Kicking Off Karate Classes in India

Posted on July 18, 2012, by Belle Staurowsky, Green Tara Project

Belle Staurowsky teaches karate to at-risk girls in India and talks about her NGO Green Tara Project.



Sweat pours down my sun-scorched face and soaks my hair. We have been out here in this cow corral for forty minutes in the middle of the day. “Let’s take a water break,” I suggest in Hindi. “No, no!  Keep teaching!” comes an adamant chorus from the 25 girls, ages 10 to 15, to whom I have been teaching self-defense and karate. Before today, these girls had not been able to punch or block, or to escape a wrist grab or a bear hug. I am in India –– where girls are often viewed as little more than expendable commodities –– and before today these girls seldom raised their voice. For this reason, I have focused part of today’s class on connecting these girls with their voice and their power by teaching them to make the explosive cry of a warrior while striking or kicking.


Belle teaches a karate kick to a girl in India.


After our water break, there is a nine-year-old young lady whose warrior cry of ‘kiai’ is little more than a weak rasp. I smile at the quiet one, and I take some extra time with her. Finally, a sound escapes her throat. And then another, and another, and after about the fifth ‘kiai,' a wave of release from her body accompanies her voice. Her ‘kiai’ is so strong that it is nearly palpable, and I can almost see a giant weight leaving her tiny shoulders. When she walks away, I glimpse a small triumph in her eyes. I have had the privilege of witnessing this and similar triumphs in over 250 girls whom I have trained through my non-profit, the Green Tara Project (GTP).

Belle's student learns a knee strike.

I hatched GTP after reading an article by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in 2009 and subsequently his and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Those stories of women making a difference to end their own oppression lit me up inside. At the same time, the stories of trafficking hit me hard. I had been teaching self-defense to women in the States, many of whom had been sexually assaulted through the same tactics predators the world over use to entrap and traffic girls:  drugs,  emotional coercion and physical abuse. “What separated us?” I wondered. “Nothing,” I answered. These are my global sisters, daughters and mothers. We, collectively, are under attack. I felt compelled to act.

Young girls in India practice a block.

Through my experiences as an athlete, teacher, coach, and woman, I know how transformative martial arts can be. I have been honing my skills in the field for over 15 years. I also know that if a woman doesn’t think she has value, she won’t fight for herself, regardless of how many fighting techniques she learns. So I designed GTP classes to offer both physical and cognitive skill building. The formula is working: classes I have conducted in India have successfully helped rescued and at-risk women build and restore confidence.

It is often psychologically and physically vulnerable women who are the victims of human trafficking. But if a woman can defend herself, can speak for herself and be heard, then she just may be less likely to be trafficked. By teaching martial arts to at-risk girls, we can disrupt the trafficking cycle ever so slightly. Each girl I teach to defend herself might grow up to be a hero, like those I read about in Half the Sky. It is with this hope that GTP is dedicated to providing the means to disrupt the human trafficking cycle. To that end, dear reader, I encourage you to find your warrior voice and join the movement.

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