Shoukat Khan | Photos by the writer
Shoukat Khan | Photos by the writer

Keep your guard up if you are facing 22-year-old Shoukat Khan on the karate mat. He will never throw a punch at you. But he has lightning speed. You will also never see his kicks coming, and they can reach as high as your face.

Shoukat doesn’t have hands or fully formed arms, but he can do more than anyone with hands.

“For a long time I played cricket where I used to bowl with my foot. Then I started playing football with kids like me. I still remember how happy we were when we won the final match against a Karachi team in a tournament for differently abled boys in Mastung,” the Quetta-based Shoukat beams.

Karate happened to him or rather he happened to karate some 10 years ago. “My friend and I used to frequent a karate club just to watch the karatekas practicing there,” he says.

Born without hands or fully-formed arms, the young, angry and frustrated Shoukat Khan came to martial arts to turn over a new leaf. Now the Quetta lad has the potential to win laurels for Pakistan

It took him two years to build up the courage to go up to the chief instructor at the club and ask him if he could also learn karate. “I thought this was the right sport for me to build my strength, both physically and mentally, and also to vent my frustration,” he smiles.

“Being surrounded with normal people made me angry and frustrated. I could see that I was incomplete, which also made me sad. Still, I knew that I had to live my life the way I am,” he adds.

“He had learned so much on his own by just observing others at my club,” says former international karate champion Zakir Khan. “His abilities came as a huge surprise to me.”

Master Zakir continues: “When I started training him, I was a bit lenient with him. He would sometimes start coughing during conditioning exercises. Sometimes I would find him out of breath. He would also slip during normal kicking practice, but I could see that he was determined to carry on.

“Now he is so well-trained that, even if I start jumping on his belly, he is perfectly fine with it. When I teach the class any new kicking techniques, Shoukat is the first one to pick up the technique. He also does stunts on a bed of nails, which requires concentration and courage,” says the master.

“I have grown very fond of Shoukat. He is like my own son. I am so proud of him and I am always thinking about his future. That’s why I sent him to my friend to learn the Korean form of martial arts Taekwondo which, unlike our Japanese style of So-Kyokushin, is internationally recognised as a combat sport.

With Master Zakir Khan
With Master Zakir Khan

“Taekwondo is also more about kicks than punches and I knew that it would be the best sport for him due to his excellent kicking ability,” says Zakir.

Shoukat reciprocates the love one can feel in Zakir’s words. “I feel lucky to have around me people who support me and motivate me. Master Zakir is one of them,” he says.

Master Zakir wants to do more for Shoukat than just teach him karate. “Shoukat’s father tells me that, while growing up, he used to fight with neighbourhood boys over petty matters. Actually, at the time, he used to have trouble with his balance and would fall a lot, and other children made fun of him. But karate has brought about a positive change in him. He is a very cool and calm individual now and his personality will develop further as he gains more confidence. That confidence comes with winning,” says Master Zakir.

“We give him an equal chance for sparring in our own tournaments, though he is at a disadvantage against the other fighters here,” says Zakir. “But I have seen UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship] matches where both the players are disabled, like Shoukat. I am dead sure that, with his skills, he can win such bouts. But the disabled sportspersons in other countries have access to so many facilities, which Shoukat doesn’t enjoy here.

Master Zakir points out that Shoukat needs more than just training. “What to say about him, even we have to pay from our own pockets when going to compete in any international tournament or championship abroad,” he says. “And Shoukat needs more than just travel and stay allowance.

“I am confident that if Shoukat had some support from the government, he can bring a gold medal to Pakistan from the Special Olympics. He is currently a green belt in our karate discipline, but he deserves a black belt. He doesn’t have a black belt because he cannot perform the katas needed to earn higher belts without his arms and hands.

“It is not like we have not approached the government for him. We want him to be fitted with prosthetic arms and hands, or maybe those robotic hands which can be controlled with the mind. Let’s see if our efforts pay off. If the government cannot help him, then maybe some good publicity could bring him help. Otherwise, we are thinking of starting a donation campaign for him,” Master Zakir says.

“The world needs to see Shoukat Khan like the real hero that he is. He is earnest, hardworking and skilled. He only needs a chance,” he adds.

The writer is a freelance journalist, publicist and digital media strategist

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 17th, 2022

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