Whenever we hear of a martial artist winning accolades for Pakistan these days, it usually turns out to be a female martial artist. And 99 per cent of the time, she belongs to the Hazara tribe in Quetta. Nargis Batool Razai is another top martial artist, in fact a wushu practitioner, who is no different.
“Hazara Town is also known as the ‘Home of sports and champions’,” Nargis tells Eos. “There are several sports played there by my community, of which I fancied wushu for myself.”
With its free-style way, wushu is also referred to as Chinese kickboxing. It has two categories: Taolu, which means technique, and Sanda, which means fight. Taolu is further split into categories based on different stances, movements, routines, and even weapons — including the bare-handed taijiquan and taijijian, which is tai chi with a Chinese straight sword.
Meanwhile, Sanda features combat using wushu and kung fu techniques. Nargis is an expert in both categories of wushu.
Nargis Batool Razai is the second-best female wushu practitioner in the world. She explains how, aside from hard work, support from her teacher and family has been the bedrock of her achievements
“I never wanted to be that girl who is afraid to step out of her home alone. I always wanted to be independent, self-assured and able to take care of myself,” she adds.
And she can do that and so much more. Her enthusiasm and hard work saw her becoming the national-level wushu champion right from the word go when she started taking part in championships in 2012. She was only 11 then. Having remained unbeaten for several years, she took part in her life’s first international competition in Iran in 2016, where she won a bronze medal.
In 2018, she won gold at the South Asian Wushu Championship that was held in Lahore. Last year, she got a silver medal in the World Virtual Wushu Championship. Other than the medals that she won, she also brought back with her precious little trinkets and souvenirs as memories from each event.
Her eyes light up when she talks about her first foreign tour in Iran. “I was feeling the words of our national anthem while competing against contestants from other countries. Then I fought with every ounce of my being,” she says.
And she was getting to hear the national anthem again and again, whenever a Pakistani player won a medal there. “I was very excited the night before my event. I wanted to see my flag being raised after my success too. Though I only earned a bronze medal in Iran, the anthem was played for me as well. I felt so proud that, this time, I was the reason for it being played. I was the reason for my flag being raised,” she says.
“Even now, whenever I feel exhausted or tired, I listen to the national anthem while turning up the volume. It gives me strength while I train, and helps me carry on for longer,” she smiles.
Nargis is an early riser. She practises hard because she believes that practice makes one perfect. “Careers are not formed in a day,” says Nargis. “There are many ups and downs before you reach your peak. And what really matters here is how you handle the challenges coming your way. And that in all this, there is also someone supporting you, someone who inspires you.”
In her own case, that person was her instructor and coach Master Fida Hussain Hazara of Hazara Town in Quetta. “He has been a huge help in getting me to this level mentally,” says Nargis.
“Girls usually face extra hurdles in achieving big goals and this may be true for any girl in any walk of life. But sometimes some mistakes are made by your own self, too,” she says.
“We had a national championship in Bahawalpur a few years ago and I was representing Wapda while training in Lahore. Just before the tournament was about to start, some of us went to a trampoline at a private mall in Lahore. There I jumped from quite a height, as a result of which I injured both my feet,” she says.
“I did not tell my coaches about it but, as the tournament was about to start, I informed my physiotherapists, but they could not help much. I had worked a lot for that tournament, so I decided to apply painkiller spray on both my feet before entering the ring and, would you believe, I won that tournament!”
Nargis says that her parents have also been a great support. “When I started learning wushu, my parents got a lot of criticism from others. People said that they were going to turn a girl into a boy. There is always society, which pressurises you if you do anything different.
“Still, it is my experience and observation that you can achieve anything if your family is supportive. In my case and in the cases of so many other girls around me, the main reason for their success is a supportive and understanding family,” she smiles.
“Anyone who meets me is struck by my enthusiasm. I am asked frequently how I manage to stay so upbeat and motivated all the time. Whenever I am asked this, my parents’ confidence in me immediately comes to mind. They have always placed their trust in me.
“Anytime I have an idea and share it with my parents, I have received more enthusiasm from them than even I have myself for going ahead with whatever I was thinking of doing but was in two minds about. They make the path clear for me. Every time I’ve told them about my goals, all they’ve said is that I have got to do it,” she says with a glint in her eyes.
Nargis relates a pleasant experience from her time at camp during the South Asian Championship training in Lahore in 2018. “I felt terribly homesick. The workouts were very demanding, and there was a lot of pressure. I had even considered quitting and returning home when I called home. My father answered the phone and immediately asked how his South Asian gold medalist was doing? I had not even won yet. We were still training, but he called me his gold medallist.
“And it was that moment which, instead of putting more pressure on my shoulders, resuscitated another sort of motivation within me. Suddenly my entire state of mind changed. I was no longer feeling any kind of tiredness even after two or three hours of rigorous training. It was this motivation that earned me a gold medal in that championship,” she beams.
Due to Covid, there was a World Virtual Wushu Championship last year in which Nargis bagged the silver medal. It also established her international ranking as the number two female wushu practitioner in the world.
Nargis’ guiding principles, of never stopping from learning, unlearning, and then re-learning, make her a worthy inspiration for her generation.
The writer is a freelance journalist, publicist and digital media strategist
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 18th, 2022