IN modern times, women in the Kingdom are conquering positions in different sectors and sports is not an exception. Sports is generally viewed as a male dominant field in Saudi Arabia but many women are breaking stereotypes associated with it and they are portraying their talents as fitness trainers and athletes at international level sports competitions. Though women are practicing sports in private in the Kingdom, they find social media to be extremely helpful in showcasing their daily work routine to people all over the world.
Halah Al Hamrani, a 39-year-old Saudi, is one such brave woman who ignores negative responses and challenges the conservative society by living and working as a fitness instructor at her private gym in Jeddah — the one and only female kickboxing and boxing trainer known so far in Saudi Arabia. She spoke to Saudi Gazette and shared her inspiring story. She also commented on how social media played a crucial role in her professional life.
SG: How did Flagboxing fitness come into existence? What inspired you into kickboxing?
HA: I have always been drawn to martial arts because of the focus and mental strength needed to practice the sport. My first experience with martial arts was at the age of 12 as I started taking karate lessons in school.
I was later introduced to Japanese Jiu Jitsu through an American couple living in Jeddah. Japanese Jiu Jitsu is another form of martial arts that focuses mainly on different types of throws, grappling and fighting techniques. After studying Jiu Jitsu for 4 years and teaching it to others for a full year, I was able to procure my first-degree black belt.
While attending university in the United States, I decided to continue taking martial arts classes. At this point, I was very eager to learn how to throw a proper punch while maintaining the kicks I had previously learned, so I decided to try out Muay Thai. Muay Thai is referred to as “The Art of the Eight Limbs“, as the hands, shins, elbows, and knees are all used extensively in this art. A person who practices Muay Thai has the ability to execute strikes using eight “points of contact,” as opposed to “two points” (fists) in boxing and “four points” (fists, feet) in kickboxing. I have been practicing Muay Thai for 12 years now and boxing for 7 years. I am also certified to teach Calisthenics (body weight strength training) and Crossfit.
SG: What gives you the courage to come out as a proud Saudi kickboxing trainer in a conservative society in Saudi Arabia? Or do you think the image of a Saudi woman has changed in the present scenario?
HA: I grew up around strong female role models. My mother and sisters have always supported my love for sports. Generally, sports are not considered an important part of a woman’s upbringing, and women in Saudi Arabia are not encouraged to pursue a career in sports. Times have changed, and women of all ages are more active today. They are realizing that fitness is a crucial aspect of a healthy lifestyle.
I’m always happy and proud to see women exercising in Saudi Arabia, whether it be in the private or public domain. I see the positive impact it has on nearly every facet of their lives. Their eagerness to engage in sports inspires me on a daily basis, and gives me the strength to continue my role in developing sports education for women.
That said, I also wanted to show my fellow Saudi women that a career in sports is an attainable, and perhaps even desirable, goal. With hard work and perseverance women can have the same ambitions and can attain the same goals that men strive to achieve in sports.
SG: Explain your title Flagboxing. What does it stand for?
HA: When choosing a name for my Instagram account, I wanted to make a statement that reflected my views on female empowerment. I created the name Flagboxing (Fight Like A Girl Boxing) to reinforce my belief that women are perfectly strong and capable in their own right. We should embrace our physical strength, and work towards improving technique and enhancing those strengths.
SG: What inspired you to join Instagram? How has Instagram helped you in finding success in Saudi Arabia? (15.3K followers on Instagram)
HA: Initially, Flagboxing started as an experiment. I needed a tool that would allow me to track my progress and document my journey. At the same time, I hoped that I would inspire the same in other Saudi women.
Alhamdulillah I have been blessed with many great supporters of my work. My recent appearance in the February issue of National Geographic helped me to capture a worldwide audience. The attention propelled my career by presenting my work to people who might not have been exposed otherwise. The result has been a huge increase in the number of people reaching out to me for lessons. I am also grateful to those students who have helped me by promoting my work via word of mouth and social media.
SG: What is the response you get from people for your work in Saudi Arabia?
HA: Generally speaking, the majority of my community is supportive. There will always be conservative people who don’t believe in my views, but I don’t allow other people’s opinions to sway me from my long-term goals.
SG: It’s International Women’s Day, so can you comment on women empowerment in Saudi Arabia?
HA: I believe that we are entering a new era of female empowerment in Saudi Arabia. Women are now able to vote, jobs are opening up to them in nearly every field, and they enjoy more lifestyle choices then they’ve ever had before. I only pray that women learn to take advantage of these new opportunities and expand their horizons to include previously unattainable jobs in society. Although I am advocating female involvement in sports, I would encourage women to follow their dreams in whatever field they might be interested in.
SG: What are your dreams regarding Saudi women in kickboxing and what piece of advice do you have on using social media for work?
HA: My hope is that more Saudi women join the ranks of females competing in sports around the world, and that someday, we may produce an Olympic champion. I believe that social media is a great tool for connecting with people from all backgrounds, and that it helps to break boundaries between different cultures. Don’t be afraid to start your journey on social media — you might receive negative comments, but its important not to take it personally. Look at the bigger picture.