Soolmaz Abooali (United States) on ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ and Olympic Values for Social Change

August 14, 2012

Women and girls often directly suffer the short- and long-term consequences of conflict, violating or impairing their human rights and fundamental freedoms. This must be changed if we want to live in healthy, cooperative societies that provide equal access to basic human needs and the education to know that these rights exist. As an Iranian expatriate, international athlete, and student, I know firsthand of the heights that women like me can achieve.
My research at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University focuses on transforming this inequality in a methodical, non-threatening way using the universal language of sport. Specifically, my initiative utilizes the essence of martial arts, budo, which refers to the quest for a ‘mind, body, and spirit’ development of one’s character. This quest directly aligns both internally and externally with the Olympic values of respect, friendship, and excellence. In my opinion, these values form a creed for an individual’s relationship with oneself and others. Respect allows one to seek and maintain healthy friendships. This powerful attitude and the mutually supportive environment created by such friendships foster an optimal playing field for achieving excellence. Individually, the Olympic values represent ideals; combined, they create a system that once embraced produces winners both on the field and in life. The combination of budo and the Olympic value creed creates progressive, positive change within and around an individual.

My initiative merges Olympic budo values through the media, martial arts, and conflict resolution field into a movement that will alter the image of the “empowered woman” and position girls and women for leadership roles within their societies. The role that men can play in empowering women has not been fully utilized. Due to a prevalence of asymmetric gender power dynamics, friction and resistance have repeatedly occurred. My initiative will also address this by including men in cooperative roles, working alongside women as exemplars and supporters, albeit subject to cultural considerations. The idea may not be easy to implement, but the potential benefit from the cooperation—yin and yang—is too powerful to ignore. My research utilizes three approaches:

1. Positive messaging that redefines what empowerment means from an Olympic budo standpoint.
2. Workshops that combine martial arts training with conflict analysis and resolution theories and providing internal and external tools for peaceful conflict navigation.
3. Promotion of the new interpretation of empowerment at the personal level. We will engage male and female athletes in both approaches above to serve as role models and to instill social responsibility.

Over the course of this practice-theory initiative, impact will be determined through change in quantities such as the number of female leadership roles within society, women-led initiatives, and female athletes competing at the amateur and professional levels.

I believe that sport provides a universal medium through which we can improve the existing asymmetry, change perceptions, provide greater opportunities for development of athletes, and most importantly pave the way for our youth to live in a better world.
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