UAE 'golden girl' Shamma Al Kalbani leading the way for next generation of jiu-jitsu stars

National team captain Faisal Al Ketbi backs 19-year-old to inspire Emirati female fighters to reach greater heights

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UAE jiu-jitsu star Faisal Al Ketbi has labelled Shamma Al Kalbani the “golden girl” of the martial arts sport after she secured two bronze medals in the recent World Games.

The 19-year-old finished on the podium in the 63kg and open weight divisions in Alabama 10 days ago, and she is being backed to reach greater heights by the country's best jiu-jitsu exponent.

“She’s the golden girl of a new generation of Emirati female jiu-jitsu athletes,” Al Ketbi told The National of Al Kalbani, who became the first UAE female to win medals at the World Games.

“She has the real potential to lead Emirati female fighters to new levels. She has progressed well and we’ll see a lot more of her if she continues to work, as she has been doing in the past two-three years.”

Those words from the national captain, and the most decorated Emirati jiu-jitsu athlete, is a massive confidence boost for Al Kalbani, who also believes the best is yet to come.

“To win a medal on the first day of the competition was fabulous and to win a second the next day was just amazing,” Al Kalbani, a first year Emergency Management undergraduate at the Rabdan University in Abu Dhabi, said.

“The World Games was a new experience for me as the youngest jiu-jitsu athlete in both my weight category and the open division. I feel I can achieve more if I keep on training as I do now. I’m already thinking of gold at the next World Games [in Chengdu, China, 2025].”

Having returned from the World Games after a month-long camp in Abu Dhabi, followed by a 40-day camp in California, Al Kalbani has had no break.

She was back in training after her return and will board a plane from Dubai, with her club team Baniyas, this week to Brazil for the Rio Grand Slam on Saturday.

On her return, she plans to train for the Jiu-Jitsu International Federation’s (JJIF) World Cup and the World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, both in November in Abu Dhabi.

“The Rio Grand Slam is part of my preparation for the two championships in Abu Dhabi in November. At Rio, I will be able to measure my levels against very strong opponents and then work on my mistakes.”

Al Kalbani, a purple belt, has accumulated countless medals in the domestic competition and in the international circuit since she first took up the sport in 2015.

She won golds at the Asian Championship in Bahrain in March, JJIF World Championships and the JJIF World Youth and Aspirants, among others.

“I didn’t do any other sport before jiu-jitsu but I was a very active person; cycling and playing football with my brothers and my friends. I’ll be out everyday from afternoon until late evenings playing with them,” she reminisced.

Al Kalbani, who began her journey through the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s school programme, has now set her sights on reaching the pinnacle - a black belt and division champion title.

“I was in grade six and I loved jiu-jitsu from the very first class I attended,” she said.

“I wanted to improve further so I joined a club in 2017. Now I train three times a day and give 100 per cent in what I do, be it training or competitions.

“This is the best way forward. In addition, my coaches and our federation have played a big part in my development and for what I have achieved so far.

“The federation, particularly, looks after our welfare and they do everything for us to focus both in jiu-jitsu and our academics.

“Obviously I want to complete my four years for the degree and then I’ll decide if I want to go further with my higher studies. However, right now like my jiu-jitsu, I want to complete my degree.

“I want to be in jiu-jitsu for a long time and that’s the reason I give my all to the sport I love. So barring any major injuries, I want to compete for as long as possible. My goal is to be a black belt and a champion in that category.”

Updated: July 27, 2022, 3:35 AM