Fauzia Lala: “Women learn best in the comfort of their homes”

It’s all perspective my friends. We have the ability to create our realities and futures by being excited about this new world! All we need to do is stop thinking negatively and START thinking about all the exciting adventures we can now embark on and all the things that are now possible for us that […]

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It’s all perspective my friends. We have the ability to create our realities and futures by being excited about this new world! All we need to do is stop thinking negatively and START thinking about all the exciting adventures we can now embark on and all the things that are now possible for us that weren’t before. Make a LIST!

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fauzia Lala, Head Coach of Defense Ninjas, an online women’s self-defense & empowerment program. Fauzia has two black belts and twelve years of martial arts training. Connect with her on Instagram!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I was born and raised in Dubai and faced sexual harassment from the age of 4 until about 10 years of age. It was mostly groping, following, and other inappropriate acts that I didn’t understand until I was much older. There were no martial arts schools back then in Dubai so I started training in taekwondo when I moved to the U.S. for college education.

While I was on my way home from Seattle University, I was attacked in Seattle downtown. Over the course of two years, I was attacked twice and I froze both times! This is when I began questioning my martial arts training and its efficacy. When I went to class the day after a man put me in a bear hug, I asked my instructor why I froze even though we learned how to escape bear hugs in class. I was told that it takes many years to learn and become proficient in any martial art so I stuck it out and got 2 first degree black belts: one in taekwondo and another in arnis.

I was attacked once again, this time at work (I worked as a Software Engineer & Data Analyst at Microsoft) and the outcome was no different. I froze and still didn’t feel safe in my techniques and knowledge. So I began my journey of exploring various different martial arts. After training in 3 more martial arts: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for ground defense, Wing Chun invented by a Chinese woman, Krav Maga for combative self-defense.

Then, I started dating. This made me even more vulnerable. I continued to feel unsafe, unable to speak up or stand up for myself and drew my final straw when an immigration lawyer I went to see mounted me. I managed to escape safely and decided to re-evaluate.

While I was learning and exploring self-defense for women, two major incidents happened in 2017. Two Black Muslim hijabi girls in Portland were attacked on a commuter train and two men died protecting them. The mosques in the Greater Seattle areas were attacked (vandalism and arson). I felt obliged to do something. I was teaching martial arts as a Senior Instructor and was recently fired for being “too business-minded and not simply following my rules”. I took the business-mindedness and the timing of these attacks as a sign to STEP UP and contribute to keeping women safe.

I had no idea how to do that. I had started training myself in unorthodox ways, found counselors, coaches, read books, made friends with local police officers, but I didn’t feel qualified as a self-defense instructor. I had learned that martial arts didn’t teach self-defense but I was women’s best bet; the best female martial artist out there. And I was a Muslim. And a hijabi, And brown. And international. Not to mention, a woman. With a few black belts. So it had to be me. I knew I’d figure it out along the way — how to teach REAL self-defense. So I closed my laptop, jumped out of my cushion, called my local community enter, and started Defense Ninjas. I have never looked back. It was the best decision I ever made; one that not only changed my life, but also hundreds of others.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

During my early years, while I was still focused on teaching physical self-defense techniques exclusively, I asked each of my students what their biggest pain point in their life was. One of them said she had recurring nightmares about being attacked where her she threw soft punches that did no damage. At the same time, another student spoke up and said she’s 4 years overdue for her promotion at work.

That just sparked an idea in me that I can help women do more and be better! In fact, that also made me realize that women don’t really want to learn how to kick or punch. What they REALLY want is to feel empowered! So I tried an experiment.

4 weeks later, my student who had nightmares still had them, but now she could punch them back! My other student got her coworker (who was stealing her ideas) fired and got her promotion! My mind was blown. I had taught them confidence, self-worth and communication techniques that I learned from miscellaneous coaches throughout my years of learning and exploring.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! After I took Defense Ninjas fully online in March 2020 due to COVID-19, I made some breakthrough discoveries such as:

  1. Women learn best in the comfort of their homes
  2. Women learn best WITHOUT a partner (training with body weight is harder than the strength a friendly partner gives)
  3. Women make 3x as much progress when training is relatable

So I’m working on making self-defense and empowerment training fully online, fully customized, fully 1:1, and creating a FREE version of the training, while I still continue to work with local police departments to enhance our training in realistic scenarios.

This will be revolutionary as it will help women WORLDWIDE. Women who can’t come to a studio to train (because they don’t live in the city, or don’t have time) can still learn and become Powerful Ninjas!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So many people have helped me in my journey! My coaches, my psychologist, my friends, famous personalities like Deepak Chopra and Jack Canfield. It’s so hard to pick one! Even people who told me I was mad to start a business, because I was going broke to a point where I qualified for food stamps, they helped me too! They helped me push myself harder and prove that I can help women in this world.

There were three types of people who helped me in my journey — those who supported and encouraged me, those who provided me skills and knowledge I needed, and those who tried hard to stop me. If I absolutely must pick ONE person, I’ll pick my partner (aka husband) Mark. His immense support has helped me grow Defense Ninjas in the last year. Together we make an 11 feet 4 inches tall tree with deep 20 feet roots that remains unshakable in all storms.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

I recently “adopted” my teenage sister-in-law who has now become a permanent addition to our family. Being newly married, I had no experience with teenagers. When she came to live with us, I was immensely blessed to have her, to be able to take care of her, and extraordinarily excited to shoot her with an empowerment rocket!

Raising a teenager is not easy. We’ve had our fair share of screaming matches. In these last 4 months, she has become a strong woman who speaks up for herself, stop anxiety medications, get her ideal dream internship, get better grades in school, and create healthy family relationships. It’s amazing!

It’s been tough working from home with my husband and finding space. It’s hard for me to focus if there are too many things/clutter and chaos around the house. He has a whole bedroom filled with this crafts supplies, gardening supplies, and stitching supplies etc. (yes he’s a very creative person) so we’ve had to work through how to clear all his things to make physical and mental space for us esp. since his sister moved in with us.

Time is our biggest pinch point because I run 2 businesses, he runs 2 hobbies and we also have to help out our parents who are sick (my father caught COVID and was in the hospital for 3 days) and help our new addition to the family with math homework. Finding time during COVID, ironically, has been the biggest challenge.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

The key to resolving an issue is to NOT think of it as an issue. We think of them as goals we want to accomplish and tasks we need to do to accomplish these goals. If focus and peace are two goals, then clearing space is a top priority task. This way, we step out of the blaming or victim zone into a productive team effort zone where we help each other achieve their best!

According to Parkinson’s Law, time expands or shrinks based on how much work we assign ourselves. So we follow this simple 3-step approach that helps us accomplish our goals and keep our sanity at the same time:

  1. First we believe that we can accomplish our goals. Mindset is key. So we meditate for 15 min each day, envision us accomplishing our goals and relaxing after that.
  2. Now we are ready to take action! We write our goals list at the beginning of the day that helps us stay focused.
  3. Stress makes things worse, so we repeat through the day “I am at peace, I am calm, I get things done”. We make sure that we speak positively about ourselves and other people and things. No complaining allowed. If “my laptop sucks, it heats up all the time” then I say “my laptop is wonderfully productive! I am able to use its capacity fully to get my work done!” and then put a cooling fan underneath it. No big deal.

We had 45 dollars in our bank account before our sister stared living with us. We didn’t know how we would make this work, but we just focused on accomplishing our goals and we found ways to eat healthy, take care of her needs, and save more money! Now we are able to invest those savings into our health and my business. Money and time flow continuously and perfectly as we need it.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

March 2020, I made 0 dollar. As a self-defense instructor, I taught traditionally — all in-person classes. All my classes came to an end abruptly. The after-school program where I taught kids self-defense filed for bankruptcy and that was my biggest income. Corporate workshops generated my second largest income, which also all stopped. Everything came to a standstill.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

After a few weeks of planning, I decided to invest 6K+ dollars in coaching and took a total of 3 coaching programs (still currently in 2). That was the hardest decision I made because all of it was going on a credit card and I didn’t know how I would pay it off. It was also the best decision I ever made because now I have new ways to help women all over the world and grow my business in the process!

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

MINDSET is KEY. Become peaceful (meditation, binaural beats etc.), believe you CAN achieve everything (speak positively to yourself and out loud to other family members), plan it out (plans are meant to change and that’s ok!) and just watch the magic of life unfold! Albert Einstein said, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

I wander outdoors in my mind. For me that’s reading fantasy novels (this is a NEW COVID hobby), listening to nature music, watching calming (or cat) videos, meditating, doing Yoga, and dancing to Just Dance.

I also find a goal, set it, and accomplish it! It’s such a thrill to see myself achieving my goals.

We also go hiking and camping once a week. Getting out in nature helps us reset and keep socially distant from people.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

My father almost died, and I can still safely say that COVID has been the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Why? Because my father survived! I learned new knowledge to help women and my business grow! I don’t have to drive in traffic, I save time, save the environment (by reducing my carbon footprint), started my vegetable garden, significantly reduced eating out, and became more calm and peaceful which helped me destress, and I was able to overcome my PCOS, endometriosis and hypothyroidism!

It’s all perspective my friends. We have the ability to create our realities and futures by being excited about this new world! All we need to do is stop thinking negatively and START thinking about all the exciting adventures we can now embark on and all the things that are now possible for us that weren’t before. Make a LIST!

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

We have several family members who are anxious. The truth is, we can’t help those who don’t want to be helped. We can only repeat our message so that someday it will click for them and they will start creating an amazing life for themselves!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

If you’re living in the past, you’re depressed.

If you’re living in the future, you’re anxious.

If you’re living in the present, you’re at peace.

By Lau Tzu

This was a tremendous perspective shift in helping me overcome by anxiety and depression. Every time I would “feel bad”, I evaluated “ok so what exactly am I thinking about?” I would notice that I would be upset about something that happened or stressed about a deadline or making sustainable financial living (future worry). So what am I doing RIGHT NOW? Typing this message (which actually has an exciting future possibility) and I’m sipping lavender tea (which is relaxing me and helping me eat less & healthily) so THE NOW is actually quite positive with amazing possibilities.

Once I built up my muscle memory, I was able to drastically reduce my anxiety and depression by 80% and go off pills too! My sister did the same within 2 months. Now every time I do feel irritable and am not thinking about anything in particular, I know it’s hormones so I’m excited because I have given myself permission to eat a piece of chocolate and sit with a blanket to read a book. It’s a no workday!

How can our readers follow you online?

Connect with me on Instagram! www.instagram.com/DefenseNinjas

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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