North Syria's one-legged kung fu master - in pictures

From butterfly kicks to power jabs, a group of children in a rebel-held northern region are honing martial arts techniques under the instruction of an unlikely trainer

All photos: AFP

Syrian children have been training at a martial arts school, set up earlier this year by amputee kung-fu teacher Fadel Othman, 24, in the rebel-held town of Al Abzimu, Aleppo province. Othman was hit by an artillery shell in 2015, during fighting between rebels and government forces in Aleppo. As a result the young man, who started his kung fu training at the age of 12, looked set to forgo his life-long passion. But over the course of the three years he spent in Turkey for medical treatment, he continued classes with martial arts trainers and even participated in several tournaments. His 100 students include orphans and children who lost their fathers to Syria's decade-old war.

"This is the first team I am training after my injury," he says from an open field where he often gives kung fu lessons. "I strongly believe they will one day grow up to become world champions."

"I felt like the world was closing doors in my face," Othman says at his academy, beneath a large Syrian opposition flag. But over the course of the three years he spent in Turkey for medical treatment, he continued classes with martial arts trainers and even participated in several tournaments. Earlier this year, he set up a kung fu academy that trains students at different levels.

Inside the gym equipped with punchbags and pull up bars, pictures of Othman participating in tournaments adorn the walls. During one lesson, he demonstrates a series of warm up exercises, without even using crutches. He looks on as students perform sophisticated kung fu sequences on colourful mats before helping them refine techniques to block kicks and punches. The trainer says he wants to teach children "useful moves they can use to defend themselves" and to boost their confidence.

The gym has no mains electricity and when the batteries powering the converted warehouse's lights die, Othman props himself up against a wall in one of the last rays of daylight slanting into the room to catch his young pupil's punches in his sparring mitts.

"I see them as my little brothers," he says. "My goal is to have a strong team and nurture a generation (of fighters) that can make it to international competitions."

Updated: December 8th 2021, 6:05 AM