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Afghanistan kicks-into Kung Fu
June 24, 2009 (BBC: Recent successes in cricket, the international homeless football tournament, and the first Olympic medal in Beijing, helped inspire many to explore both traditional and new sports.
Shahrinav Park in central Kabul is a world apart from the capital's noisy streets.
It's a quiet, leafy corner, where children are enjoying hours of cricket or football. "My favourite player is Ronaldino," says 13-year-old Muhammad Orif. His friend declares noisily that he is a Manchester United fan.
Sport has made a comeback, where groups of football-crazy children or teenagers playing in almost every village.
Many of them are boys, but not all.
In a narrow alley of mud-brick houses there is a sports club with a difference.
There is no sign outside, and inside the facilities are basic with low ceilings and a bare floor of hard packed earth.
There are only a few boxing gloves and pictures from past competitions on the walls.
Around 20 girls aged between 10 and 14 are going through their moves.
Clad in red uniforms including headscarves they are learning Kung Fu.
Their coach, Musakhan Jafari, a professional boxer, returned to Kabul to teach sports after living in Iran for 30 years as a refugee.
He began with groups of boys, but when girls started to come and train, he introduced separate sessions.
In just a few years over 250 girls joined.
"We teach the girls volleyball, basketball, taekwandoo, kick-boxing and Kung Fu," says Mr Jafari.
"Many of them are from poor families and we don't really charge them for lessons. Right now we need to encourage girls and their parents."
The club is strapped for cash, but that hasn't stopped the girls from doing well.
One of them recently brought back a gold medal from a regional Kung Fu competition in Iran.
Shazia is an assistant coach who was taught Kung Fu and kick-boxing by Musakhan Jafari when she was a little girl.
"I always dressed up as boy and learnt sports in his club back in Iran," she recalls. "Now I'm ready to help to run this girls' club in Kabul".
Daring to dream-
"I want to be a champion!" 10-year-old Wajma, one of the youngest girls here, says in clear English.
"It was my parents' idea. They said, Wajma speaks English, she is good at school and now it is time to learn martial arts too."
But not all girls can count on the support of their parents. Wajma says that many of her friends would like to join.
Instead they weave carpets after school.
For those who get involved in sports, the challenges are considerable.
The club has no financial support, although recently officials from the Afghan Olympic committee visited Pule Khush to see the work being done there.
On the big day, girls from as young as five showed off their kick-boxing skills in front of an audience of sports officials, women's activists and their families.
By the end, everyone was amazed, leaving Musakhan Jafari hopeful that more people will open up to the idea of women's sports in Afghanistan and that his club will eventually get recognition and support.
"They haven't promised us anything yet," he says, "but we are getting there. I'm sure we'll get recognition and help one day."