I would say that I am positive, a bit philosophical, motivated, and empowered by what I want to do to change the world and to contribute to what the world can be.
Emma Bouterse is an alumni of Erasmus University College with a decade of experience in martial arts. She has been practicing Tang Soo Do, (“an ancient form of taekwondo that originates from Korea,” she told me) since she was twelve years old and holds a Second Dan Black Belt. At present she is also the secretary of Fairfight, a Dutch nonprofit organization established in 2015 based in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The goal of this organization is to empower girls and women from challenging backgrounds through the mental and physical benefits of martial arts training, while also strengthening local communities. Emma and I meet in the city of Rotterdam, which is also the city where she was born. She shows me a couple of Tang Soo Do Hyung (Hyung is the term for different moves) which are necessary during the exams one needs to do to get the next belt. She also competes in Tang Soo Do contests.
I have participated in a lot of competitions inside and outside of The Netherlands. It has helped me to become self confident, because when I was 11 or 12 years old and I walked in that room seeing all those people train, I asked myself the question “do I fit in here?” and I was very self conscious about the movements, but that’s what everyone has when they start doing martial arts. Through the years, it has helped me to believe in myself. When you practice those forms you learn them by heart but also by mind; it is something very special which you don’t find within any other sport, I think.
I have competed in tournaments such as the European and World Championships as well as National Tournaments, which basically involve four categories, for example board breaking, which is breaking a board with any technique, a kick or a punch. Doing forms with weapons, doing normal forms which are basically fights against invisible opponents; it is about posture technique, the way you convey the message to the jury and how good it looks. Lastly there is sparring, for tang soo do, it is not full contact, you don't have to knock somebody out because it is semi or non contact martial arts and it basically means that you have to control yourself even more than when you are fighting with contact, because it is about self control and putting the right technique in front someone’s face instead of on someone’s face.
You also use martial arts in the NGO Fairfight, can you tell a bit more and what is the ultimate goal of the NGO?
What we hope to achieve as an NGO is basically to create a sustainable worldwide network of schools in every country or projects we do in every country to create a message or movement of empowerment through martial arts. For example in Zimbabwe and India as we are doing now to teach young girls and women and entire communities that martial arts can be helpful in improving your life and becoming more self confident and empowered.
The end goal is to have a dojo, which is the studio in which you train the martial arts (…) where all women and girls and also boys come to feel empowered or if they have been abused or threatened in their life and want to find shelter or help, we can teach them techniques and build their confidence mentally and physically and that’s our end goal to have a strong community of martial artists that are empowered.
Can you elaborate a little bit on what empowered means. What does it mean to be an empowered woman?
To be an empowered woman is to know what your values are, to not to be afraid, to be fearless, but not reckless in what you do and to feel accepted and respected by a community or trying to gain respect, to me. And how I do that myself is through always trying to be who I am and not trying to be fake. Always trying to be honest with people whether I agree with their standpoints on life or even what to buy for dinner or not. And for me the big part in empowering is self-discipline, knowing what you want and for me that is through martial arts and through fair fight.
I’m looking to find the role of men in women’s empowerment? What is your advice for me? What should our role be?
Role of men in women’s empowerment, is one that should be very supportive. We often forget that we both need men and women in order to create empowerment and equality. For example, what we saw in Zimbabwe when we went their with Fair Fight, was that we started out training girls, but we realized that we also needed the boys and the men. Then the men of the local karate community eventually also figured out that it was important to do such a thing and also joined our initiative. Not only girls and women should be empowered, but everyone should work towards one empowerment goal in understanding and in awareness and helping out. For example, the teachers we have […] met, in Zimbabwe and India they are male, male teachers that have dedicated their lives to martial arts in their own studio, now they have opened their hearts and are now almost for free teaching girls and women from all types of schools in the area to do the same thing they do and I think that is a important thing.
Not only women should stand up for who they are and that they are strong and powerful, but also the men should find a way to cooperate with women in order to achieve that. It comes from both sides. And that’s is basically also what I believe in and what our organization believes in. We are an organization for women’s empowerment but we do that through an entire community, old people, young people, kids, adults, men and women and that’s what I stand for.
Is there a man you admire (most) at the moment?
The man I admire most at the moment and have done so for the past 1.5 years is Gerald Muush. He is our karate teacher in Zimbabwe. He has supported our project for the past two years and put all of his efforts in it. Gerald has four or five kids. He doesn’t have a lot of money, he lost his job, but he still kept on working for us. Now, he has a job as a full-time karate teacher for our girls. He is someone with dedication, modesty, and integrity and also a lot of strength as a teacher and as a martial artist. That is something that not many people have. He shares everything he can give even though he might also not have it too great in his life with such a cause; although he still supports it even though in Zimbabwe the situation gets very harsh, because of politics. He still puts all his efforts in and still stays positive and that’s beautiful. I have never seen men in my own environment put their heart into something like that and do that in such a way like he does.
What drives your 100 miles?
My 100 mile walk would be driven by my desire to change the world in anyway, can be in the North or in the South. It is very idealistic. For example, through Fairfight you can change a small part of the world, but it can be in any part of the world. It is not just about empowerment, it is about the ability to understand each other better and the problems they face. People seem to be less aware about their surroundings and their fellow world citizens than before, that’s what I have noticed in my short life and that’s what I want to walk for.
Where do you go from here?
I don’t really know where I want to go from here. I do know that I want to continue working for and with FairFight, and trying to expand that network. Eventually I want to do more besides that. If that’s a success then there will be ways to open doors or to create other initiatives that can benefit other causes than women’s empowerment. Women’s empowerment is very important but there are also other things that we should focus on. If I can find a way in my career to combine culture, martial arts, education and the change the world idea, [all] into one big whole for myself, then I think I would be a happy person.
Key piece advice for especially the male readers.
It is a hard question. My key advice would be, you should always be aware of your surroundings, and be aware of what is happening around you, but you should also not give up that you are a man and don’t feel disempowered by what the world tells you about the harsh things men do because that’s not all men, that’s only a small portion of men. You should be aware of what’s going on, but for the rest try to find a way for yourself to help empower people not only women in the world. It can be very small, even thinking about it, or writing in your diary about it or putting more effort in playing soccer when you do it, but something that can help you to understand it and contribute to it. That would be my advice.
People should donate or support FairFight, because we are a different organization, there are a lot of organizations that try to empower women through sports. There are a lot of big martial arts organizations that have programs for children and also for girls to help them, to teach them karate or taekwondo, or anything like that, but there is no organization yet that tries to mix up all martial arts to find one unifying goal so basically all the values that martial arts have such as discipline, respect, confidence, perseverance and self-defense to make that it into one coherent whole. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or which martial arts you practice, but just the philosophy behind it is what it makes it happen, we have seen that in Zimbabwe and India with our projects and that is what we want to do and therefore we need your support.