Excitement is building in the Al Hanaei household as three jiu-jitsu sisters fine-tune their preparations for the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam this weekend.
“It’s like preparing for a festival with everyone at home talking about the competition and of our preparation,” says the eldest, Maha Al Hanaei, ahead of the action at the Mubadala Arena at Zayed Sports.
Maha, 18, and Mahra, 16, are familiar with the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam format, while Hana, 14, will make her debut. Maha will be in action on Friday as she steps up to the adult purple belt 55-kilogramme division for the first time.
“It’s a new experience for me competing in the purple belt and it’s going to be tougher. But that’s not surprising - if I have to reach a good level, I must be able to compete against stronger opponents.”
Mahra and Hana are in action on Saturday in the juvenile blue belt 57kg and junior yellow belt 44kg respectively.
“Not many overseas fighters come for the juvenile division, but even if they do I’m prepared,” says Mahra, who has won Grand Slam gold medals in Tokyo and Rio De Janiero this season as well as finishing on the top step of the podium at the Asian Championship in Vietnam in August.
“With three of us competing in three different categories, there is a chance that at least one will return home with a medal. If one of us win, we celebrate, and if we don’t, it really doesn’t matter.”
Maha and Mahra took up jiu-jitsu more than six years ago when the martial art was first introduced at the Mariam bint Sultan Girls School in Al Ain through the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s Schools Programme. Their rise through the ranks has seen them win several tournaments and make it on to the UAE women’s national team.
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“Mahra and I tried out and we loved it from the time we started,” says Maha, who is pursuing a degree in aeronautical engineering at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Al Ain. “We enjoyed some success at the local competitions and since then we have been hooked to jiu-jitsu.
“You can say that I was a late starter but Mahra and Hana have both got age on their side to excel. Hana, perhaps, can go a step further than me and Mahra because she had a better knowledge of the sport than both of us when she first started four years ago.”
It is a sentiment their coach at the Al Ain Club agrees with.
“Hana has the advantage of understanding the sport while watching her older siblings train as well as compete from a very young age,” Gessica Ventura says.
“She has also learnt the art from both Maha and Mahra, and testing their skills on each other at home.
“But like in all sports, how they want to go about to develop their skills and improve their levels depends on them. They are amazing girls and have struck a good balance with their academics and sports.”
The sisters are quick to acknowledge the support they receive from each other and their family as they pursue their jiu-jitsu dreams.
“The family members are our biggest fans. Our parents have been very supportive and they provide us all the material and moral support they can provide us,” Maha says.
“I can’t think of being better motivated than the encouragement we get at home, including my jiu-jitsu sisters. We support each other like no other at every competition.”
“The support they receive from their parents is quite remarkable and that’s something we don’t see from most others,” Ventura says.