In late January, a group of young women aged 14 to 20 gathered on a snowy hilltop overlooking Kabul, Afghanistan, where they meet each week no matter the weather.
Photographer Wakil Kohsar chronicled the stunning assembly, as teen girls wielding silver swords moved rhythmically through space. Donning matching pink robes and white hijab, they gathered before their teacher Sima Azimi to train in the ancient Chinese martial art form known as Wushu.
Azimi is Afghanistan’s first female Wushu trainer. She became interested in the sport watching martial arts movies as a kid and acquired her skills while living as a refugee in Iran. Now, Azimi hopes to pass on her slaying capabilities to the next generation of Afghanistan’s young women.
In most Afghan communities, sports are strictly off-limits for women. Azimi’s students, however, belong to the Hazara community, a Persian-speaking faction of Shi’ites whose social views lean liberal, thus allowing women to practice athletics outside the home.
Still, Azimi’s students are often subjected to hostility and intimidation en route to practice. As Wushu student Shakila Muradi told The BBC: “There are many people harassing us, but we ignore them and follow our goals.”
Azimi hopes acquiring martial arts skills will help her students defend themselves from the persistent street abuse. The trainer herself once prevented a thief from snatching her purse using her Wushu stills.
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Eventually, Azimi hopes to watch her students compete in international matches, challenging stereotypes that affect Afghan women both at home and abroad. However, due to the perpetual lack of funding relegated to women’s sports, such an achievement will not come easily.
Despite the great obstacles both Azimi and her students face, the teacher remains resolute in her convictions. “I like to help girls in my country in order to improve their skills, so they can be the same as girls in other countries,” she told Tolo News. “Also, I want to help bring an end to violence against women in Afghanistan.”
See more of Wakil Kohsar’s stunning photos below: