The opening day of the Jiu-Jitsu Festival, which precedes the 10th staging of the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, saw more than 1,300 Emiratis from the national service vying for the 12 gold medals on offer.
The competition, exclusively for those serving their country, provided an opportunity for a number of fighters relatively new to the martial art to perform with the spotlight on them at Mubadala Arena on Monday.
According to Darwish Fouad, general manager of Palms Sports - the technical arm of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation - a majority of them had spent only a little more than six months preparing for the competition.
“It takes some effort for those who were successful today,” Fouad said. “It’s not normally the case where you have 12 gold medals with more than 1,300 competing for it.
“It was unique in the history of this event where more than 100 were fighting in the white belt divisions."
Abdullah Al Junaibi was among the veterans at the competition. Returning to the mat after two years, he won a gold medal in the 65-kilogram blue belt category by beating Salem Khalifa Al Kaabi, 5-2, on points.
“I took a break from jiu-jitsu to spend more time on my studies but started to train again after joining the national service eight months ago,” said Al Junaibi, who turns 19 next month.
“I have been practising jiu-jitsu for more than seven years and got selected for the UAE national age group team. I trained with them for a month in 2016 but had to leave jiu-jitsu for a while to spend more time to study.”
Al Junaibi, who spent a few summer months in Tokyo for short courses, will apply for a spot in the Tokai University once he completes the national service in August.
“I’m trying to balance both my studies and jiu-jitsu, which I want to continue until I reach black belt,” said Al Junaibi, who wants to graduate as an electro-mechanical engineer.
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Al Junaibi has had some success at the junior level, winning gold in the orange belt category at the Jiu-Jitsu Festival in 2014. He also took home bronze and gold medals from the Gulf Championship in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
“The idea here to provide the young cadets [a stage to showcase their talents] was a good move, because they have been training and have now experienced what competitions are all about,” Al Junaibi said.
Hamdan Mohammed Ali is another young Emirati to revive his passion for jiu-jitsu after joining the national service. He won gold in the 56kg white belt division.
“I had previously taken part in a school competition in Abu Dhabi two years ago and started jiu-jitsu again after joining the national service,” Mohammed Ali said.
“I won a bronze at the school competition, and now won gold in this event. The training I have had at the national service seems to have improved my fighting skills.
“I want to join the military when I pass out from the national service and continue my jiu-jitsu.”
Ahmed Saeed Al Kindi was ecstatic after coming away with gold in the 69kg white belt category despite having trained for just eight months.
“Now I will continue to train hard and participate in more competitions,” the Fujairah-based Al Kindi, 24, said.