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When I was younger, I was taught that I should acquire strength of varying levels. A quiet inner strength that drew me closer to God and a dominant, physical strength that proved to anyone watching that I could fight my own battles. I have had my fair share of struggles meeting these standards throughout my life.

My 5’8” Black- belt toting, point guard-positioned mother was the strongest woman I knew in my life- and I have always wondered what kind of experiences she had to endure to seek out that sort of strength and agility. Is strength innate? Is it brought on by circumstance?

These questions inspired me to learn more about Shaina West’s story and her journey to becoming a ‘hero for hire’ in the midst of a white, male-dominated industry. The London born and bred Shaina West, or ‘The Samurider’, dedicated herself to learning martial arts from the age of 21, following horrific motorcycle accident that left her feeling helpless and weak. The strength and poise that is such a prominent feature of anime characters was a huge inspiration to Shaina to get back up again.

Learn more about her story below.

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Q: I recently learned of your motorbike accident that happened about 4 years ago. First- I’m glad you’re ok. And second, what did your mental and physical rehabilitation process look like for you to become the bad ass martial artist that you are today?
Shaina: After my accident, my initial ‘healing’ phase began with hours upon hours of binge-watching my favourite animes in bed; particularly Naruto – believe it or not. I actually now believe that when you are facing any sort of physical, mental or spiritual adversity, the best and first thing to do is to “reset your energy”. By this, I mean to do things that feed your soul – do things that make you feel good; read a good book, watch your favourite shows, have a bubble bath, eat loads of ice cream. Whatever it is, I think its important to do these small things to help to begin elevating your soul to feel good. It’s very easy to fall into a perpetual cycle of feeling badly to thinking badly to treating yourself badly, and I believe that [resetting] is the first step to breaking that cycle.
Q: Agreed. Now, do you have a favorite affirmation, prayer, positive thought that helps you persevere when you face challenges in your career or personal life?
Shaina: Yes, so whilst watching a lot of Naruto, I came by this symbol from the show a lot. Its called “Hi No Ishi” which translates to the “Will of Fire”. It is a reoccurring element from the show that not only invokes a strong moral standpoint in many of the characters, but it is also uniquely interpreted by each character & can mean something slightly different to who sees or wears it. To me, it means to be strong, to fight for what I believe in and to do what I love. This symbol spoke to me so strongly during my recovery time that on my 21st birthday, I decided to get it done as my first tattoo. I had it put onto my solar-plexus, mostly because for years I have suffered from a chronic anxiety disorder and the feeling would originate from my solar-plexus; so to me, it was almost a ‘seal’ of sorts. Whenever I would see this symbol on my chest, it would forever serve as a reminder to be true to myself.
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Q: I had to Google what a “solar plexus” was, but I’m back now- I got it. It is one of the seven chakra points on our body. That’s a beautiful way to align yourself with that symbol. Now, why martial arts? You have previously mentioned that you are into video games action movies, comic books- so why not a video game designer or actress?
Shaina: I chose martial arts because I wanted to be strong and formidable like these fictional characters that I idolised so much. I saw no reason for me to not be able to attain that same level of strength and relentlessness that they had. All I had to do was begin. Martial arts teaches you more than just how to fight. It teaches you patience, perseverance, practise, discipline, humility, spirituality, it builds character, and how to get better at learning things. Even more so when you have to teach yourself! I learned so much about myself through martial arts, and have created even more for myself with it. It is for my body as well as mind and soul.
Q: If I am someone that wants to attend ‘Youtube University’ and learn from some great martial artists or stunt people, who should I watch first and why?
Shaina: If you want to learn martial arts from home like I did, I would recommend going onto Youtube and simply typing in ‘bo staff for beginners’. There are so many good videos out there- I simply could not choose one. My favourites are ‘Casey Marks’: she’s old-school, but that’s what makes her great, and the old wise master from ‘BujitsuShare’.
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Q: Who are your most enthusiastic followers on Instagram and why do you believe that they’re so drawn to you?
Shaina: My followers come from all backgrounds and ethnicities, although I find a lot of support comes from people of colour. My aim is to inspire everyone to discover their passion, but my message is also very much directed at women of colour. I hope to be an example of our strength and unwavering zealousness. Black women are so full of unimaginable beauty and strength, yet we are the least loved and respected globally. This is part of the reason why I wear my afro; it is a symbol & a statement that I am proud of who I am and will wear my heritage like a crown. I get really touching messages from many black women and I am so honoured to be able to inspire anyone on a personal level.

Q: Tell me about your experience as Black woman in this industry. What misconceptions have you had to overcome as you’ve gained more success and recognition? Or has it been smooth sailing the whole time?

Shaina: As a black woman breaking into an industry that has been dominated by white males, I have faced as many challenges as I have been presented with opportunities. Yes, being a Black woman does mean that there are way less roles for me to strive for. And, sometimes, it’s even a little more difficult to be taken seriously- until they meet me that is. However, this is also an advantage for me; mostly because I am now my only competition. I can create opportunities for myself and I am aiming to be both a stunt person and actor, rather than just a stunt double. I will be playing my own characters as well as creating my own shows and choreographing my own fight/action sequences as opposed to relying on those to become available to myself. I get to become the representation that black people usually don’t get in this genre of action/fantasy – I value this very much.

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Q: Who’s your favorite comic book character and why?
Shaina: My favourite character from Marvel is Deadpool. I love his back-story; his life was literally over when he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, & then when things couldn’t get any worse, he became a prisoner of a torture-camp. Needless to say, he gained strength and unfathomable power from his suffering. His regenerative ability is incredible to say the least, his tolerance and even outright nonchalance to pain is admirable, and he is the only Marvel character to continuously break the fourth wall and actually acknowledge the fact that he is a comic character. Plus, he is a hilarious. I think all of his qualities can actually be interpreted as metaphors that can be applied to your everyday life. He is awesome- maximum effort.
Q: So in your line of work, I am assuming (forgive me!) that you have also sustained injuries. Sooo- just how many bones have you broken? Worst injury yet?
Shaina: I hurt myself. Every. Training. Session. I’m actually a pretty clumsy person. Most of the time its a minor bump, bruise or stain. My worst training injury was 2 fractured fingers on my left hand that I sustained whilst doing gymnastics at the gym. It was the most painful thing I have ever experienced & although it happened about 9 months ago, its still very painful. I am working with this injury and I wont let it hold me back.
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Q: Yikes. So, how do you stay strong while also taking care of your body? And, what are your top 5 favorite exercises you do to achieve the body and health goals you want?
Shaina: My favourite time of the day to workout is in the evening. I usually like to save the biggest workouts for the evening where I can just smash it, and then, get food and relax. My 5 fundamental exercises are:
1. Squats
Anyone who knows anything about strength and balance knows that the legs are the foundation of the body and a strong foundation is a strong body. Plus, squats burn more calorie per rep than any other exercise and work your entire body.
2. Deadlifts
If you deadlift correctly, you will have strong hamstrings & strong glutes. Learning to deadlift correctly will strengthen all the muscles along your posterior chain, which are the muscles along the rear side of your body.
3. Push Ups
Upper body strength is vital for martial arts and the push up is one of the best exercises that you can do for your upper body as well as core strength.
4. Pull Ups
These are for strength and balance. Using weapons such as the bo staff means that I do a lot of pushing and pulling, and thus, strengthening my pulls as well as my push strength is crucial to improving my performance. Plus, I will never be that damsel in distress like in the movies where she is hanging from a ledge and the difference between life and death for her is not being able to do a pull-up.
5. EVERYTHING Core.
I love knee raises, leg raises, dragon flags, l-sits, you name it. You need a strong core if you’re gonna be a super hero – how else could you take a punch?
Q: Listen, my work out game is trash- but I am vegetarian and I am working on getting my life together. Are you vegan or vegetarian? Can you tell me about the foods you eat that make you feel the most healthy and successful?
Shaina: Diet-wise, I was raised on everything; a lot of meat, diary, processed foods etc. However, the more I learn about the body, the more incentive I have for eating better. I have transitioned from meat-eater to vegetarianism, to veganism, to plant-based whole foods. Now, I have settled at a happy-medium where 98% of my meals are plant-based wholefoods, but I can enjoy some other animal-based treats such as pizza or ice-cream. I believe that we as humans probably function best on an alkaline, vegan diet, however, I also believe in quality of life; and I only get one.. so, can I get extra cheese on that today?
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