From watching martial arts movies to national honour: Story of Faisal Ali Dar, Kashmir’s first Padma awardee in sport

Faisal Ali Dar is the first Padma awardee in sport from Kashmir, but the 33-year-old martial arts coach is determined to ensure that the recognition is only a pitstop in his long journey on which he wants to achieve much more.

As the Dar family celebrated the accolade, and calls started pouring in from his trainees and coaches from the nine centres he runs in Jammu and Kashmir, he got emotional about the honour.

“It’s a big honour. My four-year-old son learnt to say Padma Shri last night. It’s a matter of pride for me, Kashmir and the whole country,” the man from Bandipora said. “I come from a district where we are ages behind in terms of sports infrastructure and to get this award will certainly motivate us even more to achieve more despite all the hurdles,” Dar told The Indian Express.

Son of a technician working in the state health department, a young Dar would often train in martial arts with other kids at a local park. He would often ask his father for money to rent Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies, and imitate the scenes with his friends.

“I would imitate Bruce Lee’s moves from Game of Death and Enter the Dragon apart from Jackie Chan’s in movies like Defender, Drunken Master, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. I would gather my friends in the park to practise those moves. We would use chappals on hands to kick as targets,” remembers Dar.

Dar with the young trainees in Bandipora. (Express Photo)

While Dar started as a wushu exponent in 2003 and later trained under present national coach and Dronacharya awardee Kuldeep Handoo in Jammu, his career in wushu didn’t kick off. He participated in the Nationals but failed to win any medals. Dar tried his hand at kickboxing too and won a gold at the Asian championship at Pune in 2010. But the lack of official recognition prompted Dar to end his playing career in 2013.

“While I trained under Handoo sir, I could not win any medals in the Nationals in wushu. At that time, we would even struggle to pay for the equipment, which cost about Rs 4,000 for the full kit. In 2008, I missed my black belt exam as I couldn’t pay the Rs 6700 fee. When I won the medal in Asian Kickboxing, there was no recognition from anybody. And it led me to focus more on my training club,” shares Dar.

While Dar had started the Ali Sports Academy in 2008 to train local kids in Bandipora, he would also work in apple orchards and fit TV dishes in the locality to earn money, apart from helping his father at his electronic repair shop.

While Dar had started the Ali Sports Academy in 2008 to train local kids in Bandipora, he would also work in apple orchards and fit TV dishes in the locality to earn money, apart from helping his father at his electronic repair shop. (Express Photo)

“I started the club while still a player. I worked in orchards ferrying apple boxes to trucks earning Rs 2 per box and Rs 500-600 per day apart from fitting TV dishes, getting Rs 50 per dish. The money was spent on getting equipment like punching pads,” he says.

Progress and growth

Dar would charge each trainee Rs 50. As their number increased, he would also think about starting training centres in other districts of Kashmir. Most of the centres were run in local parks and it was only in 2018 that Ali Sports Academy got a government school building to operate in.

“The idea of starting the club professionally in 2013 was to help kids keep away from trouble. It was the same time when Kashmir was on the boil due to the Burhan Wani incident. I believe that if kids are kept busy in sports, nobody’s mind will waver in the wrong direction. One of the challenges I had to face was in pursuing parents of girls to send them for training. But when these kids get jobs or start making a living, parents understand,” says Dar.

Dar with his trainees during the journey to one of the competitions in Srinagar. (Express Photo)

Currently he runs nine centres offering training in 18 sports – including wushu, taekwondo, rugby, canoeing, kayaking, volleyball, table tennis, badminton and football – and it is done by fellow trainers in public parks in districts like Pulwama, Anantnag, Shopian, Budgam, Baramulla, Bandipora, Ganderbal and Srinagar with about 13,000 kids training.

“We train three hours daily and the fee remains Rs 50. Fellow players like Abida Akhtar, rugby player Irshad Ahmad and rower Sajad Ahmad Dar contribute to training as well. When we got the government school building, we collected close to Rs five lakh and renovated the hall,” says Dar.

Among his trainees are two-time junior world kickboxing champion Tajamul Islam, 2017 Malaysia Wushu International championship medallist Abida Akhtar, junior Asian karate champion Hashim Mansoor and international taekwondo medallist Sheikh Adnan. Some of his trainees also work at the centres run by him. With mixed martial arts like wushu and Pencak silat also included in the Asian Games, Dar is confident of producing medallists. “Mixed martial arts have got a big boost. But there have been instances of players getting lured by unrecognised federations, the same has happened with Tajamul. That’s one thing which needs to be streamlined,” feels Dar. “Seeing my trainees win medals for India at the 2026 Asian Games is my dream.”

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