Mazlinah binte Haji Mohamad Noor is on course to become New Zealand’s first female Muslim karate teacher. She began learning karate in 2013, aged 47. Initially, she trained with an all-sisters group (Young Muslim Women’s Association) in Auckland. Significantly, their teacher (sensei) was a non-Muslim woman. They learned the Okinawan Goju Ryu style of karate.
Training only with other females is not ideal, however, because it gives no idea of the strength of men and what a woman could face in a real-life situation against a male aggressor. Mazlinah wrote to a highly respected international Muslim scholar whose religious classes she had attended, explaining her reasons for wanting to join a mixed group and outlining the type of limited physical contact that would be involved. After weeks of deliberation, he issued a fatwah permitting this. She joined Auckland University Goju Ryu Karate Club, a mixed group, and graded successfully.
In 2017 Mazlinah moved to New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, joining a club (dojo) affiliated to the Goju Ryu Karate Do New Zealand organisation (mission statement: Conditioning the body, cultivating the mind, and nurturing the spirit). Her teacher, Mike Dombroski, is a 3rd dan black belt. Mike’s teacher, who has assisted in grading Mazlinah and with whom she has trained, is Ken Roberts, an 8th dan black belt, together with Terry Hill (with whom Mazlinah has also trained) the highest-ranked Goju Ryu exponent in New Zealand.
After grading in November 2019, Mazlinah earned a brown belt with two tabs (1st kyu). As a senior student (senpai) she now teaches others and helps run the class; a primary school teacher by profession, Mazlinah relishes this role. It is good training for when she becomes black belt 1st dan, at which point teaching others is obligatory. (Mazlinah sees analogies with Islam when religious scholars have an obligation to pass on their knowledge.) Something of a perfectionist, she is a firm but fair teacher who expects the best of her students, who range from a nine-year-old girl to teenage boys and middle-aged men. Two of their training sessions take place in the basement of the main mosque in Wellington. Mazlinah successfully sought permission for this from the mosque management. Children and adults, males and females, Muslim and non-Muslims attend these classes, so it is excellent dawah. She has offered to establish a sisters-only class.
Mazlinah and Mike are now organising a major karate event to be held in Wellington in November 2020, and Mazlinah is becoming increasingly involved in the organisation and running of the dojo, which has seen attendance and enthusiasm flourish thanks in large part to Mazlinah’s own teaching skills and serious commitment to her sport. Mazlinah is modest and humble yet realistic about her achievements: “I hope to inspire others. Age, sex and religion are not barriers. Mazlinah successfully graded to first Dan black-belt in Goju Ryu Karate. Mazlinah is also increasingly serious about another martial art, Kobudo weapons training. As far as she knows, no other sisters practise this.
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