How Bruce Lee impressed karateka Zainab Saleh to show girls in Nigeria to guard themselves

How Bruce Lee impressed karateka Zainab Saleh to show girls in Nigeria to guard themselves

The Nigerian began the Zainab Saleh Karate Open in 2014 to develop the game for ladies to defend themselves in opposition to violence in Nigeria, with over 200 members registered for the 2023 version in Lagos.

Zainab Saleh is a big Bruce Lee fan.
(Zainab Saleh)

Zainab Saleh couldn’t cover her pleasure and love for Bruce Lee as she answered the query, “What’s your favourite Bruce Lee Film of all time?”

She paused. A tinge of pleasure in her voice surfaced, together with indecisiveness, particularly for being placed on the spot like that. How may she select?

The Nigerian cherished each Bruce Lee film that had ever hit the theatres. The martial arts legend’s movies had been her predominant inspiration for pursuing the game of karate, which snowballed to creating her a conduit via which different ladies in West Africa are skilled to make headway into the game.

“Karate has all the time been a childhood sport of mine. I bear in mind rising up watching Bruce Lee films and people had been one of many main influences that acquired me into sport,” Zainab tells

Zainab Saleh: The “Bruce Lee Affect”

Zainab Saleh was one in every of many individuals whose first introducion to martial arts was via cinema.

After watching films that includes Bruce Lee, she acquired her father to enroll her in a karate college once they lived in North America. “I bear in mind telling my dad that I wished to observe karate and he discovered a faculty for me in Mexico. That for me was the start of my karate journey.”

Within the karate college, she remembers the variety among the many college students, and the way open it was for everybody to observe regardless of gender, faith, or race.

She grew within the sport and started competing in championships – each native and internationally – till she moved again to Nigeria.

One of the girls participating at the Zainab Saleh-Open.

One of many ladies collaborating on the Zainab Saleh-Open.

(Zainab Saleh)

The Borno State native joined the Karate Federation of Nigeria and was later appointed the technical director of karate for Lagos State.

“Throughout one in every of our group conferences for one karate occasion, the thought struck me to start out a women-only karate program,” she stated.

Already within the information, there was a slew of headlines highlighting gender-based violence in opposition to girls in Nigeria. The United Nations (UN) estimates that one in three women in Nigeria under the age of 15, have skilled bodily and/or sexual violence at the least as soon as, with the numbers persevering with to rise in maturity. 

“You all the time hear and see information of girls getting sexually assaulted and I can’t start to think about what all of them undergo. I wished to start out a motion via karate in order that these girls and ladies can defend themselves indirectly in opposition to these violent assaults.”

Zainab selected an unconventional approach and took a leap of religion to show girls karate. “We actually want to show our girls to develop into extra acutely aware of their setting and develop into extra conscient of what to do once they discover themselves in hostile conditions,” Zainab added.

Karate, which implies ‘unarmed’ in Japanse, is seen by some as a violent sport, and it shocked Zainab that there wasn’t any pushback from dad and mom when she started her motion. “Dad and mom noticed it and requested, how am i able to enroll my daughter,” she stated. Except for tackling gender primarily based violence, Zainab had a ardour to develop the game of karate amongst younger women and girls from the age of 5 upwards.

This birthed the Zainab Saleh Open.

The Zainab Saleh Open

Born in 2014, the occasion was the one female-only Karate Championship in West Africa, and because of funding from household and shut mates it stays the premier girls’s occasion within the area, celebrating it is ninth version in November 2023 (Thursday 2nd to Sunday fifth), with the Covid-19 pandemic stopping it from going down in 2020.

The championship follows the 2 karate codecs that had been included within the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, held in 2021.

The primary being kumite – the place athletes are paired in opposition to one another to make use of their expertise in combating. The second format is Kata – the place contestants show their expertise individually to attain factors from the judges.

Greater than 200 karatekas are registered to compete within the 2023 version.

Karatekas at the Zainab Saleh-Open award ceremony.

Karatekas on the Zainab Saleh-Open award ceremony.

“I began the Zainab Saleh Open to enhance the technical high quality of girls and ladies karatekers,” Saleh instructed us.

A decade on, the occasion has produced nationwide group athletes and worldwide athletes as nicely.

Zainab believes closely within the idea of making opportunites in your individual group, however it’s not only for Nigerians. Benin Republic have been probably the most constant nation to compete within the occasion, with athletes from Ghana, Cameroon, and Togo additionally invited in earlier years, however not all the time in a position to take part. “Generally it’s because of the lack of funding for the game so some nations are unable to make it.”

Regardless of challenges discovering sponsors, Zainab has managed to construct a sturdy group of girls in karate over the previous 10 years. The ninth version of the Zainab Saleh Open is being held in Lagos within the Dr. Molade Okoya Thomas Corridor on the Teslim Balogun Stadium from November 2nd to fifth.

Saleh, who at the moment doubles as a choose and a referee for worldwide karate championships, can be providing an intensive coaching course for referees within the sport on the occasion.

She’s hopeful the competitors will have an effect on any who attend: “I really feel it will give girls the chance to know and see Karate for what it’s,” Zainab stated, and after an extended thought, she settled on “Enter the Dragon” as her favourite Bruce Lee film of all time.

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