowing the design to be accepted. I lost the battle in France, but won the war in the United States when the plant maintenance department agreed with me and insisted that the vendor's design be changed.
In France, I may have struggled to have my views understood but I met the man whom I would marry. He was the only American working for the vendor on the same project. Two years after we returned to the States we married and he moved from New Jersey To South Carolina to be with me. And after our first daughter was born we moved to Pittsburgh and I stayed home and became the traditional Mom. We had another daughter and I continued my Mom role, working intermittently as a contractor. For the most part we were the conventional suburban family.
In 2004 my world changed dramatically when a persistent tremor in my right hand was diagnosed as probable early onset Parkinson’s Disease (aka PD). Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive neurological disorder that causes tremors and other motion control issues for the patient. My oldest daughter was just starting fourth grade and my youngest daughter was just starting first grade. I quickly decided that I would do anything in my power to keep myself active and keep the disease at bay. I did not want my daughters’ memories of me to be those of a person defined by a disease. I wanted them to remember me as me. I also wanted my daughters to see that difficulties can be overcome and you cannot let anything stop you.
I have watched my daughters grow up from little girls to big girls to teenage girls to amazing young women. I cannot begin to say how proud I am of them. During this time my diagnosis has been confirmed as early onset Parkinson’s. I am a lucky one as it is still a very mild form. Parkinson’s disease predisposes a person to depression and that has been a challenge for me. To help overcome, my neurologist suggested I visit a counselor and also try a program called Rock Steady. That was a turning point for me.
Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding, Ding goes the bell and then the instructor yells into the mike,
“ARE YOU READY?”
“ARE YOU READY?”
“ARE YOU READY TO ROCK STEADY?”
Everyone in the class moves to a heavy bag and round 1 begins.
Rock Steady is a boxing class for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The Rock Steady program is specifically designed to improve the quality of life for people with PD by mitigating the symptoms using boxing. Boxing helps PD patients in two ways. Firstly, the whole body coordination required for boxing helps combat the loss of movement control prevalent in PD patients. Secondly, intense exercise has been found to help the brain use dopamine more efficiently and PD patients do not produce enough dopamine, so using the dopamine more efficiently results in an improvement in symptoms.
I began The Rock Steady program at Fit4Boxing in Pittsburgh and I can speak to how it does much more than just help with the physical symptoms I am fighting to overcome. Every Thursday before the class starts there is a discussion and anyone who has read about or heard about anything that might help others is free to bring it up for discussion. Several members of the group have a medical background and are able to explain why certain protocols are used. The staff has worked hard to cultivate a family like atmosphere in which every person is valued. All the participants in the program support each other.
I have found that boxing has helped alleviate my physical symptoms while the support and camaraderie of my fellow patients and the staff at Fit4Boxing has improved my mental state. It’s pretty incredible that the sport that has been blamed for multiple cases of PD, including Muhammad Ali’s, has also been found to be one of the best activities for helping people cope with the disease. I doubt that I will ever actually participate in a true boxing match. But by practicing as though I will, I hope to prevent or slow further progression of the disease. My end goal is TO KICK PARKINSON’S ASS.
Posted on July 25, 2016 by Society Nine
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Emilee is a single mom that strives to set an example of strength for her daughter by pursuing her passion for BJJ, Muay Thai and MMA. Her journey began with BJJ but as her love for combat sports has grown so has her arsenal as she set her sights on entering the cage someday in the near future. She believes that any woman can achieve what she sets her mind to and that failure is only an opportunity to dust yourself off and try again.
Being a girl with a big brother and no other girls in my neighborhood, I grew up playing football in the front yard and jumping my bike off of dirt ramps we spent weeks building. Even though I was allowed to play with the boys, I was always told I couldn't do what they could. I wasn't fast enough or strong enough. But, of course, being who I am I had to prove them wrong. I played other sports like volleyball and track, but it wasn't until I found wrestling that I felt alive, free, like I was born for this. Again, people looked at me like I was crazy. They kept telling me I was too pretty to fight, to compete, etc. which made me want to do it even more.
I was 19 when I had my sweet baby girl. By the grace of God I had my families support to get me through the tough times. Being a single mom, trying to balance not only being a good mother but a father as well, is harder than anyone can imagine. I commend and applaud those women who do it. I decided early on that I wanted to teach my beautiful girl how to be strong and independent, but also compassionate and sweet. To demonstrate and instill in her that she can accomplish whatever she sets her mind to, and if you fail you get back up because you learn from your failures. Trying to live by example, I fail at times and have to try to do better the next go round. It's hard to balance kids, work, your dreams and aspirations but I work to do it every day.
I found Brazilian jiu jitsu many years later and fell in love all over again. After watching a few MMA fights I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to fight. I wanted to push myself where I didn't think I could, and to show others how great I am; that I'm more than meets the eye. Fighting/ grappling gives me the power to not just get through my struggles in the cage but outside of it as well.
I come from a family where the women are strong and independent, and those are the women I have strive to emulate. After I lost my aunt to stage four pancreatic cancer, it put so many things in prospective for me. That I needed to be free and open about my feelings, because you never know how long you really have with someone. Having a absent father, I had a hard time finding myself and my self-worth. In my life I have struggled with depression and anxiety. In those struggles I had to fight for my life; everyday was a battle with myself to keep going. To keep pushing forward. Fear of failure was always hanging over my head. It has been a fight with myself to figure out where I belonged, if people really wanted me for me. Trying to show people that I was great and always coming up short and not realizing I need to be happy with myself first.
When I started Jiu Jitsu, I wanted desperately to prove myself worthy and every time I failed, I fell apart. Once I realized I needed to calm myself and learn from my mistakes I started to evolve. I became more confident in myself and in my training. I started to do better in the competitions I entered, coming out on top by placing first in each division. Now that my aspirations have expanded to MMA I have learned to calm my mind, breathe, and do the best I can. I have learned that I can succeed and learn from each experience I encounter. That I can get knocked down over and over again, but I can always choose to get back up, learn from my mistakes, and come back fighting harder. I have learned that I need to get out of my head, since over-thinking in the moment can cause me to hesitate. I'm still a work in progress but I am happy I have emerged from the darkness. There are many people I can thank for guiding me there.
I recently had my first Muay Thai hard sparring event. I admit I was nervous. My anxiety was creeping up, but I managed to keep myself calm. My opponent was bigger and a bit more experienced than me which I didn't know until afterward. I was surprised to be awarded a Mongkol, which are only given by Khru when they see someone who shows good technique, toughness, and a lot of dedication to the art of Muay Thai. I am proud of myself because I didn't break down and I did my best.
I fight to defeat myself, the person I couldn't defeat the day before. I push and push until I can't push anymore and then I move onto the next day and do it again. I am proud to be a fighter. And I'm so excited to see where my journey will take me.
Posted on April 12, 2016 by Society Nine
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Nellie is an independent author out of Madera, California. She lives on a small ranch with her husband and daughter. Nellie is passionate about spreading awareness concerning multiple sclerosis. She understands first hand many of the struggles and frustrations concerning the stigma and preconceptions people face with this disease. Ten percent of all profits from the Lindy Johnson Series go to National Multiple Sclerosis Society. You can follow Nellie’s blog about writing and her life with MS at http://nellieknevesauthor.blogspot.com/or you can follow her on Instagram: @nellieknevesauthor
Idon’t look like a fighter; I never have. I’m just another mom late to pick up her first-grader because I was stuck in traffic, or because I couldn’t find the pink-eyed Beanie Boo I promised her for hitting her super reader goal. My hair is usually frazzled. My jeans are typically splotched with dirt from work on the ranch. I don’t wear accessories like the other moms. I don’t do scarves or cute sandals that glint in the sun. I’m here. Some days that’s all I have. But you can’t see that.
Almost four years ago, I woke up and my left arm felt as though I had slept on it wrong and it had fallen asleep. I waited for it to wake up all day long⎯nothing. I had full control over my arm; I still took my daughter to the park. I still cleaned the bathroom, washed the dishes, cooked a quick dinner, and headed for work as a fitness instructor.
Half way through class, I felt the numb sensation start to spread. I could feel its reach slowly inch over my skin, as though it was sludge or it had laced inside my veins. It was as if the left side of my face had disappeared. I looked at my class to see if there was some sense of shock or horror. Honestly, I thought I was having a stroke, and if my face had fallen they might have screamed. Nothing⎯just kept on side-lunging and working up that sweat. They didn’t stop, so I didn’t either.
By the time I returned home, I was scared. It was as if a line had been drawn down the center of my body and the entire left side was without feeling. That was the start of testing: MRI’s, sensitivity, walk the line like a sobriety check—all of it. Ideas were tossed around: aneurism, stroke, diabetes. But, finally, my neurologist landed on the answer: Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis.
One of the formats I was teaching as a fitness instructor at the time had a mixed martial arts component to it. I had always loved it; being able to visualize my opponent was a strength of mine and with a new pit of anger to draw on, my body responded with vigor. Still, I had to claw my way through every jab, every upper cut, and every squat and push up. I was determined not to let anyone see that I had changed. I hid the monster away and locked him in a cage so that no one could see his destruction, but that doesn’t mean he stopped destroying; it just meant that I faced it alone.
I still have weak days, times when my body does not respond when I ask, but I refuse to be a victim anymore. These years spent alone without anyone knowing what I was fighting against have been pointless. What good is a victory if I cannot share it? What can I learn from a defeat if it won’t benefit others? No. I will reach out and lift those that need me.
I have hard days. Days when my legs buckle and I stumble, but I will not give in to the monster. Those are the days that I fight back. It felt impossible to fight something like MS. There is no face, there are no fists to avoid, but my rage is real, my frustration and anger and helplessness are real.
I use kickboxing as a therapy to help me. Beyond the normal capacity of exercise, kickboxing helps me to find my inner strength. As I wrap my hands and prepare for battle, I can feel the monster quiver inside of me because he knows I’m still stronger than he is. He knows I refuse to sink. When my fists connect and I feel it, I know I’m in control. The pain, the excitement, the exhilaration that my completely numb leg just made an eighty-pound bag swing is therapeutic. Even in my weakness, I am still strong. Every kick I land, every punch I throw is a testament to this disease⎯I will not surrender. I may find myself on the ropes at times, it might feel like there is no way out, and I let those hits keep coming. But I know it is only a matter of time before I rally and fight back. I am stronger and I will not concede to this disease. I am not a victim. I am a warrior. A victim is attacked, but they do not fight back. A warrior is attacked, but they always retaliate. Every minute I spend fighting my monster is another brick in the walls that guard me from his rampage. I will not give in; I will not break down. I will fight until my last breath.
I believe that every woman is a fighter in her own right.
As an author, this is the reason that I write about strong women, women who won’t give up and won’t give in. Just like the warrior inside all of us, they have flaws, but their power runs deep. As I started my latest project, The Lindy Johnson Series, I faced a decision: I had an opportunity to give the main character the same monster I faced every day, but it meant sharing the secret parts of me in order to do it. Writing about a character with multiple sclerosis who still lives a normal life is another way I fight back. I won’t let the monster silence me in shame. As I wrote, spoke to others, and researched the emotional aspects of this disease, I felt empowered by the knowledge that I was not alone and excited that I could share that with my fellow warriors. As the reviews have come back since the release of Caskets & Conspiracies, I have been happy to hear how many say they had no idea what MS was about, but they now have a glimpse into the world of a sister, a mother, or a friend. Knowledge is power. Understanding is freedom.
The more vocal I have become about my fight, the more I have come to meet others who cower in the shadows. MS is not the only monster that lurks without a face. Depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, heartache, addiction— the list goes on and on. All warriors that are also fighting for their lives in a body that doesn’t necessarily look sick. While I know what I do is not for everyone, I know it works for me.
I don’t look like a fighter. I may never step into the ring or deliver a knockout punch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fight every day of my life. I’ve never fit in with other women⎯too loud for the quiet ones, too introspective for the outgoing ones. But among fighters, I feel the courage and the power surge within me. I am part of a society of strength⎯a legacy of hope and survival. I may just look like another mom on the block, but if you happen to pass by my garage late at night, you just might hear me fighting my monsters because I am a warrior.
Posted on November 30, 2015 by Society Nine
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EmilyCorso is a former professional MMA fighter turned self-defense coach and personal trainer. Though she trains both men and women, she particularly enjoys working with women and girls to increase strength, confidence, and functional fitness.
Posted on November 23, 2015 by Society Nine
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Maria Khwaja is currently an English teacher and is training to hopefully fight as an amateur kickboxer in 2016.
She is also the founder of Elun (www.teachelun.org), a nonprofit dedicated to providing free teacher education to schools in the developing world. Elun has completed several projects in Rwanda, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Tanzania. Maria is also a freelance writer for the Fair Observer, focusing on issues related to educational development and Muslim women.
Posted on November 04, 2015 by Society Nine
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This is the twenty-fifth profile in our Society Nine Storytellers series where badass female fighters across all sports, media and culture in our community share their definitions of femininity, strength and empowerment and discuss what they fight for.