carnegieXchange: School of Sport

Martial arts businesswoman discovers passion for learning in lockdown

Mumtaz Khan is a Ju-Jitsu black belt holder and founder of one of the largest martial arts clubs in the UK. When Covid-19 impacted her business, she chose to return to higher education to study MA Sport Development and Management. Mumtaz shares her story of how she ‘stumbled’ into martial arts, and how she intends to apply her recent learning into practice to establish a new National Governing Body with diversity at its core.

Profile of Mumtaz Khan

Discovering Ju-Jitsu

At school I was one of those students who hated PE sessions, particularly as I hit puberty. I was overweight, out of shape and not confident in the way I looked or in general. I left school aged 16 to work in a bank and for 4 years I had zero engagement in any sports or physical activities.

Ju-Jitsu happened by pure luck and chance. I had gone to play badminton with a friend and after getting into an argument with a Ju-Jitsu instructor over a double-booked hall, I ended up staying to watch them train once our game was over. The instructor kept asking if I wanted to join in, but I refused each time until he said, “I’m not asking you again, you can’t do it anyway – you’re a woman.” I don’t like being told what I can and can’t do, so I took the bait and joined in. That session changed my life.

Within a few years I began coaching as a hobby and later began my own club. I wanted a name that was representative of me and chose ‘Onna’, partly because it translates as ‘woman’ in Japanese and because it’s a play on the word ‘honour’ which is one of seven Codes of Bushido. Onna Ju-Jitsu is now one of the largest martial arts clubs in the UK. We deliver sessions in primary and secondary schools, higher education facilities and through a network of community centres.

Choosing to study during lockdown 2020 

March 16th 2020 was the last Ju-Jitsu session I delivered and shortly afterwards the country was on full lockdown. My father passed away on April 18th 2020 and it was a really tough time. From working 7 days a week, I was suddenly faced with doing nothing and needed something to occupy my time and provide some sort of structure as the days were all just merging into one big blur.

I remember seeing a post on Twitter by Leeds Beckett lecturer Louise Morby about a new Masters course in Sport Development and Management that included topics such as governance, racism, leadership and thought it looked really interesting. The course looked ideal for me as I had recently had a disagreement with Sport England and had been reading up about their Code of Governance and around the issues of Racism in Sport.

Weighing up the situation regarding lockdown restrictions and the impact it was having on my business, I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to undertake further education and applied for a place on the course. It would distract me from what was happening in the world and give me something positive to focus on.

I am really enjoying learning again. Writing my first essay was very challenging as I was just so rusty in writing academically and I am still getting my head around Harvard Referencing. I love the course content; it is all very applicable and relevant to what I do in my professional life but also creates opportunities to explore different paths should I wish to embark on a change of direction. 

Learning about Critical Race Theory in the Applied Social Theory module was fascinating, and I managed a 70% grade, so I am doing my utmost best to keep at that level or better. The staff on the course have all been really supportive; they are all friendly, approachable and extremely knowledgeable.

A Ju-Jitsu student throws another onto a red mat

One student throws another to the mat at an Onna Ju-Jitsu session

How the pandemic has affected me

For me, the pandemic has created the ideal environment to study. Don’t get me wrong; I like attending on-campus, in-person lectures and the students on my course are all lovely, however having the luxury of attending lectures online in your pyjamas is great! I find the recorded lectures available on MyBeckett really useful to refer back to as my attention wanders during sessions and being able to re-visit a lecture helps things to really sink in.

The Ju-Jitsu aspect of my business has temporarily stopped following Covid-19 regulations regarding social distancing measures, so I made the strategic decision to shift my efforts towards the development of more Covid-safe activities such as our family-friendly cycling club Onna Bike. As a club we have delivered some amazing projects through the pandemic that has resulted in hundreds of people being able to access cycling including the delivery of Dr Bike maintenance sessions (funded by Cycling UK and JU:MP) as well as the #GetOnYerBicycle project working with NHS staff thanks to funding from City Connect. I think the main lesson from this pandemic is success comes from the ability to adapt and work collaboratively with other organisations.

One year ago, I would have never dreamed of doing a Masters, and now I am seriously considering the possibility of undertaking a PhD. I need to rebuild my Ju-Jitsu club, put all the knowledge I have gained through this course into practice which will greatly benefit the communities I work with. I also want to put my learning regarding good governance into practice to help develop a new National Governing Body with diversity at the core.

Three cyclists stand with a bicycle in Bradford City Centre

Three Onna Bike participants in Bradford City Centre

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