There’s no shortage of interesting characters in the martial arts. It’s one of the reasons that it’s such a fun world to be a part of. A quick Youtube search for Frank Dux, Renato Laranja, Relson Gracie, Mike Tyson, Chael Sonnen, or Roger Mayweather is guaranteed to yield some gold. But there are also tons of cool and inspiring stories. Take for example the Afghani girls’ boxing team, the redemption saga of Canadian freestyle wrestling champion Khetag Pliev, and boxer Sergio Martinez’s fight against bullying and domestic violence.
The Boxing Girls of Kabul
I recently watched The Boxing Girls of Kabul at DOXA and it was awesome. Written and directed by filmmaker Ariel J. Nasr and produced by the National Film Board of Canada, this movie follows a group of Afghani girls who have taken up boxing with the intention of representing Afghanistan in the 2012 Olympics. When Afghanistan was under Taliban control, these girls were barely even allowed out of the house.
In North America, female boxers are often considered unladylike. In Afghanistan it’s a little different. The girls who dare take part in this kind of activity are subject to verbal abuse and threats of violence from strangers, acquaintances, and even their own families. To add to the setting, the girls train at Kabul’s Olympic Stadium where, not that long ago, women were executed by the Taliban for various types of “disobedience”.
The movie has played at the 25th International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam and won a number of Canadian awards including:
- Honourable Mention for the NFB Colin Low Award at Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival
- Inspirit Foundation Pluralism Prize at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival
- Best Documentary Award at the Viewfinders INternational Film Festival for Youth in Halifax
Check out The Boxing Girls of Kabul and realize how little you have to complain about.
Khetag Pliev – Canadian National Wrestling Champ to Homeless and Back
Khetag Pliev moved to the USA from Russia in 1997, then moved to Canada and in 2008 became the 98-kilo Canadian freestyle wrestling champion. Shortly after, his accommodation arrangement ended and he found himself living on a bench in Toronto’s Allan Gardens (not the best spot, as those familiar with the city can attest).
But it’s hard to keep a wrestler down. You shoot for a takedown, get stuffed, sit out, and shoot again. Pliev pulled himself together, dug in his claws, and fought his way back to a spot on the Canadian wrestling team. Khetag Pliev will be representing Canada in freestyle wrestling at the London 2012 Olympics. Talk about turning yourself around.
Khetag Pliev in action at the 2012 FILA Pan-American Championship vs. Brazil’s Leonardo Nasciminio
Boxer Sergio Martinez Fights Bullying and Domestic Violence
Argentine professional boxer Sergio Martinez is a bad ass with a record of 49 wins (28 by KO), two losses, and two draws. Since his split-decision loss to Paul Williams in 2009, he bounced back to beat Kelly Pavlik by unanimous decision, take his revenge against Williams via a highlight-reel second-round knockout, score a TKO vs Sergiy Dzinziriuk, knock out Darren Barker, and stop Matthew Macklin.
Sergio Martinez KOs Paul Williams in the second round on November 20, 2010
Outside the ring, Martinez is serious about making a difference by helping the underprivileged. He’s enthusiastically embraced the It Gets Better anti-bullying movement, becoming particularly involved in the life of a Monique McClain, a teenager from Middletown, Connecticut who had been bullied to the point that she’d stopped going to school.
Sergio Martinez’s “It Gets Better” message
In 2010, boxer Edwin Valero, a former lightweight boxing champ, hung himself in jail after being arrested in the murder of his wife. Sergio Martinez was disturbed by what he felt was a disproportionate number of people voicing sympathies for Valero while downplaying the fact that he’d killed his wife and left his kids without a mother. He’s since thrown his weight behind New York’s Violence Against Women Act.
And this is why we love the martial arts and combat sports. It’s a world that attracts misfits, underdogs, odd ducks, and some of the coolest and most interesting people you’re going to meet.