Delhi's mean streets create India's Karate Kid

Amritpal Kaur is India's best known young face in karate.

She won the gold at the 2015 Commonwealth Karate Championship and took the title at the last three South Asian Championships.

The 23-year-old's first love was badminton. But New Delhi's mean streets pushed her to take up karate.

She told IANS that when she was 13 it was difficult for her to travel alone to a badminton court from her house in Tilak Nagar because she would be pestered by "eve-teasers" - men who harass women.

"Self-defence was the only reason that I wanted to learn karate," she said. "However, there was something about the sport that made me fall in love with it instantly."

She trained in a park near her house for two years but lost all her competitive bouts. She soon realised that something was amiss.

She then decided to save her pocket money and visited cyber cafes to watch videos of five-time karate world champion Rafael Aghayev from Azerbaijan.

"That is when I realised that what was being taught to me was something very basic," she said. "It also meant that I had to work hard and devote more time to self-training."

Initially her parents did not support her decision to take up karate as they wanted her to concentrate on academics.

Her lower-middle-class family also had no money for her training. Government or private funding was difficult to get because karate is a low-profile sport in India.

But Amritpal, a topper in school, managed to convince her mother that she could strike a fine balance between studies and sport.

While studying for English Honours at New Delhi's Janki Devi Memorial College, she had already proved her mettle in karate at the state and national levels.

The Delhi government then granted her a scholarship. "That is how I could afford my training, travelling and gear," she said.

But flying to international destinations for competitions was difficult because she had no funding.

"Once a Sikh organisation funded me to train in Turkey," she said. "Going for international qualifying matches means flight tickets, accommodation, training and food... it is never easy," said Amritpal, a black belt in Shito-Ryu Seiko-Kai karate style.

Unfortunately, she could not qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, now rescheduled to next year, despite having practised six hours daily and maintaining a strict lifestyle.

"All the qualifying matches that started in 2018 were held in Europe and we had to fund ourselves for the trips," she said. "I could not afford to participate."

Then in December last year, while competing at the President's Cup in Goa, a bad fall resulted in a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which helps stabilise the knee joint, and complete bed rest for seven months. Her road to recovery is thankfully underway, thanks to actor Sonu Sood who funded her surgery and subsequent rehabilitation.

"He saw a tweet about my injury on Twitter and immediately got his team to reach out to me and fund my surgery," said Amritpal, who is currently undergoing physiotherapy.

Her campaign to become the first Indian to win the gold at the Karate World Championships next year is well on course now with the support of sports enthusiast, businessman and movie producer Sujay Jairaj.

Jairaj, who secured the rights to Indian badminton champion Saina Nehwal's life story, will also do a film on Amritpal.

"She is a brilliant fighter," he said. "The hardships and struggles she's had to face have not diminished her drive one bit.

"It's so amazing to see that kind of motivation. I believe it is important to share inspiring stories such as hers."

Indo-Asian News Service

 
 
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