Ruqsana Begum is the British female Muay Thai Champion who won bronze at the recent World Championships and was shortlisted for the 2012 Sports Woman of the Year award by the Muslim Women in Sport Foundation. However, as Support through Sport UK's Helen Keeling discovered for Women’s Sport Report, these are just a few of Ruqsana’s achievements …
Hi Ruqsana. First off, can you tell us a bit more about Muay Thai and explain how it differs from other forms of kickboxing?
Muay Thai originated in Thailand as a type of fighting used in warfare. It has since evolved into a popular combat sport across the world - also known as ‘the art of eight limbs’. Strikes are allowed not only with the fists - but also with the knees and elbows - and there are, of course, kicks.
Muay Thai is an extremely physical sport - many considering it to be the toughest martial art. Is it common for participants to end up with bruises and broken noses?
I agree that it is it is one of the toughest forms of martial art and it requires a very high level of fitness. Fighters often end up with bruises and, especially when fighting professionally, there can be broken noses! This shouldn’t put people off the sport though as lessons are often well-regulated. It is important to remain focused at all times when training and fighting in order to try and out-skill opponents.
Is it true that when you initially took up the sport you fought in secret as you were nervous about the reaction you would receive from your family and community (Ruqsana was born and raised in East London within a British Bengali Muslim family)?
Yes, I was nervous about the reaction from my family and the Muslim community as it is not a feminine sport and some say that it is not appropriate in my culture. However I have overcome these obstacles and since I’ve introduced Muay Thai to my family and community they now understand its many benefits - including encouraging discipline, determination, self-defence and good health.
When you did tell your family and friends about your involvement in Muay Thai, how did they react? And are they now very proud of all of your achievements?
I told my family that I was practising Muay Thai five years ago, soon after I graduated from University, as I strongly believed in what I was doing and wanted to continue. They have been very understanding ever since and their support has been invaluable - they were especially proud when I won the British title.
Why would you encourage Muslim girls to get into sport, despite the cultural obstacles that they are likely to have to overcome?
Playing sport has numerous benefits and I am a firm believer in encouraging young people to get involved where possible. It helps you to have a healthier lifestyle, gain in confidence and feel happier!
You’ve achieved so much - the British Atomweight Muay Thai Belt, gold at the European Cup in 2011, your bronzes at the Worlds - what’s been the highlight?
Winning the gold medal in Latvia was a highlight for me as I was fighting against national champions from all over Europe. I put in a lot of effort in that tournament as my coach was not there so I wanted to do him proud - as well as myself! I trained really hard in the lead up to the tournament and I was so happy that it paid off.
Is it true that, in addition to your Muay Thai commitments, you’re a part-qualified architect, a part-time science technician, a personal trainer, a Muay Thai instructor and you give motivational speeches? How do you fit it all in?
Yes, that is true! I really enjoy doing all of the above so I make sure that I have time for all of these activities. Each day brings a different interesting project and I am excited to see what the future holds.
Finally, can you tell us a bit about your involvement with Fight for Peace - the charity that uses boxing to try to reduce levels of youth crime, gangs and gun violence within disadvantaged communities?
I teach boxing and Muay Thai classes at Fight for Peace, which allows young people to channel their emotions and apply themselves to sport. We also help with finding young people jobs though mentor programmes, which also takes them off the streets.
Thank you so much for talking to Support through Sport UK, Ruqsana.
For more information about Ruqsana, please visit www.ruqsana-begum.com or follow her on Twitter @BritishMuayThai. For media enquiries please contact ENS Sports PR on 020 7934 9030.