Financial constraints and societal and government’s apathy has forced the Kashmir’s only Taekwondo player with an international degree to work at a petty car mechanic’s to earn a livelihood, Abid Rashid Baba reports.
he first ever Kashmiri player who holds the distinction of having a degree from International Taekwondo Federation, believe it or not, works in a mechanic workshop in Srinagar’s Batmaloo area. Bilal Khan, 34, toils hard at the workshop during the day trains aspiring players who dream of becoming Karatee champions in the nights. A respected figure among his peer, Khan has trained many medallists.
Khan’s fascination for Taekwondo began at an early age. Although his dream of learning the Taekwondo and becoming one of the fine players came true, but it could not translate into economic gains. “I was inspired by the action movies. I liked Hollywood actors like Jean Claude Van Dame and Jackie Chan. Among Bollywood actors, I like Akshay Kumar. Watching them act on screen inspired me to try martial arts,’’ he says.
Khan was trained by one the best trainers of Kashmir valley, Tariq Ahmad Geelani. Tariq used to train some students at Dal Gate when Khan joined him in 1995. The fee for the training was Rs 500 and Bilal was not able to afford that which the trainer waived off. “After some months, he was so impressed by my interest and dedication that he refused to accept the fee and thus began my journey in this art.’’ Khan recalls.
In 1997, there was no association of ITF in Kashmir. So his trainer took him to Jammu to attend a martial art training camp. “In Jammu, I was accompanied by my senior players as they wanted to encourage me. Therefore we were first to bring Taekwondo Association to Kashmir valley,’’ he told Kashmir Life.
In 1998, Khan undertook a task of training young boys from Batamalloo. He received good response and about 20 youngsters joined the first batch in the first month. The number only kept swelling with time. His group held demonstrations in schools and playgrounds to attract the youth. By the end of 2003, when he qualified the first degree Black Belt, the number of boys in each class was above 100 with some of them having competed at the national level.
Bilal has played at interstate level for the north zone at two national championships; first at Pathankot in 1999 and another at Mumbai in 2003 and has won both. In Mumbai, the international football federation conferred him with the ‘first degree black belt’ award. About this achievement, he says “I was the first player from Kashmir to achieve this milestone. Apart from this, I have served as a referee in many inter-college and other competitions,” he says.
“My greatest achievement is that my students always perform well in and outside the state. I am proud of that,’’ he further added. The association is working even today but Khan is keeping a low key profile by working as a mechanic in a local shop. The first and the foremost reason, Khan says, is the financial problem which he faced every time. “We had to bear all the expenses from travel to food. We had no resources to run the association and as a result, a majority of the students became disinterested and left the game,” he says.
“Being from a middle class family, I could not afford the expenses. I still have a dream to start a strong coaching institute for ITF but the government is totally indifferent towards the game. If government would support us, then things can change.” According to Khan, “Every individual should give priority to his health and physical fitness. Martial arts skills inculcate a sense of discipline in an individual.’’
Since 2005, Khan has not been actively involved with sports. “I am isolated from the game. I am busy in my mechanic workshop.’’ In 2009, Khan personally trained two siblings of Hyderpora at their residence. One of them, Sadiq ul Hassan, won a bronze in his first national championship held in New Delhi. “In 2011, both Sadiq and Zaboor ullah Hassan [female] won gold in state championship held at Women’s College, Nawa Kadal. I am proud of that,” he says. “The parents don’t encourage their children. They pressurise them and make them bookworms which is not good,’’ he told Kashmir life.