There’s not too many athletes who can say they’re literally changing the world through the medium of sport but Amy Connell is one of the select few who can justifiably make such a claim.

Connell is one of Britain’s top karate fighters but she’s doing more than merely pursuing individual success on the global stage.

As well as training to compete with the world’s very best, Connell is also spearheading a programme that uses karate to empower women across the globe, giving them the tools they need to defend themselves physically from all kinds of gender-based violence.

It’s quite a departure from the typical elite athlete’s focus which, invariably, concentrates solely on their own sporting success but for Connell, it’s been both eye-opening to hear the stories of women who have been victims of domestic violence and heartening to see the difference learning the basics of her sport can make to their lives.

Her initial foray into self-defence classes came in her home city of Glasgow when she began to help her dad, who’s a long-standing member of the karate community and a former British karate president, at his public sessions.

It was during these sessions it dawned on Connell the value of learning self-defence to the normal woman on the street.

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“I was chatting to the women and they were saying how empowering knowing a wee bit of self-defence is and I began to realise that people really need classes like these,” the 29-year-old says.

“I’ve grown up around martial arts so I’ve always known how to defend myself and I’ve probably taken that for granted. But I started to realise how important a skill it is and how few women actually have it.”

Coincidentally, at the same time as Connell was getting involved in these classes in Glasgow, the World Karate Federation was looking for individuals to lead the governing body’s programme promoting self-defence. When they became aware of Connell’s interest in the issue, they quickly approached the Scot to head up their global programme, Guardian Girls, at the start of this year.

Over the past ten months, Connell has travelled the world with the Guardian Girls programme and she’s quick to admit that the tales she’s heard from the women who have taken part have come as something as a shock to the system 

“We did Cairo in January, then Morocco, Japan and Dublin and so it’s been quite a year,” she says.

“In countries where women don’t have as many rights as we do here, the conversations were really eye-opening.  

“The first big shock for me was how many women experience domestic and gender-based violence. Having those conversations was tough.

“The women all said they wished they’d known a bit of self-defence - it wouldn’t have completely changed their situation immediately but it might have given that bit more courage to walk away from something or to feel differently about their situation.

“What we’re teaching isn’t about making these women really aggressive, it’s about making them feel more confident whether that’s to walk away or make a different choice or decision. 

“It’s a shame that we can’t completely change the world we live in but we can make tiny changes to make women safer.”

While improving the lives of women around the world has been a major focus of her year, Connell has not lost sight of her own sporting ambitions.

2022 was her most successful year to date, with the Glaswegian winning European Championships bronze as well as Commonwealth Karate Championships gold.

This season has seen her undertake a somewhat reduced competition schedule but it means that as she goes into this year’s World Championships, which begin today in Budapest, she’s feeling as fresh as she has in a long time and has her sights set on winning her first global major championship medal in the coming days.

“Last year was brilliant with a European and a Commonwealth medal but then I picked up a couple of injuries and so I just wasn’t ready to fight much earlier in the year and it’s not the kind of sport you can do if you’re not 100 percent,” says Connell, who fights in the -55kg kumite category.

“I feel good going into these World Champs - I’m back up performing like I’d want to.

“For me, a podium place is my goal.

“Karate is one of those sports that on the day, you never know what’s going to happen.”

As she approaches her 30th birthday, Connell admits the thought of retirement has crossed her mind. 

But having devastatingly missed out on a place in Team GB for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, she admits the prospect of fulfilling a lifelong goal of becoming an Olympian remains something she’s hell-bent on achieving.

However, with karate having been omitted from the Paris 2024 programme, she’ll need to wait until Los Angeles 2028 at the earliest to fulfil her ambition.

The lengthy timescale is quite a challenge but, for someone who recovered from two broken legs earlier in her career, she’s no stranger to overcoming seemingly difficult obstacles.

“It was a big shock that karate got dropped from the programme and breakdancing was put in instead. It was tough to take when the decision came out.

“The decision has still to be made about whether or not karate is in the 2028 Olympics and that’ll dictate for me how long I continue. If we get into the 2028 Games, I’d really push for it because making it to the Olympics is my dream.”