Having successfully scooped up a Pride of Edinburgh Awards and an Asian Women of Achievements Awards 2014 for her sporting achievements, Samera Ashraf has fought every obstacle thrown at her. Culture, domestic abuse and self harming were just some of the barriers faced by the 31-year-old. Described as a disappointment by her teachers and a failure by her extended family, she is a woman who has refused to be chained by tradition. The martial arts enthusiast spoke to The Asian Today.
Tell me about yourself.
My name is Samera Ashraf, I am 31 years old. I am originally from Manchester but I live in Edinburgh. I am a British Asian and I am a fighter.
What made you become a kick boxer?
I trained for many years in Wado-Ryu style karate. I managed to get to senior level (blue belt). Then I had to move to Edinburgh. I missed the discipline and fitness aspects of karate so a colleague from work suggested we try a local group offering kickboxing classes. We all enjoyed it and decided to continue going.
I have grown up with 3 brothers and most of my family are male. It was difficult being a girl with so many boys and men around. My brothers have been very encouraging in anything martial arts related. I know that for some there may be restrictions due to culture and religious beliefs. However, I believe it is important to encourage sports, especially within ethnic minority communities. We have so much talent that is hidden or discouraged. I believe it is time to move forward from thoughts and practices which deter others from potentially becoming successful within a sporting field.
My brothers and I watched a lot of films such as Rocky and Karate Kid. I thought to myself why are there no women in films such as these?
You are seen as an inspiration to many, who is your inspiration?
One person that has overcome her own personal struggles and is now a household name is Dame Kelly Holmes. She has been a positive role model for so many women out there. Even though she has retired from professional athletics, she still assists current and former athletes to become mentors for disadvantaged younger people through the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust. One of the greatest honours for me this year was to be presented the Asian Woman of Achievement Award 2014 for Sport by Dame Kelly Holmes. I recall going through a period of self doubt about my abilities and really struggled on an emotional level with competing. After reading Dame Kelly Holmes Autobiography, I found a true and genuine source of inspiration to believe in what I was doing.
What are your personal aims in the sport?
I would really like to get to black belt level, this takes time, effort and a fantastic memory. There is a great deal of syllabus work required for each grading, but if you know what your goal is then it is important to focus on that. I would also like to continue competing with the group I train with, The Edinburgh Assassins.
What level are you at?
I am a senior belt in karate (blue belt) and a senior belt in kickboxing (blue belt) in total I have 11 martial arts belts and have achieved this within the last 10 years.
You are clearly breaking stereotypes, how difficult was it?
Achieving what I have certainly was not intentional, it just happened. As mentioned previously, I have been within the martial arts field for the last 10 years of my life. It never occurred at the time that I would be able to gain notoriety and be a positive role model to others. I am humbled by all the accolades received and very grateful to all that have helped me get to this level.
It is more with the wider Asian community that I may face difficulty. It is a physical contact sport and it is associated mainly with white men in the UK. There are other women and girls from different ethnic minority backgrounds in the group that I train with and it is important to remember that cultural stereotypes are being broken by them just as much as myself.
As a young Asian woman it is challenging to balance the expectations from family and community, but not impossible. One of the greatest things in life is to believe in yourself. If an individual can do this, then anything is possible. I may appear to be idealistic to some but I try and incorporate this into my daily life and make things happen. I have faced many personal difficulties in my life, especially when it comes to identity. Certainly, as a youth it was very difficult to ‘fit in’ with any group. I was not allowed to socialise much as a teenager as there was the fear that I may conform to the ways of British life. Academia was my only opportunity to excel at something outside of my home. Fear of being too British was something that was very apparent with my family. I guess it must be fear of the unknown, as I am still alive!
Being the only girl in the family meant the usual, being a domestic goddess. I had to learn to make the perfect curry, fluffy white Basmati rice and the roundest chapatti. I often describe growing up as boot camp. We all had our household chores to do, if it was not done we would be reprimanded. Myself and my brothers all had to work in my fathers business and my grandfathers business during the summer holidays. I had to grow up very quickly. This is not necessarily a negative thing, but I do feel a certain innocence was lost for this period of my life.
What advice would you give to someone looking to go into kickboxing?
If you have the desire to go then try it. Take a friend if you feel conscious of being the new person. It takes a strong person to go to kickboxing. I do not mean physically, I mean this from an emotional level. If you would like to go for fitness purposes then it really is a great way of gaining physical strength and endurance. If I can do it, why can’t somebody else?
What does the future hold for you?
A meeting with DKH Trust at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games 2014 so we can establish a schedule where we can move forward with encouraging more young people to get involved and sustain their presence in sports, particularly within ethnic minority groups. Use my current contacts to establish stronger links within the media, I would also like to be involved with Sport Relief 2015. To continue with the promotion of women in sports by contacting the media myself and requesting they take a moment to consider my story. Hopefully, this will encourage others to be involved. I believe the message of how important sport of any description is should be aimed and delivered at children and young people, they are the future.