Faisal Ali Dar is the first Padma winner in the sport from Kashmir, but the 33-year-old martial arts trainer is determined to ensure recognition is just one step in his long journey on which he wants to achieve a lot more.
As the Dar family celebrated the accolade and calls started pouring in from his trainees and coaches at the nine centers he runs in Jammu and Kashmir, he was moved by the honour.
“It’s a great honour. My four year old son learned to say Padma Shri last night. It is a matter of pride for me, Kashmir and the whole country,” the man from Bandipora said. “I come from a district where we are lagging far behind in terms of sports infrastructure and getting this award will definitely motivate us even more to do more despite all the obstacles,” Dar told The Indian Express.
The son of a technician working at the state health department, a young Dar often trained in martial arts with other children at a local park. He often asked his father for money to rent Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies, and imitated scenes with his friends.
Faisal Ali Dar, a young martial arts coach from Kashmir who aims to empower youth in militancy-affected areas through his martial arts sports academy, conferred with the Padma Shri this year. #Padma Peoples #PadmaAwards2022 pic.twitter.com/rIxDhDECdm
— GDP in Jammu and Kashmir (@PIBSrinagar) January 26, 2022
“I would imitate Bruce Lee’s moves in Game of Death and Enter the Dragon apart from Jackie Chan’s moves in movies like Defender, Drunken Master, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. I would gather my friends in the park to practice these moves We used chappals on our hands to kick as targets,” Dar recalled.
While Dar started as a wushu exponent in 2003 and later trained under current National Coach and Laureate Dronacharya Kuldeep Handoo in Jammu, his wushu career did not take off. He participated in the national championships but did not win any medals. Dar also tried his hand at kickboxing and won a gold medal at the Asian Championship in Pune in 2010. But the lack of official recognition prompted Dar to end his playing career in 2013.
“While I was training with Handoo sir, I couldn’t win any medals at the national wushu championships. At that time, it would be hard even to afford the equipment, which cost around Rs 4,000 for the complete kit. In 2008, I failed my black belt exam as I could not afford the Rs 6700 fee. When I won the medal in Asian kickboxing, there was no recognition from anyone. And that made me focus more on my training club,” Dar shares.
While Dar started the Ali Sports Academy in 2008 to train local children in Bandipora, he also worked in apple orchards and set up TV dishes in the locality to earn money, in addition to helping his father in his electronic repair shop.
“I started the club when I was still a player. I worked in orchards transporting boxes of apples to trucks, earning Rs 2 per box and Rs 500-600 a day, in addition to installation TV dishes, earning 50 rupees per dish. The money was spent on buying equipment like punching mats,” he says.
Progress and growth
Dar would charge each trainee Rs 50. As their numbers increased, he would also think of opening training centers in other districts of Kashmir. Most of the centers were run in local parks and it was not until 2018 that Ali Sports Academy was granted a government school building in which to operate.
“The idea of starting the club professionally in 2013 was to help the kids stay out of trouble. It was at the same time when Kashmir was in turmoil over the Burhan Wani incident. are busy with sports, no one’s mind will waver in the wrong direction. One of the challenges I faced was suing the girls’ parents to send them to training. But when those kids find a job or start earning a living, the parents understand,” says Dar.
Currently it runs nine centers offering training in 18 sports – including wushu, taekwondo, rugby, canoeing, kayaking, volleyball, table tennis, badminton and football – and this is done by other trainers in public parks in districts like Pulwama, Anantnag, Shopian, Budgam, Baramulla, Bandipora, Ganderbal and Srinagar with around 13,000 children in training.
“We train for three hours a day and the fee remains Rs 50. Other players like Abida Akhtar, rugby player Irshad Ahmad and rower Sajad Ahmad Dar also contribute to the training. When we got the government school building, we collected nearly Rs five lakh and renovated the hall,” Dar explains.
Among his trainees are two-time world junior kickboxing champion Tajamul Islam, 2017 Malaysia International Wushu Championship medalist Abida Akhtar, Asian junior karate champion Hashim Mansoor and international taekwondo medalist Sheikh Adnan. Some of his trainees also work in the centers he runs. With mixed martial arts like wushu and pencak silat also included in the Asian Games, Dar is confident of producing medalists. “Mixed martial arts has a big boost. But there have been cases where players have been lured from unrecognized federations, the same thing happened with Tajamul. It’s something that needs to be simplified,” Dar says. “To see my trainees win medals for India at the 2026 Asian Games is my dream.”