Nakul Shivani/ New Delhi
“I teach sports. I also teach ways to live a good life” – Faisal Dar
When Faisal Dar’s name featured in the list of Padma awardees in the year 2022, a glass ceiling had been broken. Dar etched his name in history books by becoming the first sportsperson from Jammu and Kashmir to win the prestigious Padma Shri.
The government honoured him with this prestigious civilian award for his outstanding contribution as a martial arts coach and for playing a key role in using the power of sports to keep the youth away from the menace of drug addiction.
“The award was both shocking and surprising at the same time. It came as a complete bolt from the blue. Once the overwhelming feeling sunk in, I knew it also brought more responsibility. The expectations of doing something even better increased,” says Dar remembering the time he received a pat on the back from none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the awards ceremony in Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The recognition on the eve of the Republic Day last year was a tribute to his crusade to keep Kashmir in the national headlines for the all the right reasons.
Ali Dar has been working to bring the youth of the valley into the mainstream
It was the decade of 2000s - Kashmir was witnessing turmoil. There were young boys and girls out on the streets with stones in their hands. Schools and Colleges were shut, children were staring at an uncertain future. That’s when Dar hailing from the scenic Bandipora district on the banks of the magnificient Wular Lake decided to step in to change the narrative.
“I wanted to bring the youth of Kashmir into the mainstream. They needed someone to handhold them and drag them out of the bad habits they were easily falling prey to,” he says.
Moreover, Dar realized the failings of a system, that was preventing him to excel in his passion – martial arts. A Bruce Lee films buff, he wanted to learn the tricks of martial arts and dreamt of representing the country at the Olympics. But with no proper infrastructure, and lack of coaching facilities, Dar then a school student was finding it difficult to grow in his sport. To address this issue, he brought together a few of his friends and floated an informal club to practice the sport at the local playground.
Over the years, his successes at the state and national level, brought more children into the group. The turning point came eight years later in 2012, when he won a silver medal for the country at an International Kickboxing championship in Pune. He came back home with pride but also many lessons.
At Dar's academies children learn different sports and ways to lead a good life
“My visits to other parts of the country were teaching me the importance of having systems in place. Having myself struggled to get proper structured training, I was not going to allow the next generation of players be deprived of the same,” says Dar talking about the motivation behind starting his academies.
More importantly, he was learning the importance of sports in keeping children to not go astray. “Sports is a way of life. It is platform that can help anyone excel in life,” he says. This was also the time the youth of Kashmir was witnessing its constructive years go waste due to circumstances not in their control.
He started the Ali Sports academy in his hometown. The idea was to instill discipline and encourage children to remain part of the mainstream. Here, young boys and girls from various corners of the valley learn the art of martial arts and other sports, and more importantly, are taught to lead life the right way.
Trainees at Dar's academy range from five-year-olds to some in the mid-thirties
“I teach children here to be better human beings each day. I am creating good minds. I tell them to observe changes in them everyday, make notes and improve further,” he says.
Today there are 17 centres he runs across the Union Territory with an enrolment of close to thirty thousand people in the age group of five to 35 years. Here, trainees learn not only martial arts, but also other sports, and most importantly they are also taught to deal with social issues like drugs, cleanliness, environment etc.
Known lovingly as ‘Master Faisal’, this former international medalist has produced some world class martial arts players for the country. Among his protegees are Tajmul Islam, a two-time junior world junior kick boxing champion, Abida Akhtar, International medalist in Wushu, Hashim Mansoor, junior Asian Karate champion and Sheikh Adnan who has brought glory for the country in Karate.
"Sports can transform lives" - Faisal Dar
Talking about the future, 34-year-old Dar says he “aims to empower the youth of the militancy infested districts with opportunities and dreams.” But for that he says he needs much more than what he has in his hands now. “I wish the government came forward even more. There is so much they are doing, but there is still a lot that needs to be done.”
“Sports is huge platform that can transform lives, societies. Need a vision with a mission to change the mindset of the youth of the Kashmir valley,” he adds.
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And before rushing back to his academy, Dar talks of a day when one of his protegees will win an Olympic medal for India. “Imagine a Kashmiri winning an Olympic medal for India, how beautiful that will be,” he says with hope in his smile.