On 23rd May, while the judo competition was unfolding at the Mubadala Arena in Abu Dhabi, the IJF was organising its first ever ‘Self-Defence for Women’ event at La Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi.
Self-Defence for Women event at La Sorbonne Abu Dhabi University

Larisa Kiss, Head of IJF International Relations and Self-Defence for Women Co-ordinator, is the best person to introduce the programme, "The International Judo Federation is actively promoting gender equality on different levels, in a number of initiatives involving our member national federations. Self-Defence for Women is a great project that the IJF is designing at the moment, in order to contribute to women’s empowerment all over the world, but also to attract women to judo who otherwise would not necessarily have contact with our sport."

From left to right, Salima Souakri, Sabrina Filzmoser, Hedvig Karakas, Denisa Deliu, Sanda Corak, Ellenita Lolita Merle and Larisa Kiss

During the event, among the students were many champions and important personalities including IJF Secretary General Dr Lisa Allan, Gender Equality Director Sanda Corak, EC members, Salima Souakri, Erdenet-Od Khishigbat and Sabrina Filzmoser, CEO of Guardian Girls International and Hollywood actor from The Last Samurai, Shin Koyamada.

Denisa Deliu

Nicole and Chiara are two students from La Sorbonne who participated in the first Self-Defence for Women session on Thursday 23rd May. According to them it was a very good initiative but not only that, "Often we women, particularly in the region, are not yet aware that sport can have a personal impact and can help us develop a stronger character. We are honoured to have been able to participate in this session with great judo champions."

Ellenita Lolita Merle was a member of the French Judo team. She is now a sports teacher at the university. “We are particularly honoured to have been able to organise this meeting with the IJF. This makes sense for our institution, particularly when we see how gender based violence tends to develop.

With Sabrina Filzmoser

A programme such as this is particularly important in this region of the world. I want all my students to understand that, thanks to sport, they can enter life with increased opportunities. As a former judoka myself, I tell them that it is thanks to sport that I am here. It was judo that first allowed me to work in the security field and now at La Sorbonne. What I saw during the judo session speaks to me.

In the Middle East, there are many stereotypes to combat. By learning self-defence, for example, women can have the tools to defend themselves in a society that can be violent."

From left to right: Larisa Kiss, Sanda Corak, Sabrina Filzmoser, Salima Souakri

Nicole and Chiara confirm, "Talking about empowerment in the practice of a sport is necessary. Beyond the theory, it allows us to know that we ourselves have power. The session was very interesting. It makes us want to get closer to martial arts. We will undoubtedly try to continue. Hearing some of the stories that really happened was very touching. We now know that we can put ourselves on the line as women and that anything is possible."

Alexandre Blaise and Shin Koyamada from Guardian Girls

Shirin is Emirati and also participated in the judo session. "I do muay thai already and so I was very excited to try judo. I never tried a grappling sport before. It was exciting. To be honest I was a bit hesitant though. I believe such activities can give us confidence to go out in the world and to start travelling. At the beginning I was afraid of falling but once I allowed myself to fall, I felt safe and I could overcome my fears."

Shyma is already involved with judo as a volunteer of the UAE Judo Federation during major events such as the world championships. "I felt encouraged. Judo looks like a male-dominated activity, especially here in the region, but today we were inspired to do more, to go further. The biggest difficulty is to find other women to teach the sport. We also have to fight against prejudices, when people tell us that we are not going to be women anymore if we practice sport and martial arts. I decided to ignore that and I really enjoyed being on the tatami."

Alexandre Blaise is the Head of the Sports Department of the Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi, "This judo programme is what we need. We were happy to have many women on the tatami, just the day after the end of their exams, and to also have many others in the room. I think the interest is high and we are happy to contribute."

Denisa Deliu, Assistant to the IJF President played a key role in organising the judo session at La Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, "Nowadays, self-defence is such an important skill for everyone and especially for women. With so many possible dangerous situations, if you prepare and have the perfect tools, you feel more confident when going out in this unpredictable world. Judo is one of the best martial arts to give you courage, developing self-confidence. Here, I saw some shy and curious girls at the beginning of the session, who later enjoyed and became very enthusiastic about the exercises and techniques that Hedvig and I demonstrated. It was thrilling! A few of them had tried martial arts before with their teacher Ellenita at the university but for the others, it was their first time to step on the tatami and wear a judogi.

Salima Souakri

Also, besides the practical part, the introductory story of Salima Souakri was astonishing, one of the most inspirational that I’ve heard in my life. Additionally, Sabrina shared with us how to deal with the ‘impossible’ on Mount Everest! The enthusiasm of Larisa, the project co-ordinator, was contagious too; we could all feel it from her speech and introduction. I feel grateful to be part of this very first project of the IJF, together with my colleagues and I am happy to share my knowledge, thinking about it empowering all the other women involved in it!"

Hedvig Karakas is now working for the IJF in the protocol team. She is also an Olympian, a world medallist and European champion. She was on the tatami with the students, "Through targeted self-defence-oriented judo practice, women can learn useful physical techniques and also develop essential traits such as courage, self-control and respect. I am honoured to be taking part in this pilot project which is based on the correlation between judo values and self-defence principles. I believe that with this project we can inspire women, help them to be more confident and, not least, help more people get to know and love judo."

Sabrina Filzmoser, Hedvig Karakas and Denisa Deliu

Sabrina Filzmoser conquered Mount Everest two years ago. A former world number one, she participated in four Olympic Games and was a world medallist. "We were welcomed warmly and had a really great time! I’ve been very impressed by their open-minded questions and perspectives. La Sorbonne University offers different sports at an amazingly modern campus.

Larisa put a lot of effort in to organise and set it up. Hedvig and Denisa prepared everything perfectly and I also tried my best on the tatami and brought some thoughts about Everest Judo. Salima spoke about her incredibly inspirational life story. I guess the girls had an exciting experience and were also able to enjoy the final block. It was very funny also because Erdenet-Od Khishigbat (IJF EC member), Hedvig and myself all competed at -57kg against each other and we are really good friends. We felt like athletes again and could feel goosebumps similar to those felt when entering a competition area."

Dr Lisa Allan welcomes the participants at the Mubadala Arena

Larisa Kiss concluded, "For me personally it is very important to work on this project as I am one of the women in judo who, without being a judoka on the tatami, has learned a lot from the sport. I live my life according to strong and healthy principles that I see day by day on the judo mat, regardless of if I see top athletes or young children. Through the years I have met many amazing women in judo, I have seen many of them as athletes who then became coaches or leaders.

Visiting the world championships

These women inspire me and give me motivation, and I strongly believe that their stories are worth telling because there are so many young girls out there in the world who need role models to look up to. I am really excited to lead this project and I know that together with my colleagues from the Gender Equality Commission and all the IJF team, we will manage to develop it and make it truly successful."

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