Natalie CastañedaComment

Afghan women practice ancient Shaolin martial arts

Natalie CastañedaComment
Afghan women practice ancient Shaolin martial arts

While Afghanistan's Buddhists were carving the giant sandstone statues in Bamiyan in 500 A.D., Buddhists in China were creating martial arts in the Shaolin temple in Henan Province.

Fifteen hundred years later, 10 ethnic Hazara women and girls practice the martial arts of Shaolin on a hilltop in the west of Kabul. They are preparing for the day that Afghanistan can send its women's team to the Shaolin world championship in China.


Shaolin martial arts students practice on a hilltop in the snow, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. The ten ethnic Hazara women are preparing for the day that Afghanistan can send its women’s team to the Shaolin world championship in China. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

 


Sima Azimi, 20, who is originally from Jaghuri, in central Afghanistan, trains nine students in the martial arts to prepare for Olympic competition, but also to protect themselves on the streets of Kabul, where women are routinely harassed. Azimi remembered an incident in which a thief tried to snatch her purse, but with her martial arts skills she fought back and saved it.

While Afghanistan's Buddhists were carving the giant sandstone statues in Bamiyan in 500 A.D., Buddhists in China were creating martial arts in the Shaolin temple in Henan Province.

Fifteen hundred years later, 10 ethnic Hazara women and girls practice the martial arts of Shaolin on a hilltop in the west of Kabul. They are preparing for the day that Afghanistan can send its women's team to the Shaolin world championship in China.


In this reflection Shaolin martial arts students train at their club in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. When they aren’t training on the snow covered hills that surround Kabul, the students train in a grungy, dark club financed by a young cinema actor. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)


Sima Azimi, 20, who is originally from Jaghuri, in central Afghanistan, trains nine students in the martial arts to prepare for Olympic competition, but also to protect themselves on the streets of Kabul, where women are routinely harassed. Azimi remembered an incident in which a thief tried to snatch her purse, but with her martial arts skills she fought back and saved it.

Raihana Amiri, also 20, hopes to participate in international Shaolin competitions and bring honor and pride to Afghanistan, which is battered by decades of war.

When they aren't training on the snow-covered hills that surround Kabul, Azimi trains her students in a grungy, dark club financed by a young cinema actor. Azimi said it was difficult to find all the tools needed to train. For instance, she had to order a Shaolin sword from Iran, where she had studied the art for three years. They could not find Shaolin uniforms, but, undeterred, they designed and ordered uniforms made by a Kabul tailor.

While studying in Iran, Azimi competed in two competitions where she won gold and bronze medals. A year after returning to Afghanistan, she decided to train young girls who lived in the Hazara-dominated neighborhoods of the capital. Most of her students are teenagers, while a few of the older students study in universities. Azimi charges between $2 and $5 a month depending on what they can afford.

"Some of my students' families had problems accepting their girls studying Wushu (martial arts)," she said. "But I went to their home and talked to their parents."


A Shaolin martial arts student talks on her phone, during a pause in a training session at their club in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. When they aren’t training on the snow covered hills that surround Kabul, the students train in a grungy, dark club financed by a young cinema actor. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)


In religiously conservative Afghanistan, girls are often discouraged from aggressive sports. Many parents fear a sporting accident could result in a girl breaking her hymen before marriage, which is considered deeply shameful.

While strides have been made for women in Afghanistan, Azimi said there's still much to change. She firmly believes that girls and women can stand toe-to-toe with boys in Shaolin martial arts. In an Olympic Committee competition in Kabul, Azimi took first position among female Shaolin participants.


Shaolin martial arts students practice on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. Teacher Sima Azimi, 20, not pictured, who is originally from Jaghuri in central Afghanistan, trains nine students in the martial arts to prepare for Olympic competitions, but also to protect themselves on the streets of Kabul, where women are routinely harassed. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

 

A Shaolin martial arts student practices the splits on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. In religiously conservative Afghanistan, girls are often discouraged from aggressive sports. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

Shaolin martial arts students practice at their club in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. When they aren’t training on the snow covered hills that surround Kabul, Azimi, teacher wearing black, trains her students in a grungy, dark club financed by a young cinema actor. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

 

Shaolin martial arts students and their trainer have a snowball fight after their training session in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. The ten ethnic Hazara women and girls practice the martial arts of Shaolin on a hilltop in the west of Kabul. They are preparing for the day that Afghanistan can send its women’s team to the Shaolin world championship in China. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

Shaolin martial arts trainer, Sima Azimi, 20, performs on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. Azimi said it was difficult to find all the tools needed to train. For instance, she had to order her Shaolin sword from Iran, where she had studied the art for three years. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

 

Shaolin martial arts students follow their trainer, Sima Azimi, 20, in black, during a training session on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. Sima Azimi, 20, who is originally from Jaghuri in central Afghanistan, trains nine students in the martial arts to prepare for Olympic competitions, but also to protect themselves on the streets of Kabul, where women are routinely harassed. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

 

A Shaolin martial arts student prepares to practice at her club in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. At first the women could not find Shaolin uniforms, but, undeterred, they designed and ordered uniforms made by a Kabul tailor. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

 

Shaolin martial arts students practice at their club in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. When they aren’t training on the snow covered hills that surround Kabul, the students train in the grungy, dark club financed by a young cinema actor. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

 

A Shaolin martial arts student practices on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. The students are preparing for the day that Afghanistan can send its women’s team to the Shaolin world championship in China. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

 

A Shaolin Wushu martial arts student practices on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017, preparing for the day that Afghanistan can send its women’s team to the Shaolin world championship in China.(AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)

 

Shaolin martial arts students train at their club in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2017. Most of the students are teenagers, while a few of the older students study in universities. The head trainer, Azimi charges between $2 and $5 a month depending on what they can afford. (AP Photos/Massoud Hossaini)


Text from the AP news story, Afghan women practice ancient Shaolin martial arts, by Massoud Hossaini.

Photos by Massoud Hossaini

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