"I doubt there is any sport which I have not tried my hand at,” says Rameesha Shahid, the first and only female kickboxing instructor in Pakistan. “But kickboxing kind of stuck with me.”
There are around 15 to 18 girls in workout gear in her morning class. “I have around 30 female students,” she says. “The rest take my evening class.” Rameesha teaches kickboxing in two shifts at the K7 Fitness & Kickboxing Academy in Karachi.
And when she is free from her classes, you will find her cycling with ‘Critical Mass’ or maybe horseriding. Check for her on the cricket field, too. “I just can’t remain still. I have to be doing something and it has to be some sort of physical activity,” she says. Sometimes she also sneaks into the children’s gym classes at K7 to pick up tips on gymnastics. Then you’ll find her doing headstands, handstands and cartwheels!
“Everyone’s been calling me ‘tomboy’ since I was little,” Rameesha smiles. “We used to live in a joint family near Hill Park in Karachi. My cousins and I had this pastime of uphill cycling or watching World’s Most Amazing Videos on AXN and trying to reenact them ourselves,” she says.
“The older boys in the family always wanted me to bowl as they practised their batting, which helped me become good at cricket too. I was even selected for the women’s national team as a teenager when I went for trials but then when I heard that that would mean giving up my studies or wasting a year or two due to our busy schedule, I dropped the idea of playing professionally. Now I only play Ramazan Cricket with ‘KheloKricket’,” she adds.
In school, Rameesha discovered Taekwondo. “I must have been 10 then. And I earned my black belt when I was 14 in Class Eight,” she says. Rameesha’s specialty is breaking ice and bricks.
Having a solid base in martial arts, she had no problem switching to kickboxing later. “I was googling badass sports one day and kickboxing came up. I thought it should be fun. There were very few clubs or academies here offering kickboxing. But then I stumbled upon K7 Fitness & Kickboxing Academy. It is near Zamzama Park, which was also close to my home. I decided to pay it a visit,” she says.
Rameesha was really impressed by the skill of the other kickboxers there. “They were serious practitioners of the sport, I wanted to join them,” she says. But they had no other female student. Still, seeing her interest, the chief instructor, Master Jamil Chandio, who himself is an international fighter and a multiple-time national champion, took her on as a student.
“I just can’t remain still. I have to be doing something and it has to be some sort of physical activity,” she says. Sometimes she also sneaks into the children’s gym classes at K7 to pick up tips on gymnastics. Then you’ll find her doing headstands, handstands and cartwheels!
It was one year of tough practice before she graduated as a master. Now since she is there and more and more people are learning about her, there are other girls too coming to the academy to learn and train in kickboxing. “Of course they have their reservations. They ask many questions before joining as do their parents, especially their mothers, about developing muscles like men or gaining weight, breaking bones, getting scars on the face, etc.
“But we don’t throw them into the sparring ring immediately. We work on their fitness first. Sparring comes after building of confidence too. Then it also involves wearing head, chest and shin guards. Besides, only those who I think have the potential are allowed to spar,” she says.
Meanwhile, the instructor herself isn’t invincible either. “I get bruises all the time. My parents are pretty much used to them now,” she says laughing. “Sometime back I was trying a jumpkick and a new combination when I landed awkwardly on the floor and almost fractured my right ankle. I have also dislocated my wrist once,” she says. But such things don’t bother Rameesha very much. “I am always back at the academy for practice the next day whatever the injury might be,” she says.
The writer is a member of staff. She tweets @HasanShazia
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, March 11th, 2018