Waiting at Dallas airport ahead of boarding her plane to another new destination, 41-year-old Angela Meyer happened to stop and glance at her own reflection in one of the big airport windows. Was she the same quiet, shy and reserved girl, terrified of the world, she once used to be? Most definitely not!
“I was born a wild woman, the world tried to tame me, burn me and cage me in, but with cackle [calling for] freedom and eyes sharp as swords, I got up off my knees and became relentless,” she tells me now, reflecting on her journey so far. We are sitting and talking in Karachi, where she is on a sponsored visit teaching self-defence and kickboxing primarily to schoolgirls.
This is the story of how Angela, the owner of Warrior Woman Republic, earned her wings and how she now uses her influence to help others like her earn theirs.
A kickboxer, a black-belt in Budokon karate, and a yogi with a master’s degree in theology from the US was recently in Pakistan. What in the world was she doing here?
We go back 17 years when Angela moved to Washington DC while attending the Iliff School of Theology in Denver where she was working on her master’s in divinity. “I was moved by my teacher Vincent Harding, a pivotal activist in the Civil Rights Movement. His teachings inspired me to take action.” For her this meant moving to DC and volunteering for a year at Joseph’s House, a hospice facility caring for dying homeless people who had AIDS.
“The plan was to return and finish my degree, but I followed my gut and decided to move into Joseph’s House as a resident,” she says. Over the next 16 years she worked there in different capacities such as ‘director of volunteers’, ‘personal care aid’, ‘chaplain’, ‘administrative staff’, etc. She also completed her master’s and is an end-of-life care counselor.
During this time, she also started practicing yoga, “basically to relax and breathe.” Then she decided to do a yoga teacher training course before she began teaching the ancient art of relaxation to others too. She has now taught it for over 15 years, and leads yoga teacher training programmes regularly. Back to her days at Joseph’s House, it was also suggested to Angela to get into martial arts as a healing outlet for trauma. But she says that at the time she didn’t think she could make time for it. “Besides, helping the patients was not really traumatising. It made my heart happy. Those people taught me about a space between life and death,” she says.
Soon, however, she stumbled upon Budokon. “Budokon karate, which is a blend of yoga and martial arts, was my gateway into the martial arts. And then I became obsessed with martial arts, all types of martial arts — be it kickboxing, Muay Thai, jujitsu, MMA, wrestling — I was into it all! I have been blending all my passions pretty organically,” she laughs while adding that she also got into Budokon teacher training. She got her black belt through Fit to Fight Defensive Options and is competitive. “I train regularly and partake in many martial arts competitions,” she says.
“Despite my painful shyness, I have always been very active and sporty. I also used to play soccer in college,” she says.
A few years ago, she founded the Warrior Woman Republic through which she teaches women to stand up for themselves and fight back. “I have women who have been caught in violent situations coming to me. My organisation works for women’s empowerment as we teach them self defence and martial arts. But that’s not all. We help make them strong psychologically as well,” she says, narrating the example of a woman who came to her after being assaulted on her way to the gym one day. She says that the woman was so terrified that she froze and her assailant beat her up badly and left her for dead. “But she is stronger now. She has learned to fight back,” she says.
I have women who have been caught in violent situations coming to me. My organisation works for women’s empowerment as we teach them self-defence and martial arts. But that’s not all. We help make them strong psychologically as well.”
As a columnist for Elephant Journal where she writes about reclaiming the fierce feminine paradigm, she was sitting at a coffee shop one day writing away when she came upon an email from the Shaoor Foundation for Education and Awareness, an Islamabad-based NGO working, among other things, on empowerment of women, something close to her heart. They had heard of her through word of mouth. And that’s how she found herself in Pakistan, holding self defence workshops for women and girls.
She says that she enjoys travelling. “I want to experience different places, as I love to travel to hold workshops and classes and also for retreats. I have worked with street children in Brazil. I have also travelled to Puerto Rico and some other countries and now I am in Pakistan.
“I am passionate about my work, about helping women cope with the issues they may be facing in their lives. Then when the self-esteem of one rises, we all feel motivated as we all rise with her.
“Here in Pakistan, I did stuff with students from different schools. I also worked with some women police officers and it was so wonderful for me, connecting with everyone as a teacher and human being,” she says.
“For all my workshops, we sat in a circle in the start and ended that way too. I asked them questions such as what were they afraid of? I also asked them to share stories about when they had been brave.
“Some talked about how they protected their siblings. Some shared witnessing a crime such as someone getting shot before their eyes. I told them that it is okay to feel fear, or cry because vulnerability is not weakness. It is a great strength,” she smiles.
“I listened to their dreams. I tried to make them believe in those dreams. I helped many of them realise their inner strengths so that they can be strong, independent and powerful. And then I also saw a wild spark in some of them. They told me that they wanted to be kickboxers. They are already messaging me on Instagram,” she laughs.
“I love seeing women empowered. And as I help them I am learning myself too, as the process of learning is at both ends.”
The writer is a member of staff
She tweets @HasanShazia
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 1st, 2019