Peace Taekwondo Academy: How an Afghan coach and an Indian manager are helping put India on the map

Taekwondo is rarely seen as a competitive sport in India. In fact, martial arts as a whole is in a state where it is considered a leisure activity, more than a game.

In India, martial arts is becoming something parents enrol their kids in, during their summer breaks.

Considering how niche competitive martial arts is in India, it is a surprise to find a fully functional professional Taekwondo academy here, in Delhi.

The Peace Taekwondo Academy is just that.

Built by people with the right vision and training young martial artists to reach the level of Olympians, the Peace Academy is something very different.

The academy was started by Hussain Rezay, a supporting character in the long and arduous story about the academy itself. Hussain Rezay established the Peace Academy in 2014, in Malviya Nagar, Delhi. Hussain was not alone in this venture. His brother, Sayed Hassan Rezay, helped Hussain set up the academy while also taking coaching classes there.

The Brain and the Brawn 

Both Sayed and Hussain are not Indians by birth. They are indigenous to the subcontinent, however.

The Rezay brothers were born in a war-torn Afghanistan and had witnessed just about everything in their native country. Spectator to all sorts of troubles, which included the Taliban and the American Army, Sayed finally decided to leave his native country after an attack on a more personal front.

It was a typical evening in June for Sayed when he was leaving his gym after training. As he walked towards his friend’s car, two masked assailants attacked him, first with a gun and then, a knife.

Two bullets were fired towards Sayed.

Fortunately for him, the gun missed its mark. Unfortunately, the knife didn’t. One of the masked attackers leapt towards Sayed and stabbed him in his leg, ruling the Afghan out of the trials for the World Taekwondo Championship.

A little while after the incident, Sayed decided to leave Afghanistan and join his brother in India.

However, the martial artist is not the one to hold grudges and still has kind words for his country.

It was a typical evening in June for Sayed when he was leaving his gym after training. As he walked towards his friend’s car, two masked assailants attacked him, first with a gun and then, a knife.

What you have seen and heard about Afghanistan is heated up a little. The tensions are usually towards the border and very rarely in the capital. However, when I came, situations were not as good. There were tensions, and I was attacked. Even then, nobody decided to take any action against the assailants,” Saayed says in a conversation with The Bridge.

I was very hurt and angry by this. So I decided to go to India to my brother,” says Sayed Hassan Rezay.

Sayed slowly got back to his old life in India, providing coaching in Taekwondo at the Korean Cultural Center; all the while preparing himself to take part as a competitor. He found the perfect opportunity to rekindle his old dreams in the form of the Kukkiwon Cup.

The Cup was organized by the Korean Embassy. Sayed enrolled himself and began training. At the end of the cup, he was named the ‘best player’ and given the Hyundai Eon as the prize.

Sayed had injured himself in the final. As he was walking out, a gentleman approached him, helping him nurse his injury. That man was Sayed’s soon-to-be partner Vinay Singh.

Vinay Singh had always been a massive fan of Taekwondo, even before he met Sayed Hassan Rezay.

Born in Jharkhand, Singh always wanted to be involved in sports. He fell in love with Taekwondo after he saw kids being trained in the in a ground. Singh enrolled his cousin in training, as he was too old to do so.

Helping his cousin get better in Taekwondo, Singh eventually moved to Delhi to study for his exams. Here, once again, he reignited his love for the martial arts, even getting a coach on board for his cousin.

However, due to certain circumstances, his plan unravelled, with his cousin returning home.

Nevertheless, Singh was determined in his quest and promised to realise his dream of winning an Olympic medal through his daughter. That is when he met Sayed Hassan Rezay, and the two embarked on a remarkable journey.

Vinay Singh, our manager, when he first met me asked me to train his daughter. I asked him about her age. To my shock, he said two years!” says Sayed

I told Singh that she is too young to begin training. He didn’t back down, though. After so many of his requests I finally told him to bring his daughter to the academy once a week,” recalls Sayed in an earlier interview.

However, soon after this whole ordeal had taken place, Peace Taekwondo Academy found itself in trouble.

We closed the academy six months later, and I was close to leaving India too. However, Singh said to me that if you stay here, we will create something extraordinary. He promised me that we would start the academy again, and we will develop champions. I obliged and remained in the country.”

“I promised Singh that if any kid trains with me, one day I will make sure he or she reaches the highest level. Singh’s friend Ashish helped us financially. With his help, we purchased equipment and re-opened the Peace Taekwondo Academy,” recalls Sayed.

The Disciple 

Singh and Sayed’s mutual devotion brought success to the Peace Taekwondo Academy. The PTA has grown in number ever since it’s ‘re-opening’.

“When Vinay Singh and I reopened the academy, we had just three kids training under us. Now we have around seventy-five,” Sayed tells the Bridge.

One of those martial artists is Kashish Malik

“I was born in Delhi. In my school days, I used to partake in skating-hockey. Professionally I started in 2016. But before that, it was all skating hockey. However, I was never too passionate towards skating-hockey, neither did I have any future in that sport,” quips in Kashish to The Bridge.

When I was playing skating-hockey, however, I always used to fight with this boy. I don’t know why, but he used to hit me with his hockey stick. I never used to retaliate though,” she says looking back.”

So one day I told my mother, who then complained about the boy. He seized to hit me for a while but then sometime later it was back to square one.”

This time when I told my mother, she said to me you go hit him back, which is what I did. When this whole ordeal was going on, a Taekwondo coach of my school spotted me. Afterward, he approached me and told me to join Taekwondo,” recalls Kashish.

Kashish was not entirely excited at the thought of joining Taekwondo. However, her coach asked her to come for a week before she made up her mind, telling her that she will start enjoying it.

Slowly I started developing an interest in Taekwondo. I beat other martial artists, and I got hit as well. Somewhere in between, I thought to myself, why not make something out of this opportunity that I’ve been given.”

I searched for Taekwondo on google, and it directed me towards the academy (Peace Taekwondo Academy). I started training here, started to get a hold on my temperament, and learned a lot of things,” says Kashish.

Kashish always had support from her peers, her parents, and her coaches, “A mountain is made up of a million stones. That is how it is visible from miles out. A similar thing happens to a player. There is not one particular person who helps her to the top. In my life, there are a lot of such good influences as well. My coach (Sayed Hassan Rezay), my parents, our manager (Vinay Singh), and my peers as well; all have helped me reach the stage I am at today.”

In fact, the martial artist is one of the best the academy has ever produced and is highly expected to bring home a medal in the future.

My best day is yet to come,” says Kashish.

The Taekwondo squad for the Asian Games 2018 was recently revealed. However, Kashish’s name was missing from it. It was a shock, considering the ability the martial artist possesses.

The trials for the Asian Games had taken place on July 5, after which the team was to be finalised. However, the Taekwondo federation had sent the list of names for Asian Games long before the Trials, on June 30, eliminating Kashish from the selection process.

The youngster who had the determination and will, and also the required skill to do good at the Games, possibly even win a medal, was left sitting at home.

The Target

Even after the snub of his best disciple, Sayed Hassan Rezay is unfazed. The Afghan made a promise to Singh, to make champions out of his pupils, a commitment he intends to keep.

I have been here for five years. I have been to many championships with my students. Being an Afghan, I still feel pride when I see my flag. However, I am staying in India, I am coaching in India, so my full support is with India.

“Kashish is a very determined girl. She has the makings of a champion. You won’t find a girl like her in the entire country.”

However, My target is not only to improve Kashish but all my pupils. I won’t say that I would make my students Olympic medallists, but I can promise that if they train under me, I will make them better,” says Sayed.

The Afghan coach hasn’t had the most support over the years due to his nationality, but he reiterates that he respects India and will do everything he can to help India win a medal in Taekwondo.

I have been here for five years. I have been to many championships with my students. Being an Afghan, I still feel pride when I see my flag. However, I am staying in India, I am coaching in India, so my full support is with India.

“India is a very developed country, but they still do not support Taekwondo. The kids still go to the championships with their own money. Why then, is there still no support for the sport? The kids need to go out and compete internationally to gain better experience. My only request to the federation is if you have the means to send our players outside for competitions, please do it. Then, and only then, will Indian Taekwondo make its mark on the world,” Sayed signs off.