E M A N ALMUDHAF

July 2018

You are the first female Muslim fighter to fight in UKMMA. Please tell us about your journey so far. How did you begin and what made you continue?

 

I started my journey in martial arts when I was in high school doing full contact Kyokushin karate. I had a few years of competitions and then moved on to Muay Thai for around 5 years and had a couple of fights. This year I started training at London fight factory and with the help of coach Silviu I trained MMA for couple of months and had my first amateur fight last weekend.

 

What made me continue is the love of the sport and the continuous challenges it brings on a daily basis.

Why MMA?

To be honest it wasn’t really planned. I have always wanted to get more fights in Muay Thai or K1 but I was struggling to get them, and then got injured and stopped for a while. Afterwards I started going to boxing classes at London Fight Factory and loved the training. I  was supposed to have a boxing fight but the opponent pulled out. The gym has sambo classes for MMA every Friday and one day I joined in and loved it, so I started training some wrestling and nogi BJJ as well.

What challenges have you faced so far and how did you overcome them?

I faced many challenges back home as a female fighter in a male dominated sport, but as my mother always says, ‘good things do not come without hardship’. I think she’s right, if it was easy, I don’t think I would have fought this hard to get it. In the UK it is more accepted for women to fight, and they are fighting for titles on big shows alongside men. I think probably the only main challenge at first was getting the approval to fight in MMA with the hijab. I completely understand that it takes some procedures and approval as it is something entirely new for the MMA community here in the UK, but to be honest I very much appreciated the way they handled the whole thing. They were very understanding and cooperative, and I am so grateful for the promotion “Fighting Star Championship” for enabling me to take part in such a great event.

Have you always felt accepted? Has your journey always been supported? Could you tell us about it?

 

I started back home in Kuwait where women training and competing in martial arts is not a very accepted idea in society, at least it wasn’t when I first started. I am lucky to have supportive parents but it was extremely hard at the beginning to find good gyms that would accept training girls. I used to go to different gyms and get turned down, until I met my coach in Kuwait, Coach Medi al-Sultan, the owner of the best muay thai club in Kuwait. He took me in as the first girl in the gym, even though back then he might have gotten in trouble for it, he trained me and treated me no differently than any other guy at the gym and will forever be grateful to him.

 

However, now things have changed and continue to change which makes me extremely happy and proud. In Kuwait not only in our gym but across the country more girls are getting involved and competing in different martial arts and it is getting more and more acceptance in society which showed in the huge support I get from people back home lately that I am very grateful for.

Have you always felt accepted? Has your journey always been supported? Could you tell us about it?

 

I started back home in Kuwait where women training and competing in martial arts is not a very accepted idea in society, at least it wasn’t when I first started. I am lucky to have supportive parents but it was extremely hard at the beginning to find good gyms that would accept training girls. I used to go to different gyms and get turned down, until I met my coach in Kuwait, Coach Medi al-Sultan, the owner of the best muay thai club in Kuwait. He took me in as the first girl in the gym, even though back then he might have gotten in trouble for it, he trained me and treated me no differently than any other guy at the gym and will forever be grateful to him.

 

However, now things have changed and continue to change which makes me extremely happy and proud. In Kuwait not only in our gym but across the country more girls are getting involved and competing in different martial arts and it is getting more and more acceptance in society which showed in the huge support I get from people back home lately that I am very grateful for.

What does your training look like on a normal day?

 

I usually do two trainings per day, usually one in the morning or afternoon and could be anything from boxing, pads or cardio and an evening session either boxing or Nogi, which I have recently tried to focus on as I am a beginner in BJJ.

Do you train with men? How easy is it to find women to train with?

 

I have always trained with men. I think it is good to train with men so that you get pushed harder in training and makes it easier to go against women when it comes to the fight. But I also think it’s very important to train with women every now and then, especially for sparring before a fight, because men will always over power us. So in training with women you get to know where you really stand. Also women get really competitive with each other and I think that could be a good thing to help both partners grow.

You are an incredible woman. In a world where we are judged all the time for what we look like and what we wear, do you have any experiences you would like to share about stepping into the octagon as a woman in a hijab? How did you feel? What was the audiences reaction?

 

The hijab is only a representation of the culture and beliefs that I come from. I do not think we should be judged on the way we look in whatever we do, our hard work and performance should be what others look at. I am used to doing everything in my hijab and I don’t think I was thinking about it, I was more focused on how to win (haha) as I am used to fighting and competing in it. And for us back home it is very common. Women in different sports compete in the hijab, we have women in triathlons, water sports, horse riding etc.., but here I understand that is something new. To be honest, I was very surprised about the acceptance of it here in the UK. Everyone was very supportive before the fight in sending me messages on social media, even if they did not know me. Also at the fight people were interested to see how I made it work and asked questions which I was happy to answer. Everyone was wishing me good luck and congratulating me afterwards, they were excited that it was the first female fight in the promotion and I happened to be the first girl they saw fighting in a hijab.

Who do you look to for inspiration?

 

There is no particular person I look to for inspiration, I just admire every person in their own field that works really hard and is dedicated. But I do have a few MMA fighters I like to watch like Jose Aldo, Cris Cyborg, Jon Jones and Joana.

What is your message to all Muslim and non-Muslim women that may hesitate/be afraid to try something similar?

 

 

I think they should not judge the sport before they give it a try. I think in a time where women are judged by their physical appearances with the constant pressure for perfection, martial arts could give women a sense of accomplishment and confidence.

Ramadan and training. Is it doable? Have you ever tried it? Please tell us about your experiences and any advice you would like to share?

 

Are there any risks or things to be aware of that women in a similar position should know?

 

We have always continued training in Ramadan back home, however, I have noticed this year that there are longer hours in the UK than in Kuwait. But as a general rule what we used to do in Ramadan is keep the training short and not very hard around an hour before we break the fast, so the body does not get very tired and dehydrated. And the second harder and longer session would be later at night after we have had a meal and the we would have another meal after training to help us fast the next day. I guess the most important thing is to stay hydrated during the non-fasting hours as much as possible and make sure to get all the nutrients that your body needs during that time to make up for the hours you are fasting.

Are there any common misconceptions that you feel people have about Muslim women in combat sports?

 

There are some misconceptions and I do not blame them as it is something new for them. The most common questions I get are about my Hijab, such as ‘can you fight with it?’ and ‘does it affect your performance or breathing?’. It absolutely does not because it actually holds the hair away from your face in training, and I am used to it especially in the hot summer days we get back home. Another question or misconception I get is ‘can you train with men?’. Islam is just like any other religion where there are different levels of how religious you are. I do not say that you should or shouldn’t, but for me personally, I do not mind training with men as I always have from the beginning.

“There are not many muslim women in the combat sports scene”, do you think this is true? And if so, why is it so, and do you see it changing?

 

I think there are Muslim women in the fighting scene especially in kickboxing. They might not choose to wear the hijab, but they are Muslims. I guess that is why people do not assume that they are Muslims, but I think there is a good number of them and they are constantly growing.

What are some tips to make the best of our training?

 

I’m not sure I am the expert in this, but personally I try to give each session a 100% to enable me to grow and get better every day.

 

What does it take to be a champion?

 

I believe it takes hard work, a lot of hard work and discipline, as well as listening to the coaches you trust that can take you to the top.

What are your future plans?

 

My plan is to keep fighting and continue to grow as much as I can and for as long as my body can take me and build up a good record of fights.