The seventh-degree black belt and winner of several national and international championships Shaheen Ansari is the first Indian woman to become a World Referee for karate at the World Championships in Linz, Austria. The cupboards at her Mazagaon residence proudly display the cups, trophies and medals won at numerous karate tournaments.
The 44-year-old has faced many hurdles in her challenging journey, but she muses, “There were many, but when you fall, you have to get up. I look ahead. Learn from your hurdles and then forget them”.
Shaheen, the mother of two kids, retired from the sport in 2010 and attempted her first referee exam in August 2010. “To qualify as Referee A (senior-most referee in karate), you need to give six exams—two for kata and four for kumite—at the continent and world levels,” she tells the DNA. She completed the Referee A Asian level exams in a record time of three years, i.e. by 2013. “You can afford to get only seven out of 70 questions, wrong. For the practicals, we have to referee six bouts of matches with ten examiners watching and writing our scores,” she said when asked about the exam format.
The results were announced this October, and she has made it through. She is now a Referee A at the world level. “It was the first time in karate history that a woman from India or South Asia had given and cleared the exam,” she said happily. She is also happy that now hijab is part of the karate referee uniform as she wears it, a personal choice made back in 2014. She said, “I started wearing a hijab—a personal choice. The hijab has never been part of the karate referee uniform but was introduced by the World Karate Federation (WKF) in the same year. I was very fortunate”.
As Referee A, Shaheen can referee at the Asian Games, World Championships, Olympics and any other official championships by the WKF. She is also the vice chairperson of the referee commission of the Karate Association of India (KAI), the official and authentic body of karate recognised by the Government of India, and a member of the WKF Women’s Sports Commission, where she represents Indian women in karate and can help tackle their problems. She is also a member of the WKF- the highest karate body in the world, which is recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
She was introduced to karate in class seven. It was her parents who encouraged her to take up this sport for self-defense. She practised six times a week. She used to come back home from college, have her lunch and leave for her practice. Gradually with time, karate became her passion, and she went on to win some major national and international tournaments.
She married her karate teacher. “It was rare for a person from my community to pursue karate. But my family and my husband’s family were open-minded and supported me.” She continued playing the sport even after her children who are now, both fifth-degree black belts and national champions were born. A proud mother, she says that it was her daughter who replaced her at the national championships when she retired!
She still trains under her husband and together they conduct classes in schools and privately too. They even have national champions in their classes. Shaheen begins her morning training routine at 6 am either at the Mahalaxmi Race Course or at Dojo. Post her home chores she spends the rest of the day, teaching karate and has her evenings and Sundays reserved for the family.
In future Shaheen Ansari hopes to be one of the two Asian women referees for karate at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.