Jordanian coach leaves imprint on women sports in Saudi Arabia

Reem Abu Baker’s introduction to taekwondo is rooted in her familial ethos, since she grew up in a highly sports-friendly household. (Photos: Handouts from Reem Abu Baker)
Taekwondo might be a man’s world, in the view of many, but Reem Abu Baker, a Jordanian taekwondo coach striving to empower and roll back barriers standing in the way of women, knows differently.اضافة اعلان

“Fighting like a girl” is no longer derogatory, she believes, but a compliment and testament to hard work, just as the one exerted by her when she teaches women to learn how to overcome challenges when practicing taekwondo in Saudi Arabia.

Abu Baker was awarded “The Best Taekwondo Coach” in the Saudi Super Cup by the Saudi Taekwondo Federation for her efforts in coaching several Saudi women champions, coaches and referees, and for her service to Saudi sports.

Abu Baker is a World Taekwondo, formerly known as World Taekwondo Federation, qualified coach in both taekwondo and para-taekwondo, a para-athlete adaptation of taekwondo. She is also a taekwondo referee, as well as an Olympic preparation coach. She specializes in training women and children in taekwondo in Jeddah, locally and internationally recognized as a Black Belt, 5th Dan holder.

Abu Baker’s introduction to taekwondo is rooted in her familial ethos, since she grew up in a highly sports-friendly household.

“My older sister, Nisreen, was one of the first Jordanian women to join the national team where she represented Jordan at the 1991 World Taekwondo Championship in Athens. Then, my coach, Grand Master Khalil Aqeel, noticed me at the age of 8, when I was attending taekwondo classes,” Abu Baker told Jordan News.

Taekwondo may be perceived as only a sport, but to Abu Baker it is a passion which gives one structure, discipline and peace amongst the chaos.

“It created passion in me and I was possessed by this vision of spreading its culture by teaching it to girls and women. Taekwondo was there for me, and I wanted other women to find what I found in it,” she said.

Abu Baker worked as a fitness coach in a gym in Medina, Saudi Arabia, after arriving there in 2005. Taekwondo was not practiced there, which prompted her to start a girls-only taekwondo class at a time when the sport’s popularity was limited across the country.

Then life rolled its dice and she relocated to Jeddah where she became a coach in a children’s training center where girls were not allowed in.

“When I crossed paths with girls who were truly curious and eager to learn and progress, I insisted on training them, off the record, by organizing a class for them and investing my time in their training. It was Jeddah’s first all-girls class,” Abu Baker elaborated.

She established a team with the first cohort of the class, which went to compete in an international championship in Amman in 2015, where it won the first place.

“It was the first time for the team to visit Jordan, meet referees and get to absorb the atmosphere in detail.”

From there on, the enrollment rate in her classes increased and she became a household name as a trainer for girls and women. Yet, her team was still not officially recognized, which prompted her to start approaching clubs and arranging for meet ups in order for the girls to gain expertise and build skills.

“Several decisions issued by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman facilitated higher inclusivity for girls and enabled us to move forward. Open championships were held, and huge support was received from the Saudi Taekwondo Federation, providing training for trainers and training for referees. The girls, whose enthusiasm I sensed and whose future I foresaw, rose through the ranks until they were coaches and referees,” she said.

Abu Baker won first place in Saudi Arabia’s both first and second Taekwondo Women’s Open Championships, the latter sponsored by Waj Club. She was also named Best Taekwondo Coach in Saudi Arabia for the year 2022, the kingdom’s first female coach to get that honor.

“Being recognized by the federation means a great deal, since it rewards a lifetime worth of colossal efforts and extraordinary accomplishments. This acknowledgment comes with a great deal of responsibility. It implies that a significant amount of effort remains to be done in order to raise and prepare worldwide champions and take them all the way to the Olympics. This is what I have my eyes set on: Saudi women at the Olympics raising their country’s flag,” Abu Baker said.

When practiced enough, taekwondo’s kicks can be menacing, making it an excellent choice for women’s self-defense. Abu Baker also offers women martial arts training in self-defense. She keeps on treading a path she forged for herself through powerful discipline and her coaching and mentorship of Saudi women is tangible and remarkable.

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