*TW domestic violence*
“Last night, I went to sleep afraid. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I knew that something wasn’t right. Maybe it was because
I hadn’t put enough salt in the daal, or sugar in his tea? I don’t know what I did, but the way he looked at me told me I had erred.
My thoughts continued to race, searching for the cause of his admonishing gaze, until finally my eyes closed and I drifted off to sleep.
I had finally reached the only place where I feel safe and at peace – but that was short-lived. I was startled awake by an overwhelming sense of fear. I looked around trying to make sense of my surroundings – rubbing my eyes, pinching myself to make sure I was awake, reaching to the other side of the bed to make sure he was still there.
My eyes darted from one corner of the room to the other searching for where he could have gone. I continued looking until I felt his warm breath on my neck. I turned my head to the right and there amidst the darkness were his eyes. I felt his gaze piercing through me, I saw him lift his arm above his head and then I blacked out.”
Sometimes I wish stories like this didn’t exist. I wish I didn’t have to see the pain in the eyes of women and children enduring cycles of abuse. I wish this story wasn’t based on the lives of several women I have met over the years. But alas, it is.
Listening to these stories has the same effect on me every time.
Horror. Disgust. Frustration. Anger. These emotions have worn me out but are also precisely what pushed me into action.
Karate helped bring me out of my shell, helped me learn my limitations and figure out ways to compensate, taught me how to respect myself and those around me,
Martial Smarts, a non-profit organization I started back in 2008 is all about helping women discover just that. The original objective was to work with survivors of gender-based violence and so I first began teaching workshops to women living in shelters. From the very first workshop I ran it was clear to me that I had embarked on a lifelong journey. I entered that first shelter and was troubled when I found broken women with weary eyes. I introduced myself and they stared back at me with uncertainty. They had been betrayed by those so close to them, why should they trust me?
“Get big and get loud! People don’t want to attack someone who stands up for themselves. Let them know you won’t go down without a fight and that you’re not afraid to draw attention to what’s going on. Use all your strength and yell out for them to back off!”
I use this talk to start most of my workshops. What most people don’t realize when they start taking a self defense workshop is that the purpose isn’t to learn how to beat someone in a fight. These workshops aren’t about becoming the best fighter but rather a smart fighter who knows how to defuse, react and get out. We aim to make you more aware of your surroundings, abilities and strength.
Through hitting pads and learning various locks, punches and kicks you discover your inner strength, you improve your self-esteem and you leave with a desire to learn more.
My journey towards improving mental and physical health as well as empowering women through self-defense has led me to work with hundreds of women around the world. My original intention was to teach survivors of domestic violence but my focus expanded when I realized that these workshops have been beneficial to each and every person who has embarked on this journey with me. From conducting workshops at schools and universities to teaching street girls in India and orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania, each workshop is unique and tailored towards the individual needs of the women involved. And so, Martial Smarts has morphed into a journey of promoting self-empowerment and making self-defense accessible to all.
Some question how I have the time or energy to continue doing the work I do along with my other commitments. Just yesterday, I had a friend ask me if I ever take a break. What they don’t realize is I don’t see this as work at all but rather as my duty. Each smile I bring to a previously worn out face is enough to inspire me to continue on this path.
I firmly believe God has given each and everyone a skill and a purpose, and I’m thankful that this has been mine.
About the author
Ryhana Dawood is the head instructor and founder of Martial Smarts, a non-profit organization focused on promoting physical and mental wellness as well as female empowerment through self-defense. Since 2008, Ryhana has worked with hundreds of women across the Greater Toronto Area and overseas leading self-defense workshops for many underprivileged groups including victims of gender-based violence, street children and orphans. She has also run campus safety workshops, youth community outreach workshops and led sessions at large conferences. Ryhana Dawood is also the head female instructor of UMMA Martial Arts and has been training in Shotokan Karate and ITF Taekwondo for close to 20 years. She currently teaches two female-only classes in Scarborough. She recently completed medical school at Western University and is currently completing residency at the University of Toronto.