Words by Fatima Lee Garsi
Photography by Keemya Parsa

Meet Lina Khalifeh!

A woman in a black zip up hoodie and gloves used in martial arts sits with an open posture looking directly into the camera.

Lina Khalifeh. Photograph by Keemya Parsa.

I’ll always remember the first time Lina came into Sister Fit. When she saw me, her eyes widened in surprise. She wasn’t shy to tell me that she expected me to be a conserative looking Muslim woman from Pakistan. Instead, she was met by a person who, like her, sort of looked like a boy. Lina and I met to speak about business to see if there was a potential to collaborate. She is the founder of SheFighter – the first self-defense studio for women in the Middle East. She’s also a global motivational speaker and the author of SheFighter, a short, self-published memoir.
Lina has a remarkable ability to transcend – like a hippie! She rises above her environment which can often be hostile to her as a woman, as someone who presents as more masculine, and as someone who is doing something completely original and groundbreaking in Jordan. 

Lina Khalifeh. Photograph by Keemya Parsa.

Lina spiritually transcends these flaming axes. She has made a habit of speaking to God and angels on a daily basis. She is also very connected to her dreams, writing them down every morning to help her memory. Since she’s a global public speaker, she takes a lot of care in her ability to memorize, visualize, practice, and deliver powerful, compelling speeches. 
After reading her book, interviewing her, and hanging out with her a few times, I can say that Lina is definitely a hippie in the best way possible! She’s open, deeply connected with her spirituality, and with her greater purpose. 

Lina Khalifeh. Photograph by Keemya Parsa.

Since Lina is handsomely boyish, points out flaws in Middle Eastern culture, and takes action to change these flaws, (such as an abusive culture towards women), there is a tremendous amount of hate that flies her way. For that reason, it was important for her to provide the opportunity of a nourishing cultural environment to grow…like a self-defense studio!
Lina writes briefly about her Palestinian heritage in her book, to bring attention to other nuanced forms of covert discrimination she faced while competing in Taekwondo. Her family has lived in Jordan for several generations, but her ethnic roots are from Palestine. According to Lina, the Jordan national Taekwondo team preferred to have ethnic Jordanians represent their country. She identifies as a “Jordanian Palestinian.” Lina recently shared more about her Palestinian roots as the current humanitarian crisis and conflict in Gaza continues to heighten.  

What I learned:

Write down your dreams. practice visualization, and practice your craft.
Just do it. Don’t wait until the time is ideal to start a project. During the pandemic, Lina started an interview series called “The Empowerment Zone,” a show on Instagram where Lina invites women with unique experiences – business owners, change-makers, female martial artists – to share their valuable insights. 
People will come and go. As Lina’s success grew, her circle of close friends became smaller. People are often uncomfortable with your success. They may not be able to relate to you or they feel some jealousy that is projected onto you. Focus on your purpose and mission and don’t get too attached to people. 

Why is Lina a Leader?

Matching motivation to movement

Lina Khalifeh. Photograph by Keemya Parsa.

Lina started SheFighter, the first self-defense school in the Middle East,  in Jordan. Culturally,  this is a country where women’s rights and their place in society is often most dependent on her father or husband. Lina’s inspiration for SheFighter is rooted in a moment where her friend revealed that she was being abused by her lover. Lina wanted to show her friend that there was a way out. 
A leader sees a problem and doesn’t wait for solutions to be handed to them: they take matters into their own hands. When the law will not protect you, you need to protect yourself. Lina’s motivation to teach women self-defense for personal empowerment, confidence, and also as a social and political statement was unstoppable. 
Public Speaking
In 2015, Barack Obama highlighted Lina’s achievements in his Emerging Global Entrepreneurship address at the White House. Lina’s work has earned her the prestige and honour of speaking to audiences around the world. This may seem daunting, but it’s no problem for Lina. She has done countless speeches on global stages, in front of celebrities, politicians, and journalists. She has confidence in her mission, in her story, and practices her speeches for hours before delivering her message. She treats her speeches like an artist would their art. She wants to evoke the power and spirit of SheFighter through her stage presence and through her words. Great leaders must be able to deliver a powerful speech. Lina knows how to do this. 
Just Do It
Something I’ve noticed after working exclusively with women is that we tend to wait until we think we have enough knowledge, experience, or validation to start something new. Not Lina. She self-published her own book SheFighter, a short memoir about her life and experiences in business. Lina saw an opportunity to share her unique journey, found the help and resources to do it – and did it! It’s a pleasurable read, delivers her message, and is easily available. Her memoir does what it needs to do. 

Lina Khalifeh. Photograph by Keemya Parsa.

In the same vein, “The Empowerment Zone” is done on IG live. This makes it relatively easy to do, easy to watch, and easy to understand. No fancy production was needed, no unnecessary time was wasted thinking about the appropriate moment to get started. That is something I think Lina and I have in common. Sometimes you can jump from the plane and figure things out as you’re falling. 
Lina is a very strong, spiritual woman, who is very focused on her mission and doesn’t wait for perfection to get started. So, what’s holding you back from starting your project or new experience? Get started now and look forward to making mistakes along the way. It’ll give you the experience and wisdom that’s needed for you to be great. 
You can explore Lina’s achievements, speeches, projects, and more at shefighter.com and linakhalifeh.org.
Listen or watch the podcast episode below!