Sarah Tareen is a name familiar to those who have seen the suspense thriller ‘Tamanna’ starring Omair Rana and Salman Shahid, which did amazing business at the box office! A production house under the banner of ‘Concordia’, a mixed martial arts training certification and a few more upcoming projects in hand, there isn’t much you can hold back a woman on; believes Miss Tareen.
Daily Pakistan had an exclusive chit-chat with the beauty & brains: to discuss modern-day movies, the role of MMA in building up your defenses and ofcourse, on being a strong, independent woman.
DP: Sarah, let’s start off with your Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) training. What does it mean to be a certified MMA trainer, and is the concept new in Pakistan?
Sarah: The concept is, yes, fairly new in Pakistan but it is getting more popular by the day. The MMA community’s main emphasis all over the world is to bring together people mostly belonging to the lower middle socio- economic class, not only in Pakistan but also worldwide, to learn to train their minds to harness their aggression and /or strength in better ways.
Looking at our cricketing legends and athletes overall in Pakistan; most of them belong to this mentioned class. This is where our AVERAGE SPORTSMAN comes from. Sadly, the institutions that we do have here are either privately owned or military owned, and the average citizen does not have access to MMA facilities because of that.
Bashir Ahmad, the pioneer of MMA in Pakistan, started out in 2004 with his ever-popular Shaheen Gym which is located in ChararhPind (Punjab). Later on, he came up with the concept of ‘Synergy’, which has been my home for a year & a half now.
DP: Have you always been an advocate of fitness, or were you a couch potato and a slouch like us once upon a time?!
Sarah: For a person like me who does not enjoy going to the gym at all, I think it was the BEST idea to join mixed martial arts. In our training center, we have classes for women, and mixed classes for men and women both. Depends on the trainers; whichever coach you select you can have.
I lost almost 50 lbs and became lean and muscular, and owe it to my boxing coach and fitness trainer Usman Zulfiqar Khan.
DP: Who owns Synergy and how did you become a trainer?
Sarah: Mahmood Rehman, Bashir Ahmad’s business partner at Synergy, offered me to train women at their centre one day. They had seen me dedicated to the field for a year & a half, and I was familiar with all the MMA techniques.
DP: How does one benefit from martial arts, if we talk about the vulnerable Pakistani woman who isn’t as independent & bold as the educated, exposure-oriented woman?
Sarah: Martial arts has a lot of categories, and benefits too. Let’s take a look at Jujitsu; it’s all about making use of your ‘size’. It is extremely useful for a woman in Pakistan, who has to defend herself from a (God forbid) 200 pound man who has bad intentions. Jujitsu would come in handy at times like those, because you would know how to block and defend yourself.
Most of the working class we have in Pakistan comprises of women who don’t have cars and thrive on public transport, and martial arts give you the confidence of not feeling vulnerable at times like those.
DP: We have heard that martial arts is also incorporated into rehab culture & prisons worldwide. Is that correct?
Sarah: Martial arts training is a phenomena of ‘modern therapy’; even cancer patients are supposedly told to do ‘light’ martial arts to fight their disease. Prison cells in Thailand use martial arts to channelize the criminals’ aggression by training.
It is further also used as a technique in schools to stop from bullying and discrimination.
DP: Don’t you think that brings about aggression & violence along with over-confidence in an individual; knowing you can always win your battles?
Sarah: On the contrary, it does the complete opposite. They come to the gym, punch a heavy bag and even in light sparring (boxing), they leave the gym feeling lighter and less aggressive, perhaps even happy. At the end of the day, it lets you take out all your frustration and it is cathartic.
DP: Presuming that lower middle class don’t have access to social mediums or the existence of certified MMA trainers, how do you plan to approach the poor lot?
Sarah: ChararhPind slums of Lahore have been offered free training (for the kids) in Shaheen Gym. They offer training to the individuals and the best part about the gym is that they have a fighter’s cage (which is present in only a few places all over Pakistan).
There are no women fighters there yet.I hope to start sessions at shelters for women to be trained in self-defense techniques.My long term plan is to start an academy for women in self defense,
The reason I want to involve women is because there’s limited protection for them against domestic violence & sexual harassment out on the streets, and it will be useful as a confidence booster, even if they don’t have to use it ever.
DP: How did martial arts change your life?
Sarah: I don’t do martial arts to become a world champion or the best fighter, but I feel that it makes me a better person simply because I learn a little more about myself every day. I learn about my vulnerabilities, how I will counter them, and most importantly how I have to balance out my mental and physical being. I have become less aggressive contrary to my past self, and I take out all my frustrations on the sand bags!
Everyone is an equal at the sessions, there is no senior and junior. I learnt how to be on my toes throughout (while boxing), and how not to let my guard down, how to escape, and all that. People get too fixated on the physical aspect of the sport and only see the brutality of it, the shin clashes, the body kicks and the punches to the face, the physical trauma is just one part of the sport. Once you overcome that mindset and accept the terms, Muay Thai fight is like playing a game of chess. You plan your moves, you observe your opponent, and you sacrifice some shots in order to set up for the most effective attacks. This applies to everyday life as well. I can deal with situations better in life, considering that the media in itself is a VERY STRESSFUL FIELD.
DP: How is media a stressful field? Elaborate.
Sarah: You have to deal with so many different people, and be at all the places all the time. Martial arts taught me to deal with the outside world in a better way, , and to deal with whatever comes my way (there are good and bad times during shoots and I’ve become a much more calm person). In MMA one has to learn to display tenacity and grit regardless of what happens and practice humility. When you are not humble, then you have the tendency to become angry quickly when things don’t go your way in the ring.
This leads to a tightening of the fists, and tightening of the shoulders, which leads to inaccurate target selection and horrible punches, kicks, blocks, and head movement. This is why we spar so often in our gym. The more you do it, the more relaxed you will become and the better you will be at noting your strengths and weaknesses and thus, you will be better able to learn from them. At no time should the fighter ever spar while angry or upset as it leads to lack of self-control and discipline.
DP: Is there an intimidation amongst men because of a woman who trains in MMA & has a production house (Concordia Productions) of her own?
Sarah: They are confused by the fact, because they can’t think of me as a tomboy because of my getup, which is feminine. Athletic women are generally stereotyped as tomboyish.However, I think it’s amazing, because women should continue being whoever they, know that they can defend themselves against anything and yes, they do think twice before messing with you! (Laughs)
DP: Considering the fact that we are Pakistani women, coming from all walks of life (mothers, daughters, daughters-in-law) how does martial arts apply to us?
Sarah: From a homemaker to a working woman, it applies to everyone. When you take off your shoes and enter the MMA space, you are all equal. The only thing that matters at that time is: can you FIGHT? Can you STAND UP to your opponent? We have different social backgrounds coming together, and the ONLY thing that matters is..if you can kick someone’s butt! So as far as the Pakistani woman is concerned, or ANY woman from any background and ethnicity is concerned, it teaches us all equality and self-defense.
DP: What about the Jihadi mindset? Don’t uneducated or the lesser educated masses confuse martial arts with extremism?
Sarah: In a class bound society like Pakistan, with its problems of poverty and frustration, there is a risk of people turning to crime, drugs and terrorism for a sense of “belonging” as a result of marginalization. Martial arts may be the “soft power” needed to combat this threat, with its philosophy of disciplinary combat teaching resilience, peace and perseverance and can empower the vulnerable youth to take charge of their lives in a meaningful way and train to become the heroes of their own destiny. It definitely is miles apart from a Jihadi Extremist’s activities!
The only training you’re getting is your body and mind becoming ONE, and an awareness of what’s happening around you. It quickens your reflexes also, another advantage of MMA.
Bashir Ahmad’s tagline revolves around ‘PEACE THROUGH SPORTS’, and we all believe in that!
DP: Tell us parts of your struggle, times when you felt like giving up on yourself (throughout your martial arts experience)
Everyday! But that’s part of the martial arts experience, you will be tested physically and mentally. There will be days where you learn and teach. And there will be days where you will slump and feel powerlessness and want to give up. But quitting isn’t an option, and if you endure, you will become the best version of yourself at every stage. In the famous words of Rocky Balboa “It’s not about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
DP: Who are your 4 best friends in life and the media industry?
I have a set of close friends who are not associated with the media industry. As far as the media is concerned, you know how it is, everyone is your best friend and your competitor!
DP:Who are the 3 inspirational people that you look upto (celebs, at home or even friends)
Difficult to choose just three! But if I am to choose, my mother who is a multi-tasker and a homemaker and one of the strongest women I’ve met. My father who has always been physically fit and disciplined in his fitness regime and work and the people I train with (my trainers and friends) whom I respect for training me to become better and stronger.
DP: What is your biggest fantasy as a producer, and as a MMA trainer?
As a producer it is to inhabit a world, and to be successful in capturing its complexities, beauty and unpredictability and to be able to present it through the immortal medium of cinema. I want my last film to compete with the next. Ultimately I am a storyteller and I believe that film can be a powerful tool to convey complexities of the world and prompting dialogue and empathy. For me filmmaking is an evolutionary process, which is why I probably relate it to martial arts.
My ambition for films and MMA training is the same- to make it meaningful and to trust the process to become the best version of yourself.
We loved interviewing Sarah. You go, girl!