Muslim martial artist teaches self-defense to women

Students in a self-defense class for women at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound watch Fauzia Lala (right foreground) demonstrate breaking out of a wrist grab. (Courtesy photo.)

The first lesson in self-defense: Being surrounded or semi-surrounded is bad. Keep moving until your attackers are all on one side, preferably funneled into a single file line.

The second and third lessons in self-defense: Control your attacker’s wrists and use your body, not your arms, to put the power into your punches.

“The initial phase is just to learn how to escape,” said instructor Fauzia Lala, 30, of Mercer Island, in an interview a few weeks prior to the session.

The bottom-line is to get away, not to brawl.

Only three students attended the Saturday morning women’s self-defense class at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound’s mosque in Redmond, Washington. But the low attendance is more likely due to the presence of a male reporter than a lack of interest. The previous two Monday and Wednesday women-only sessions attracted eight to 10 participants to the workout room normally reserved for men.

Lala, an entrepreneur and former Microsoft software engineer, has two black belts in the martial arts and has taught martial arts for several years though she began teaching self-defense at the mosque only recently. Most of her students so far have been Muslim, although women of all faiths are welcome. The classes provide a way for Muslim women to learn how to defend themselves without having to worry about cultural values of modesty.

Striking a nerve

In Portland, Oregon last May, a white supremacist terrorist used a knife to attack two Muslim women — one wearing a hijab. The man killed two men and wounded a third who came to the defense of the young women.

The incident struck a nerve within Lala, prompting her to create a self-defense program specifically available to Muslim women.

“I realized with the changing political situation, they need to feel safe,” Lala said.

Lala and her students, Bellevue residents Omaima Khalil and Hani Abdulhamid, and Redmond resident Amelia Neighbors,  were matter-of-fact about the rough-and-tumble nature of martial arts and self defense. To them, it’s just a practical skill for a woman to have.

“I like to stay in shape. I want to be capable of taking care of myself. I don’t want to get into a fight,” Neighbors said.

“I just want to be able to take care of myself,” Abdulhamid said.

A native of Dubai, Lala loved working out and drifted into Tae Kwon Do and the weapons-based Filipino martial art Arnis — earning black belts in each.

Her initial attraction to martial arts was that the practice was not repetitive —unlike other work-out disciplines — and they improved Lala’s sense of personal safety.

She started teaching martial arts as a sideline while working for Microsoft. She later struck out on her own as a tech entrepreneur, obtaining patents on innovative contact lenses case and a smoothie dispensing machine designs.

For many years, Lala was the only hijab-wearing woman in the martial arts sessions that she taught. Her first hijab-wearing student showed up in Seattle only two years ago.

Muslim women tend not to participate in martial arts classes because most are co-ed, Lala said. And the existing women-only self-defense classes are still open to the public enough that men can still walk in and watch the women train.

“That makes women, especially Muslim women, cautious. When you’re training, you look less ‘decent’ with your clothes flying all over. So if there were more closed women-only classes, there would be more Muslim women training,” Lala said.

For information on the program, people can go to

Martial arts black belt Fauzia Lala (right) demonstrates a self-defense move to her class of women at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound. (Courtesy photo)

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