Philly Dad Debuts ‘The Jiu-Jitsu Ponytail,’ Celebrates Raising Strong Girls
Queen Village dad Mir Khalid Ali debuts a children's book about fathers, daughters, tenacity, and hair.
For many of us, the daily routine of doing our kids’ hair can feel like a battle. This was the challenge local dad Mir Khalid Ali faced when he was inspired to write his debut children’s book The Jiu-Jitsu Ponytail. From this simple and relatable premise, emerges a fantastical work full of humor and heart. While it is partly a silly story about a girl’s stubborn anthropomorphic hairdo, its significance is to honor the father-daughter relationship—and show how raising strong girls is an ongoing act and responsibility expressed in the quotidian.
“As a Muslim man, and hearing negative narratives about how Muslim men treat women, I thought it was important to show another side,” Ali explained.
In The Jiu-Jitsu Ponytail, seven-year-old Noor is getting ready for her first jiu-jitsu tournament, but her hair has a mind of its own. Refusing help from her father—“Baba,” as she calls him—Noor’s unruly ponytail breaks free and distracts her, causing her to lose her first match, as well as her confidence. With gentle and positive encouragement, Noor’s dad fixes her ponytail and reminds her how hard she and her team worked to get to the tournament, inspiring her to stay and finish.
Avoiding the easy sports story “happy ending,” Noor notably does not win her tournament. It is in these little moments and choices that Ali demonstrates what empowerment looks like in a child’s life. When Noor wants to quit, she is given that freedom; and when she stays and comes in second, she is praised for her bravery and hard work. This is a lesson for both children and parents—not every child will win at everything they do, but every child deserves to feel supported and worthy.
Of course, this lesson is woven throughout a fun and action-packed “pony-tale,” and was inspired by the author’s own life. Ali and his family have been taking Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons for years, including his daughter Nawwara. Not wanting to wake his wife up on Saturday mornings, he learned how to tie his daughter’s ponytails before practice. Aside from being an entertaining vehicle for his message, Ali felt jiu-jitsu was the perfect topic because “ it’s not about your size, it’s about empowerment.”
For the Alis, jiu-jitsu has also been a source of community, as has the Meredith school attended by both children. When they moved to Philly’s Queen Village neighborhood from Chicago, they knew no one, but the Meredith community “feels like a little village,” Ali explained. In fact, The Jiu-Jitsu Ponytail was made possible by local support, as many from the Meredith and Nebinger communities contributed to the Kickstarter campaign launched to finance the book.
The book’s launch party was truly a reflection of that community, attended by Meredith’s principal, many families from the elementary school, and of course a local jiu-jitsu school whose students performed demonstrations.
Bringing the neighborhood together through his book and sharing its message was all Ali had hoped for. “People say America is a melting pot, we like to think of it as a pot luck. We all have something to bring to the table.”
The Jiu-Jitsu Ponytail is available to order on Amazon.
Photographs by Laura Swartz.