Not every girl dreams of becoming a princess.

As a mother of two girls, I am wary of them growing up believing in fairy-tales and Prince Charming. I love reading stories to my girls and delight in their imagination and creativity that are borne from these fantasies - but not every girl dreams of becoming a princess.

My oldest daughter, Grace, is a first-degree junior black belt in Taekwondo while my youngest, Sarah is aiming for her junior black belt before her 8th birthday. Two years ago, they both took up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and absolutely love it. It’s very satisfying to see them grapple with their father, also a martial artist, and gain control.

 Grace with her TKD coach, Raj.

Grace with her TKD coach, Raj.

Many mothers who find out both my girls train in martial arts question my intent. The grandmothers, in particular, have a fear for my girls’ physical well being and often have a thing or two to say about their possible growth impediment should they injure themselves in a fight.

Certainly we all know the benefits of regular exercise and having my girls learn new skills on the mat while strengthening their core and their stamina ensures a better outlook on life for them.

But as proud as I am of my daughters’ physical strengths and achievements, it is their emotional quotient that inspires me every day – not just their grit and determination but their empathy for others. Martial arts have taught them respect and responsibility that stays with them well beyond the mat. Their sense of motivation and confidence is evident across everything that they do – from solving math problems to public speaking at school assemblies.

 Sarah, in a moment.

Sarah, in a moment.

While it’s never easy watching your child being arm-barred or taken down, there is an empowerment that you can see in my girls when they get back up and work a different angle to gain control and not to be in the same dire position again. Their ability to strategize and learn from mistakes translates into the way they approach learning at school – becoming organised learners who plods along resiliently even through adversities.

Sure, there are those days when it’s hard to get them out the door because they’d much prefer to curl up with a good book or get on YouTube for 5-minute crafts. But they know that to achieve that black- tip or to gain another stripe requires dedication, and hard work pays off – go hard or go home.

Most important to me, as a mother and as a woman, are the lessons my daughters have learnt on the mat about perseverance and tenacity - taking a stand and facing their fears, letting their voices be heard and disregarding preconceived notions of being a girl. Because being a girl shouldn’t define who you are or what you want to be. Shaping my daughters’ hearts and minds as individuals and valued members of society is essential, and martial arts have helped tremendously.

For now, if the only concern my girls have about grappling are “cauliflower” ears that beset many MMA fighters, I’ll take it. Martial arts have set my daughters up for a future of great possibilities, doing amazing things because they are girls who never dreamed of becoming a princess.

 Grace and Sarah with their BJJ professor Marcelo

Grace and Sarah with their BJJ professor Marcelo