Quetta: On a warm evening in Quetta when the traffic on the heavily guarded and barricaded Alamdar Road begins to thin out, the air inside Ghulam Ali Sports Complex crackles with the sound and fury of students practicing martial arts.
Before rows of students, clad in loose white apparel with white belts fastened around waists, stand Ghulam Ali Hazara, demonstrating karate chops. One by one, students move up to Ghulam whom they revere with the deep deference reserved for a Zen master. With a forceful “hoo, ha”, they kick up to touch a leg to Ali’s stretched palm – raised and facing down like a blessing to their strenuous effort to achieve the perfect karate kick.
“Martial arts is a tool for self-defense and it equips Hazara youth with the skill, confidence and fitness necessary for physical combat and fitness,” said Ghulam Ali Hazara.
Ali’s and his students’ choice of – and dedication to – martial arts is no surprise considering how the Shia Hazara community of Balochistan that live and work along Quetta’s Alamdar Road and Marri Abad town beyond has suffered brutal continuous violence from sectarian killers and suicide bombers in recent years.
According to estimates offered by the Hazara community elders, more than 1500 men, children and women have been killed and many more injured in attacks since 2001 that peaked in the year 2013, where several suicide bombs killed hundreds including Hazara girl students at a the Sardar Bahadur Khan Women University.
Amid routine killing of the members of Hazara community on sectarian grounds, says Ghulam Ali Hazara, it is important to initiate campaigns that reinvigorate the spirit of life in the Hazara youth.
“One way to do it is through sports like the martial arts because they keep you fit and prepared for any untoward incident,” Ali told News Lens during a break from his class.
Ghulam Ali Hazara, the gold medal winner in South Asian Games (SAF) 2004 that were held in Islamabad, owns Ghulam Ali Sports Complex that he established to promote sports activities among the youth, especially the Hazara in Balochistan.
As many as 250 students including 80 women are receiving training in martial arts at the Complex under Ali’s supervision.
“We cannot fight arms with hands but martial arts can be used for self-defense and keeping oneself fit,” said Ali.
Ali, who has won many prizes including gold, silver and bronze medals, said that as a profession, martial arts could help the youth earn a name and serve the nation.
Ghulam Ali Hazara said establishing the Complex was a dream he realized by dint of hard work and diligence. “I invested all the prize money to make the dream come true and succeeded in establishing a martial arts training Centre in Quetta. I began working on the idea to build a sports complex in 2004 after winning a gold medal with cash prize. By 2007, i had managed to build one.”
The training at the Complex is free for the poor. For students who can afford it, the Complex charges a nominal Rs 400 ($4) a month.
Ali who won two gold medals in SAF Games 2004 in Islamabad and 2006 in Sri Lanka, and a silver medal in 2010 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, said martial arts had changed over the years and were now “practiced with rules” in Olympics. “Earlier, they had no rules and players or combatants would go on pushing themselves till they bled.”
Ali said the Complex was producing players “prepared for the gold medals” who could represent Pakistan at the national and international level.
Already, 32 martial arts graduates from the Ghulam Ali Hazara Complex have become part of national teams representing the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), Pakistan army, Pakistan Railway and others in the national games held in Lahore, capital of the Punjab province.
Among the graduates of the Complex is a proud Miss Shahida, 20. Unbeaten among the young graduates, she has won the under 16, 17, 18, and 19 martial arts competitions in national games.
Shahida now has her mind set on an international award in martial arts. She said she came to the Complex in 2006 to get her younger brother admitted here but developed interest in martial arts so she got enrolled as well. Shahida learnt from Ghulam Ali Hazara who she said is a wonderful teacher.
“Martial Arts is an important art for us for self-defense ,” said Shahida. “I am training girls here at the Complex to make Hazara women stronger and self-confident so we can defend ourselves.”
Students from the Hazara community, she said, were hardworking and had learnt a lot about martial arts.
Rehmatullah, another student who started practicing martial arts in his teens in 2006, said he wanted to work for his community that lived under the constant fear of getting killed in terrorist attacks.
“My community must learn martial arts for self-defense,” said Rehmatullah, 19, who has won ten titles for distinction in martial arts in the national games. “I want to be a champion like my teacher Ghulam Ali Hazara.”