The northernmost state of India is one that is continuously in the news. And most of the times, it is for negative reasons that the region finds mention among national news- often creating an uproar that few issues have the power to do. But through all this, the state and its people carry on. And one of the most significant ways they achieve that balance, that semblance of a normal life is through sports.
Be it football or cricket, the culture of simply participating and playing coupled with an urge to develop multiple sports among the teeming population of youth has ensured a steady development throughout Jammu and Kashmir. Be it the iconic images of girls fighting stereotypes and attack just to practice football, or the rise of sportspersons like Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Manzoor Dar on the national playing fields or even the fairytale story that was scripted by Real Kashmir FC despite not having nearly enough infrastructure to help them along the way- they’ve done well.
But perhaps the discipline that finds the maximum resonance among the grassroots is martial arts. And on September 15, relevant authorities proudly announced the successful completion of the state’s first ever martial arts “carnival”. However, as one of the organisers, Muhammed Iqbal puts it during a conversation with The Bridge, “To call it merely a success is downplaying it. It was a resounding success.”
Iqbal is the National Coach of Pencak Silat in the country and is even one of the founders of the Federation which governs it. This lesser known form of martial art shot into the limelight slightly sometime before the Asian Games after it got caught up in yet another case of bad luck. The original contingent of Pencak Silat athletes comprised more than 20 people as had been cleared by the Indian Olympic Association. By the time the competition came knocking at the door, the squad was down to just two as a consequence of how politically motivated circumstances worked out. For Iqbal, however, the Asian Games disappointment is all in the past now.
“In Jammu and Kashmir you can never put a peg on the number of people who participate in a wide range of martial arts,” he says. “It’s quite an impossible task.”
“For example, we organised the Carnival keeping a thousand children in mind. On the day we started the proceedings, we were greeting by double the number,” laughs Iqbal. “Two thousand students may sound like a small number on the National scale, but it was encouraging to see the hordes turn up.”
The fact that this tournament created history is just an added achievement. After all, the main motive behind organising this entire rendezvous was to ensure that Kashmir continues to hold up the baton for martial arts for the next few years at least. In the recent past, the governing body for sports in the state has often faced a lot of criticism for spending time and resources on non-recognised sports. But that was one record that Iqbal wanted to set right.
“When work began towards setting up the carnival, we had approached the Sports Council with a longer list of disciplines we wanted to cover,” he recalls. “And then it hit us. We realised that this would be a perfect opportunity to educate the children and their parents on the disciplines that are recognised.”
The final event encompassed eight disciplines of Martial arts which included Judo, Taekwondo, Wushu, Pencak Silat, Thangtha, and even Boxing.
“Sports like Muay Thai and Kickboxing- we resolved to leave them out for the sole reason that elite level competition in these would never be recognised as a legitimate achievement,” says Iqbal. This goes in tandem with how the erstwhile secretary of the JK Sports Council had refuted similar criticisms during an earlier interview with The Bridge.
It is on the records that no unrecognised associations were promoted,” Waheed Ur Rahman Para had mentioned. “We in fact sponsored and promoted the unknown faces and brought them to limelight in the field of sports.”
That certainly seems to be the case with this particular Martial arts convention, to say the least. Over the course of three days, numerous training camps across age groups were carried out with the standout participants being felicitated at the end of it. It served as a justifiably primary platform to educate the general public about present-day scenarios when it comes to choosing sports as a career path. Moreover, the fact that it was organised and carried out under the flag of the state’s governing body is an added benefit and incentive to legitimise the development of sport in the valley. It would encourage more participation and lesser stigma.
“The principle thing that all martial arts teaches you is self-control,” Iqbal says. “You learn how to control your frustrations and similarly strong emotions and channel them into something constructive.”
“Ultimately, sports have always proven to be great teachers to all who partake,” he concludes.