Halah Al Hamrani gears up for a practice session at her FLAG gym in Jeddah. Image Credit: Supplied

Jeddah: Halah Al Hamrani punched the conservative norms of the Saudi society to become the first and only Saudi female boxing and kick-boxing trainer.

Al Hamrani, who is a certified boxer from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) in the United States, has been training women in Saudi Arabia for the past 15 years.

She owns an all-female gym called FLAG — an acronym for Fight Like A Girl — in the posh district of Jeddah, which along with boxing and kick-boxing also offers CrossFit, callisthenics, tabata and circuit training programmes.

A staunch advocate of health and fitness, Al Hamrani’s goal is “to empower Saudi women by getting them interested in boxing and kick-boxing.”

Defying stereotypes that boxing is aggressive and meant only for men, Al Hamrani said that sports of any nature should not be categorised by gender.

“I believe that continuous practising of it makes you less aggressive, friendly, peaceful, and a wholesome person with a calm demeanour,” said Al Hamrani.

Born to a Saudi father and an American mother, Al Hamrani said that both her parents are sports enthusiasts, and they supported her when she decided to take an unconventional career path.

Although initially her father, who owned a polo team in England, did express some concern about Al Hamrani’s boxing career in the kingdom.

“My dad was only a little worried about the backlash that I would get as a sports figure in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Al Hamrani was only 12 when she was introduced to boxing and different kinds of martial arts, developing a keen interest in such sports.

Over the years while growing up in Jeddah, alongside boxing she learnt karate, taekwondo, hakito and received a black belt in Japanese ju-jitsu.

“I focused completely on boxing, kick-boxing and Muay Thai while I was studying at the University of San Diego in California,” said Al Hamrani, who majored in environmental science and minored in international relations.

After completing her education and boxing training, Al Hamrani returned to Jeddah and aspired to become a professional boxer but due to lack of coaches and boxing facilities in Saudi Arabia she wasn’t able to fulfil her dream.

Al Hamrani’s mother then encouraged her to teach boxing, so she opened a gym in her parents’ house and started personal coaching to anyone who was interested in boxing.

The 40-year-old trainer said that teaching came quite naturally to her because she was still in school when she received her black belt in Japanese ju-jitsu, and one of its requirements was to teach for one year.

Social media played an important role in shaping Al Hamrani’s career. Four years back, she created a page on Instagram called FLAG just to keep track of her training progress, and before she knew it Al Hamrani had amassed a large fan following on her page.

With many Saudi women taking interest in boxing and requesting for classes, Al Hamrani opened a licensed gym and named it FLAG.

Al Hamrani, who rigorously trains herself six days a week, said that her coaches and the women she trains are her true inspirations. “I always get inspired by people around me. I train girls as young as 14 and ladies as old as 60.”

After Saudi Arabia approved the teaching of physical education in girls’ schools from September this year onwards, Al Hamrani is determined to introduce a self-defence programme for schoolgirls.

Happily married for 12 years to an extremely supportive husband, Al Hamrani resides with her 8-year-old son in Jeddah.

— Sadiya is a freelance journalist based in Jeddah