Sport

Meet Tajamul Islam, 8, the Extraordinary Kickboxing Champion From Kashmir

The eight-year-old girl is all set to become the first Kashmiri to represent India at the World Kickboxing Championship.

Gugu, the kickboxing sensation from Kashmir. Credit: PTI

Gugu, the kickboxing sensation from Kashmir. Credit: PTI

Srinagar: There is this old, wise saying that looks can be deceptive. That definitely holds true for the exceptional eight-year-old female kickboxer, Tajamul Islam, from Tarkpora, a remote village in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.

When you think of an eight-year-old, you usually think of toys and parks and fanciful dreams. These dreams don’t always just fade with age, as Tajamul’s journey shows.

Passionate and fond of her art, the young girl is setting an inspiring example and letting nothing slow her down, ever since starting this chapter in her life at the age of five. She practices 30 hours a week.

Quick on her feet, Tajamul Islam (middle) practicing at the sports stadium in Bandipora. Credit: Special arrangement

Quick on her feet, Tajamul Islam (middle) practicing at the sports stadium in Bandipora. Credit: Special arrangement

Tajamul has beaten great odds by excelling at kickboxing, a sport largely associated with boys and men both in the Kashmir Valley and across the globe.

It’s rightly said that boxing is not a sport for the faint hearted. Tajamul worked towards her goal with complete dedication, despite living in a village and facing numerous hurdles, fighting all obstacles that came her way.

The journey to success is not easy, but Tajamul made it a daily routine. In the ring, she dances to the centre of the ring against her opponents, with no regard for their shapes and sizes. The speed of her punching, kicking and foot-sweeping is incredible, but Tajamul, who wants to become the doctor, feels that there is no kickboxing future in the Valley.

Tajamul Islam. Credit: Riyaz-Ur-Rehman

Tajamul Islam. Credit: Riyaz-Ur-Rehman

The daughter of a driver, she is all set to become the first ever Kashmiri to represent India in the World Kickboxing Championship event in Andria, Italy, in November this year. She is confident of bringing gold back from Europe.

“I am going to take our village to new heights and I’m confident I’ll win the gold for my country and make everyone proud back home. After all, I am a champion in the making,” said Tajamul.

Tajamul Islam. Credit: The Cherry Tree

Tajamul Islam. Credit: The Cherry Tree

The down-to-earth kickboxer is an inspiration to all girls who know her.

Lean and spry, Tajamul’s favourite movie is Spiderman. She has been captivated with martial arts since she first watched martial arts movies when she was four-and-a-half.

At her age, it’s too hard to wake up early in the morning sometimes. But she feels to reach such goals it is rewarding to “sacrifice the sleep”.

“You have to pace yourself after listening to your body. And it’s the training itself that taught me a whole lot about perseverance,” she said.

Tajamul Islam. Credit: Special arrangement

Tajamul Islam. Credit: Special arrangement

Tajamul wraps her hands and slips on her tiny kickboxing gloves. She kicks, sends down flurry of punches and pummels the air with great reflexes, and flashes a smile while pausing for a swig of water during her daily practicing routine.

The soft-spoken girl is still ‘Gugu’ for her family, friends and teachers back in the school. While other of her age stop to catch their breath, Tajamul bounces through a jab combination, staying light on her feet, rock solid, and keeps going with her sky-high kicks.

“Sir [her coach] motivates us. He just keeps on going, even when I feel tired. It’s the hard work in the end that does pay off,” she said.

Her hands may be small, but they’re definitely strong enough to hold the trophies and mementos she gets after defeating her opponents.

Tajamul achieved national recognition when she defeated her 13-year-old opponent in just 15 minutes and bagged the gold medal in the sub-junior category at the 2015 National Kickboxing Championship, held at Talkatora stadium in New Delhi.

Tajamul Islam. Credit: Special arrangement

Tajamul Islam (L) in the middle of a fight at the Jammu and Kashmir Wushu Championship. Credit: Special arrangement

After the power and artistry of kickboxing captured her imagination, she became the youngest gold medalist in the state-level Wushu Championships and found herself far ahead of the pack at the national Wushu Championships held in Haridwar from 27 to 31 March, 2016. She defeated opponents who were taller and had stronger physiques from across the country – New Delhi, Haryana, Telengana, Maharashtra, Manipur and Bihar.

In 2015, she became the first girl from Kashmir in her age group to win a gold medal at the national kickboxing championship in New Delhi.

In 2014, at the age of five, Tajamul joined Faisal Ali Dar’s Martial Arts Academy in Bandipora. There on, she trained everyday for at least two hours, including training in taekwondo.

Tajamul was awarded the best fighter of the year in the 10th Jammu and Kashmir state Wushu Championships held in Jammu.

Islam may not fully understand what fame and recognition mean yet, but she is hopeful that she will be earning laurels for the Valley in next couple of years. “Kickboxing helped me feel strong and empowered too. I am obsessed but in a good way,” she concluded.

And the best thing about Tajamul? She inspired me to realise that one can never, ever say never again. Perhaps you might feel the same.

Tahir Ibn Manzoor is a freelance sports journalist from Kashmir.  He tweets @TahirIbnManzoor

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