Our history is full of examples of strong, fit, athletic women.
Like Mai Bhago, Bibi Daliar Kaur, and Bibi Anoop Kaur – all of whom trained and fought along side Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Their sword fighting, archery, spear, horsewomanship, hand-to-hand combat, and self defense skills were presumably great assets to the Sikh army.
Defending again imminent attack from opposing armies wasn’t the only reason Kaurs maintained their bodies at peak physical fitness. Their pursuit of fttness was also influenced by two Sikh concept: “Tyaar Bar Tyaar,” and “Miri-Piri”.
Tyaar Bar Tyaar, can be translated to mean, “Ready upon ready,” or “Ready at a moments notice.” This phrase is often used to describe the quick speed at which Sikhs mobilized for defending others. It can also be used to illustrate the Sikh mentality of always being ready to do seva and find ways to help the community.
“Miri-Piri” is another gurmat concept that guides the Sikh panth to establish both temporal and spiritual authority. “Miri” can manifested through things like physical fitness, martial practice, and civic and political action. “Piri” can be practiced through such things like meditation, seva, kirtan, and gurbani vichar.
Maintaining our bodies isn’t simply a matter of being fit for the sake of being fit. We are honoring the vehicle that the Divine gave us for the purpose of engaging in seva, simran, and sangat. We are keeping ourselves healthy so we can continue to serve others in whatever capacity the time demanded of us.
In this light, Jaspreet Kaur went on a mission to find contemporary Sikh women who have made fitness a part of their lives. We hope you’re inspired to get your workout-on by the four Kaurs she interviewed!
Jaspreet Kaur was raised without Kaur role models in sports and fitness. Teachers often told her that she was bad at gym and that she was not naturally athletic. She internalized that message and never pursued fitness until she was an adult in university. In the next four articles, she shares her 15 year fitness journey and the amazing Sikh women who have helped her along the way.
I finally like being fit
As a young Sikh women, I was raised without role models in sports and fitness. While I grew up doing gatka, I was told by teachers that I was bad at gym and that I was not naturally athletic. These self fulfilling prophecies from educators became my reality and it wasn’t until I was an adult in university that I discovered that what I lacked in talent I made up for in effort. A 15 year journey that started with hesitantly getting on a treadmill during my undergrad, culminated in a Muay Thai instructorship, years teaching gatka across North America, and most recently, a half-marathon.
Now, after years of training, I finally accept myself as someone who likes being fit. I find comfort in discipline and routine. I find validation in attainable goals. I also find that without new challenges I don’t train as hard. Case in point, I have only done sporadic workouts since completing my half marathon. What was initially a “well-deserved” break from working out has become a full fledged slump.
This new slump however stands apart from my initial lack of fitness. I suddenly find myself surrounded by amazing Sikh women who rock the sports and fitness world. In an attempt to get back on track I reached out to four badass women and asked them to talk to me and train with me. What I share now is the first of these four sessions and interviews.
I didn’t have to go far for my first workout. Gursharn Kaur is a dear friend, a past training partner and the founder of her own fitness training brand Strong Like G. A crown attorney by day, by night she’s a blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do, a purple belt competitor in Jiu Jitsu, and a Gatka fighter. This fierce 31 year old from Brampton, Ontario far outranks most men in the martial arts world and gets half the credit.
On this particular Monday, Gursharn and I met up at a gym in the heart of Brampton to lift weights and and talk about what keeps her going in her male-dominated sport. The following are some of the (many) questions asked over a one hour training session.
What keeps you motivated?
My routine. Even if don’t want to work out (and even when I forget my running shoes lol) I’ve schedule my life around my training, so it’s not much of a choice. There are hard, tiring days but my motivation lies in the genuine love for the grind. There are few sacrifices I make for my training, and the sacrifices I do make are for the important things like family, friends and loved ones. But even they know when I have to hit the gym or the mats.
What is the biggest excuse you hear from people who don’t work out?
“I don’t have the time”. You need to MAKE time for the things that matter. It sounds cliche but it’s the truth. Whether it’s making the time for someone you’re in a relationship with, cleaning your car, preparing your meals on the weekend or hitting the gym, if you don’t have time, you simply don’t care enough and it’s not a priority. Period.
What’s your go to workout track?
2pac – Starin’ Through My Rearview
What has Jiu Jitsu taught you about yourself?
I was surprised to learn that I was lacking in self-confidence. I would go into tournaments and visualize myself losing, thinking that I didn’t have the skill, fortitude or grit to win. I have learned that it is okay to cry and to feel that way. Jiu Jitsu has been a humbling experience. It has torn me down and built me up. You really have to confront your ego, and really have to come to terms with who you believe yourself to be. Through this journey I have learned to appreciate and trust myself. I have learned how to have relationships on and off the mats. Most importantly I have developed a sense of my body in space. I have a visceral connection with my body. My reflexes are sharp and I am grounded and connected.
What are you most proud of?
Getting my purple belt in Jiu Jitsu!
Do people ever underestimate you?
Yes, but not physically. They underestimate my kindness. There is a soft heart under this exterior.
Who do you follow for fitness motivation?
Gezary Mutada. Lauren Simpson. Melissa Alcantara.
Who is the best female in the Jiu Jitsu game?
Gezary Matuda. #WCE.
If you had a daughter what sport would you put her in first?
Swimming. It is an essential life skill!
Has being a Sikh woman helped or hindered your journey in martial arts?
Probably both. I have been told by Sikh men that I was not allowed to wrestle as a woman. I also have men who challenge me to fights outside of the gym to “test my skills”. These are usually people who don’t know the first thing about fighting or martial arts and watch the UFC from the comfort of their couches.
Being in a brown woman’s body makes things harder. Punjabi culture (distinguishable from Sikh ideals and philosophies) often does not allow women’s bodies to exist in spaces that are male dominated. At least not in the same way that male bodies are allowed to exist. That hinders exploration and expression of your physical body, which prevents girls and women from understanding their bodies on many levels.
Having said that, these hurdles made me want to pursue martial arts even more. I pursued Taekwondo, Gatka, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Karate, and boxing. The blood of my warrior ancestors runs in my veins and I garner a lot of strength from that. The men I train with now don’t make anything of the fact that I am a Sikh woman training with them. I show up, I train, and I am given the respect I earn.
What strength do you find in your Sikhi?
I love knowing that I come from a lineage of strong women, real warriors that fought alongside men. No one can take that away from me.
If you could ask the Sikh community for one thing what would it be?
To accept women’s bodies in all their complexity. To see that we come in different shapes and sizes and make different choices.
What advice do you have to someone looking to get into martial arts or any type of workout routine?
Get yourself into a gym, educate yourself and just have fun (just don’t injure yourself; that’s where the education comes in). If you don’t know where to start look for a trainer or coach and do your research. Not all trainers are created equal. If you’re looking for a coach, understand that it’s a relationship, and in order for any relationship to work you have to vibe. There are also a lot of great resources online. Do a workout in your own home to build up your confidence. Just start somewhere. It’s a journey and you will learn along the way, one step at a time.
What is next for you?
Getting healthy again by recovering from my acl reconstruction surgery and winning a Jiu Jitsu World Championship!