REFUGEE.ATHLETE.SCHOLAR

An Iranian refugee in search for asylum, Soolmaz grew up in the slums of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Now she’s a world champion in karate. With a PhD background. And uses her knowledge to help refugees and athletes learn the skills to overcome conflict.

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REFUGEE

  • When you’re politically active, on the run, and fighting systemic oppression, your wedding looks like this. No tuxedo, reception, joyous smiles, flashy poses, and celebrations. My mom’s dress was borrowed and this pic is one of a handful that was taken that day.

  • Mom and me at a gathering in Bangladesh. It was cheaper to make clothes rather than to buy them, so the tiger print dress worn by my mom is handmade. Her sewing skills are self-taught, ones she continued to perfect by making clothes for me even while in Canada.

  • Mom, dad, and me in Bangladesh. We only had each other to rely on.

  • Mom, dad, and me in Bangladesh with some fellow Iranian friends who, for one reason or another, had also left Iran after the Islamic revolution. Life was hard but simple.

  • Dad and me at the University of Dhaka. Education was a must, even in hard, sometimes impossible, times.

  • Mom, dad, and baby Maral in Canada. The joys of new beginnings.

  • Dancing at public event on New Year’s eve to ring in 1991. We had been in Canada for only a few months.

  • Picnics were a favorite past-time for our family. Here, I’m posing with my baby sister

  • Mom and me at a park in Canada. New place, new opportunities meant new playing spots.

  • Baby Maral in front of “Biggie 2.” When we were in Bangladesh, my mom had sewn together a big doll named “Biggie” so that I could have a life-sized friend. This is her replica.

  • Maral, me, and baby Sety – always together, always a team.

  • Competing in Poland in 2016

  • Who said you can’t kick at 9 mos?

  • 4 months after giving birth – The Abooali Girls leaving for competition arena to kick off the Pan American Championship, November 2017.

  • Golden

Soolmaz Abooali is an 12-time US National Champion, World Champion, and USA team member in Traditional Karate. She is working on her PhD in conflict resolution at George Mason University, with a focus on how non-governmental organizations use sport to address conflict. Soolmaz is also a professor at the University, teaching about the intersections of sport, conflict resolution, and diplomacy.

As an Iranian refugee in search for asylum, Soolmaz Abooali grew up in the slums of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Experiencing the realities of violence, poverty, discrimination, and disempowerment, it is here that Soolmaz developed a spirit to fight conflict; one that has ultimately shaped her identity and work as a scholar, a martial artist, and an Iranian-American Muslim woman.

Through leveraging her athlete platform, Soolmaz uses this unique set of experiences to change mainstream perceptions of marginalized groups and to foster their empowerment.

Using her expertise in sport and scholarship, she conducts sport diplomacy/conflict resolution workshops for cross-sectional audiences within and outside the United States, and specifically with marginalized groups such as immigrants and women and girls. Her initiatives include partners such as United States Institute of Peace (USIP), United States Department of State (USDOS), the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN), philanthropic figures, and non-governmental organizations.

In her efforts to pay it forward, Soolmaz serves as an Athlete Ambassador for the American Amateur Karate Federation (AAKF) and Shirzanan (SHEER’zah-non). Alongside the AAKF, Soolmaz increases public awareness of Traditional Karate in school systems and in immigrant communities through her speaking engagements and class instruction. As an Athlete Ambassador and Board of Advisory member at Shirzanan, she promotes equality for women in sport through sharing her story at lectures/events, contributing op-eds as well as her expertise of the Middle East, sport, and conflict resolution.

Her debut book chapter, Building a Foundation for Diplomacy through Sport: Iran and United States, was published in 2017 and speaks to the role that athletes can play in bringing together people from divided nations.

 

ATHLETE

Soolmaz is an 12-time US National Champion, World Champion, and USA team member in Traditional Karate and serves as an Athlete Ambassador for the American Amateur Karate Federation (AAKF) and Shirzanan where she promotes equality for women in sport.

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COMPETITION HISTORY

One significant difference between Traditional Karate and other styles of martial arts is that there are no weight classes in its competitions. Categories are divided by rank and age groups. National Championships are with the American Amateur Karate Federation (AAKF) and the international championships are with the World Traditional Karate-do Federation (WTKF):

2018 – World Championship – Gold
2018 – National Championship – Gold
2017 – Pan American Championship – Gold
2016 – National Championship – Gold
2016 – World Championship – Silver
2015 – National Championship – Gold
2015 – Pan American Championship – Gold
2014 – National Championship – Gold
2014 – World Championship – Bronze
2013 – National Championship – Gold
2012 – National Championship – Gold
2011 – National Championship – Gold

2011 – Pan American Championship – Silver
2010 – National Championship – Gold
2009 – National Championship – Gold
2009 – Invitational World Cup – Silver
2008 – National Championship – Gold
2007 – National Championship – Gold
2006 – National Championship – Gold
2005 – National Championship – Silver
2004 – National Championship – Bronze
2003 – National Championship – Silver
2003 – Pan American Championship – Gold
2002 – National Championship – Bronze
2001 –National Championship – Bronze

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WORKSHOPS

Using her expertise in sport and scholarship, she conducts sport diplomacy/conflict resolution workshops for cross-sectional audiences within and outside the United States, and specifically with marginalized groups such as immigrants and women and girls.

Below are some images capturing memorable moments with American, Tajik, Turk, Israeli, Palestinian, Papuan, and Iraqi youth in empowerment and conflict resolution karate workshops.

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SCHOLAR

Professor Soolmaz Abooali instructs at George Mason University and is a regular contributer to the Huffington Post. She is the lead curriculum designer and instructor of a Traditional Karate-Conflict Resolution program for students across the nation and world.  A highlight of her work was being able to demonstrate her research in Los Angeles in a workshop with Israeli and Palestinian youth with the support of Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix, United Nations official Gay Rosenblum-Gumar and executive director of the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, Dot Maver. Phoenix, as it happens, “is a supporter of this initiative,” says Abooali. “He believes in the value of martial arts and what it does for a person’s development.” As a Fellow, she researched and produced a best practices handbook to support Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative. For more detailed information, view Abooali’s CV here.

 

PRESS

“A ‘peaceful’ world can only be achieved if we make it a priority to understand our own goals, desires and needs, and use that knowledge to address broader social issues." - Soolmaz Abooali, Los Angeles youth workshop with Joaquin Phoenix, UN and River Phoenix Centre.

Work With Me

I am available for workshops, seminars, speaking events as well as consultations, publication and research projects.

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Unparalleled Expertise

As an 12 time world and US karate champion and conflict-resolution scholar, I bring a unique perspective to my evolving research that will help chart a unique and dynamic course of action for athletes and young girls/women in conflict around the world. I am available for consultations, writing and publication inquiries, and research on sports as a tool to address conflict.

Inspirational Speaker

I bring my story as a refugee, a decorated amateur athlete, and my work as a scholar together to deliver conflict-resolution workshops, self-defense seminars, and talks that uplift, encourage, and stimulate participants.