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Karate program is teaching students more than just martial arts

Recreation Services' new karate program gives students a place to find community

November 17, 2023 — 

Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management student Saba Mohammadalinezhad Kolahdouz is the Sensei of the University of Manitoba’s Recreation Services’ Karate Program. Part of the Adult Programs offered by Recreation Services, Karate gives members a chance to learn Kihon (the learning of the basics of karate), kata (the repetitive practice of karate movement patterns) and Kumite (the act of freestyle fighting). However, for Saba, the essential things students learn are discipline, social skills, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

“I owe these four things to karate,” said Saba. “You find yourself; you know yourself more.”

Born in Iran, Saba began practicing karate at age eight. Saba’s career started secretly, with her mother taking her to and from classes without telling her father, who was concerned for her safety in such a male-dominated sport; things quickly ramped up after winning a junior championship at her first competition.

With the support of both her mother and father, Saba spent the next 21 years training, spending 12 of those years as a member of the Iranian National Team and 10 of them coaching as well.

“When someone says to me, ‘Why didn’t you get married?’ I say, ‘I was in a relationship,” said Saba. “Karate was everything.”

Saba came to Winnipeg in 2021 to work towards her PhD. Saba said not only was the city, culture, language, weather and pretty much everything different, but she also wasn’t practicing something that had been such a big part of her life for so long.

Wanting to bring back the joy and structure karate had given her for so long in her new surroundings, Saba reached out to Faralee Wilson, Recreation Services’ Fitness & Program Coordinator, about establishing a karate program on campus.

“We were extremely excited to provide the opportunity for her to share her passion, skills and expertise with our community,” said Faralee. “We are extremely lucky to have Sensei Saba on our Recreation Services Team.”

Since starting, the program has rapidly grown in size and success. Class members recently received five gold medals, six silver medals, and five bronze medals in kata and kumite at the Manitoba Open Tournament. Saba was also recently named Karate Manitoba’s Kata Coach.

However, with all the success, one group member, Fabiana Turelli, an assistant professor with the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management, said the extraordinary thing about the program is its students.

Fabiana has been a practitioner of the sport for decades, even studying the women’s Spanish Olympic Karate Team as part of her PhD work. Fabiana’s work examines various topics related to martial arts and combat sports and their holistic ability to empower individuals.

As she travels across the globe for research, Fabiana makes a point to train with groups in other countries to see if the issues she faced in the sport growing up, primarily related to being a woman in a predominately masculine environment, were shared by women universally.

Fabiana said Saba’s class is the first time in thirty years that her Sensei is a woman, and the class is predominately women. Fabiana noted that it’s an important representation of karate’s ability to empower students, particularly in this case, young women.

“I believe in the potential of martial arts to empower people and, in this case, especially women,” said Fabiana.

Saba said she is incredibly proud of her students and encourages everyone to come out, regardless of their experience. She said that more than just learning about karate, the program is an opportunity to strengthen your health, mental health, and social skills.

Registration for winter term programs is now live.

Find out more about other Adult Programs offered by Recreation Services.

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