Cool Kaurs

Gatka for Fitness

by Jaspreet Kaur

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 a series of four articles, she shares her 15 year fitness journey and the amazing Sikh women who have helped her along the way.

This is part 3. Be sure to read the first two articles in the series!

Part 1- Athletic Sikh Women Who Inspire Me

Part 2 – I Hate Running & I Ran a Half Marathon

Kiranpreet Kaur

As I continued into the third week of getting back on track with fitness, I reached out, this time over national borders, to Kiranpreet Kaur from New York. The first time I met Kiran was at a Sidak leadership retreat. I was teaching in the Gurbaani 101 stream and she was asleep in the back row. This underwhelming first impression quickly changed when she ended up having learned all the content and scored really well on the tests! I learned that she was a gatka instructor and competed in gatka tournaments.

Alongside this she was also a red-black belt in Tae Kwon Do, practiced kickboxing, and weight trained. Today, she has graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and is studying for her MCATS while co-managing a psychology research lab. I caught her in Richmond Hill, New York and got to ask her about her gatka practice and fitness journey.

What brought you to gatka?

It was actually my dad who pitched the idea. He brought Ustaad Onkar Singh in from India who taught gatka during our local summer camps. A bunch of us started practicing, but after camp ended, only a handful of us kept the practices going. We would hold them in backyards or wherever we could find space.

Did you see other women in the gatka community?

Not really. When we were starting off, it was just me and a couple girls. After a few years, when we settled down and began regular practice, many younger, teenage girls joined. I was one of the oldest in the group and when I left for college, the remaining girls fractured and the group deteriorated.

What keeps you motivated while you were training?

The people really. I had gotten so close to the members on the team that they had become like family to me. I loved the supportive environment and the amazing people I got to share the experience with. It was the first time I got to experience what it felt like to be on a team.

What would you say to a young woman considering doing gatka?

It may seem scary and you may be hesitant because you don’t know anyone, but it’s all about working past that initial fear. If you have to, bring a friend! Once you join an akhara (place of practice), you’ll realize how supportive and friendly everyone is. You will feel like you are at home.

Who do you turn to for inspirations?

I watch many gatka videos and when I see cool new moves I don’t know, I ask fellow members if they can help me figure it out. They are so friendly and supportive. They are always helping me learn new vaars (strikes) and jumps to improve my game. Also, since I train with mostly Singhs, I feel like I have to to be on par with them–just as good or better.  

What do you eat when training?

Gurdware di roti. We train in the gurdwara, so when we are done, we go downstairs and have langar. Palak paneer all the way!

What competitions have you been a part of?

YUDH (NY) in 2009

Jung (NJ) in 2017

YUDH (NY) in 2018

What are your reasons for competing?

Well, each competition has its own unique set of reasons. But one of the big ones has always been that there wasn’t a lot of Kaur representation and I was encouraged to participate to show other Kaurs that they too can compete internationally.

I remember being very nervous during my first competition. I was so afraid of getting hurt that I played more defensively, letting fear take over. But I’ve grown through practice and other competitions. My second competition, I was the only girl in my akhara to participate. Although I had only trained for a month, I won second place.

But YUDH this year was the most important competition for me. I entered for several reasons. My dad really pushed me go. He even got me on the phone with my Ustaad and I ended up promising him I would compete. But the biggest push came from within. There was a message that kept coming up during my mediation and it was telling me to go compete, and so I listened to that voice. It ended up being a great decision. What I’ve learned from competing is that you don’t need to be good player, you need to be courageous one, one willing to take the chance.

There was some conversation this year about the prizes women were given this year at YUDH. What are your thoughts?

I noticed that the women and girls didn’t get as much of a cash prize as the guys and there was also no third place prize for the girls. To me, this trend is somewhat understandable because there have always been more Singhs, so they’ve had to play more games and work harder to win. However, now that the Kaurs section is growing, the organizers should level up and provide that equal incentive for both sexes.

What does training for fights looks like?

It is intense days of practicing our defence and offense vaars (strikes). We do simulated rounds amongst teammates after we’ve warmed up with our pentra and jumps.

What has been your biggest training challenge?

Showing up.

What can Singhs do to make akharas welcoming to women?

It’s not always the Singhs who are not welcoming of Kaurs in gatka spaces. I actually find the Singhs wanted us there. I feel like parents pose a bigger hurdle because they are often too hesitant to send their daughters into akharas knowing there will be more Singhs than Kaurs. They always say “Changa nai lagda” (“It doesn’t look good”). It’s the parents that have to let go a little bit and trust their daughters.

How did you get into teaching?

Our Ustaad had to leave after a while. Since he wasn’t around to teach, the torch naturally got passed down to the few older students on the team who had a strong foundation of the basics and could teach. I was one of those older students.

What is your proudest moment?

This year’s YUDH tournament. I saw the change. I saw myself develop from that person who competed through fear into someone that was finally able to let go of it. I truly feel my performance wasn’t me; It was blessings from a higher source.

What are your next steps?

Getting back into shape. School has been such a huge part of my life and now with that winding down, I am finally going to have time for fitness.  

If you could put your daughter into a sport, what would it be?

Gymnastics. It is so fierce, yet so graceful.  

This is part 3. Be sure to read the first two articles in the series!

Part 1- Athletic Sikh Women Who Inspire Me

Part 2 – I Hate Running & I Ran a Half Marathon

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