Grandmaster Ladan Homayoon Sefat is inhaling gratitude and exhaling the pain of her past.

As she meditates at her fitness and wellness center, Ladan's Wellness Sanctuary in Beverly Hills, she reflects on her arduous journey in becoming a world Taekwondo champion.

What You Need To Know

  • Upon seeing the recent targeting of women in Kabul perpetrated by the Taliban, Grandmaster Ladan, an Iranian refugee, is speaking out about her story for the first time

  • Ladan was targeted by the Iranian government from a young age as a female athlete participating in martial arts

  • After winning Taekwondo championships abroad, the government threw her in jail, accusing her of sexualizing herself

  • After being forced to train terrorists, she managed to escape Iran, settled in Los Angeles and opened a wellness center

"When I was a little kid, it was my dream to become a champion. Champion of Iran; champion also of the world. Everything was a dream," Homayoon Sefat said. 

Back then, it really was just a dream. Ladan was limited by the radical Islamic laws in Iran, which forbade females to participate in any physical fitness exercises in front of men.

But her burning passion kept her pushing the boundaries. She would even sneak into the men's gymnasiums dressed as a boy so that she could learn the newest techniques. But she would eventually get caught, get beaten and get sent back home.

"Can you believe who was my instructor? Jackie Chan, thanks to Hollywood, Sylvester Stalone. I was watching and renting the video cassettes. I was watching the whole series, practicing. They were my role models, my real instructors and masters," she explained.

After Homayoon Sefat's father died when she was 17 years old, she did the unthinkable. She signed up for a Taekwondo competition in Germany, telling the Iranian government she was going to observe. And to her surprise, she won. Not once, but twice.

As her fame grew, the anger of the government did, too. They accused her of sexualizing herself, and they threw her in jail.

"They threw me in a cage for three nights. They poured water on the carpet. The smell is still in my nose and my mind. It was terrible. I couldn't breathe. After that, I was whipped 72 times," Homayoon Sefat said.

Homayoon Sefat was eventually forced to train Afghan terrorists, and she said that was the last straw for her.

She used all her resources and planned a dangerous but successful escape out of her native country, eventually settling in Los Angeles.

Homayoon Sefat said she is grateful for her freedom here, and more importantly, hopes to use it to empower women with the resilience she has gained. Homayoon Sefat felt compelled to share her journey of survival publicly after seeing the most recent activities by the Taliban, targeting women in Kabul.

"Some of them, they don't have opportunity. And we have to make that possibility for them too. This is my passion, my mission and I will fight for myself and fight for all women," she said.