Smashing barriers with martial arts

When she was eight years old, little did she know that watching films of Jackie Chan or other action films would inspire her to emerge as a kickboxer and a coach.

Published: 19th December 2021 02:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th December 2021 03:37 AM   |  A+A-

Pooja Harsha seen during the 1st state level kickboxing championship organised in Mysuru

Express News Service

MYSURU:  Proving an adage that one should be breaking down barriers, not building walls, a 30-year-old Mysuru woman has stepped on the road less trodden to smash the barriers with her martial art skills to reach the top. Meet Pooja Harsha, a Mysuru-based kickboxing national medalist and coach who with many firsts in her kitty is striving hard to bring more children and youngsters to the sport.

When she was eight years old, little did she know that watching films of Jackie Chan or other action films would inspire her to emerge as a kickboxer and a coach. Today, she is the first woman to be serving as state head (Karnataka) of World Association of Kickboxing Organisations (WAKO) India and is also the chairman of WAKO India women’s committee.

Born to Hari and Janaky Das, Pooja is their only daughter and they ensured that she did not face any bias in the family. “My father, an ardent fan of martial arts, was the one who sowed the seed in my mind. He woke me up at 5 am every day and took me for an 8 km walk and then for karate classes. He ensured that I never missed any class. I used to feel it was difficult, but gradually, it started to fascinate me and in the next two years, I was ready for a karate tournament,” she says. 

Pooja Harsha

Though Pooja did not win her first karate match in Bengaluru, the loss made her strong. Over the next two decades, she represented the state over 60 times, winning 43 gold, 28 silver and 19 bronze medals. She is also a national champion 14 times.

When most of her batchmates refrained from kickboxing, Pooja was inspired by her husband Harsha, an Asian bronze medalist and head coach at the Academy of Self Defence (ASD) who introduced her to the sport and has been her coach.

Within years, she achieved a national level entry and became the first woman from Karnataka to be awarded a black belt second degree in K1 style under WAKO. Training a big bunch of talent in Mysuru, she went on to become an International referee in ring sports. She is the first to represent Asia in WAKO World women in sport committee and to get elected as a member. She currently serves as chairman of WAKO India women’s committee.

Pooja says that though she did not face any discrimination as a player, she had to face roadblocks on her journey to head WAKO-Karnataka. “It was my dream job and I fought for eight years to achieve it. It’s one of the biggest achievements in my two-and-a-half decades of martial arts journey. I owe it to my mentor and guru Santosh Agarwal,” she says.

Though she became the head of Karnataka Wako just two weeks before the second Covid-induced lockdown, she built a team during the lockdown and made hundreds of phone calls and held virtual meetings to educate people about kickboxing. She managed to introduce kickboxing in 18 districts of Karnataka.

At the WAKO India Seniors National Kickboxing Championship in Goa recently, she led the biggest team from Karnataka of 103 kickboxers, who bagged 64 medals and created history by jumping from the eighteenth spot to third.

She has introduced kickboxing at elementary and secondary schools and has been teaching it at 16 schools in Mysuru and Bengaluru. “The gender issues have discouraged women from taking up martial arts. Women should train to retain proper balance and hold immense power,” she says.   

1. First Woman to be appointed as state head of WAKO in the last 20 years

2. First woman from country to introduce kickboxing sport in elementary and secondary schools under 

3. First woman to represent Asia in WAKO World women in sport committee and to get elected as member

4. Chairman of WAKO India women committee

5. First woman in Karnataka to be awarded with second degree black belt in kickboxing

6. First woman in South India to become national coach


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