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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.
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.