Afghan girls break barriers with martial arts

Sima Azimi (C), 20, a trainer at the Shaolin Wushu club, poses with her students after an exercise on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

KABUL: On a snowy mountaintop to the west of Kabul, a group of Afghan girls practice the flowing movements of Wushu, a sport developed from ancient Chinese kung fu martial arts, stretching and bending and slashing the air with bright swords.
In a country where women’s sport is severely restricted, the Shaolin Wushu club in a part of Kabul that is home to the capital’s Hazara ethnic community is a rare exception.
Sima Azimi, the 20-year-old, leading the practice session, says Wushu teaches self-defence, but just as important, “it’s really effective for body and soul”.

She learned the sport in Iran, where she won a gold and bronze medal in the competition, and she has been teaching in Kabul for about a year, encouraged by her father, with whom she trains at the club’s gym.
“I am working with Afghan girls to strengthen their abilities and I love to see Afghan girls improve the way other girls have improved in the world,” she said.

“My ambition is to see my students take part in international matches and win medals for their country.”
Martial arts of all kinds are popular in Afghanistan, but it is a notoriously hard country for women, and the girls of the Shaolin Wushu club face regular harassment and abuse in addition to the normal dangers of life in Kabul.