British champion brings Muay Thai to South Quay

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A high-intensity concoction of kicks and clinching, the ancient practice of Muay Thai warfare was traditionally a method of defending a community.

Dubbed "the art of eight weapons" it involves plentiful use of the fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet, coupled with good physical preparation, to produce maximum results.

The martial art has recently exploded onto the Docklands sporting scene courtesy of a 29-year-old from east London.

Ruqsana Begum holds the title of British Muay Thai Champion and secured a bronze medal at the sport's world challenge in Russia last year.

Ruqsana, who also holds a degree in architecture and wants to teach others the practice, said: "It's such a good way to get fit and healthy and learn about yourself.

"It applies in your day-to-day life. It's dedication, it's hard work, and shows that if Plan A doesn't work, you go to Plan B.

"It's challenging yourself to be the best you can be. It doesn't have to be about jumping straight into the ring, although you can do that."

Her own successes in the ring, sprung from a taster session at college. But she faced an uphill battle outside the ring as she strived to convince her Muslim family and friends the martial art was her career.

She said: "I don't see myself as the British champion. I am just a girl that trains hard.

"I look at most athletes that have achieved what I have and they started from age five and, perhaps, had someone in their family who did it.

"I had none of those benefits and I started from a minus in many ways. I match them and I am competing at a world class level without family support. I am being my own best friend.

"My coach is behind me and supporting me and now my family know what I have achieved. Before that it was all behind closed doors putting in the hard work. But I have a lot to be thankful for. Even when it has been hard, the year has always ended well.

"Last year, I got to carry the Olympic torch and that was very special. I also got presented to the Queen, which was such an honour."

Coached by Olympian Bill Judd, she will be holding a series of classes at the Ringside Gym, on South Quay.

Although in competitive terms, she said the sport was "one of the most dangerous martial arts", the Ilford resident said Wharfers could reap rewards.

Ruqsana is now juggling her training and classes with helping youngsters as a coach for charity Fight For Peace, based near London City Airport, and working part-time at Tower Hamlets' Swanlea School.

To book for one of her classes at Ringside call 07984 009 135 or email ruqsanabegum2k@hotmail.com.

Ruqsana Begum's passion to promote the wider benefits of sport led to her taking on a coaching role at Fight For Peace.

The organisation, with its London base at North Woolwich, was formed in 2000 by Luke Dowdney who witnessed the violence encountered by street children in Brazil.

Charged with finding an alternative to drug trafficking and violence for young people the world over, the former amateur boxer devised a system that combined boxing and martial arts with education and personal development.

Ruqsana said: "I got involved with the coaching team, doing workshops and personal development sessions.

"It's really good to see you can make such a difference to someone's life and take them from one extreme to another. Quite a few former members are personal trainers now.

"They have really turned their lives around. It takes them away from the negative in society and gives them something positive.

"They can apply their energies in sport and instead of losing it outside, they can lose it in the boxing ring."

Go to fightforpeace.net.

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