The basic statistic is impressive to say the least.
According to Sheikha Al Suwaidi, the women’s jiu-jitsu national team manager, there are more than 47,000 Emirati females practising the martial art.
This number is set to continue to grow significantly since jiu-jitsu was included in the public school curriculum nine years ago.
The sport has now spread to all leading clubs as well as fitness centres around the country as a result of the demand from those who want to improve their levels and rankings.
Jiu-jitsu is included in the curriculum of 126 schools, both girls and boys. While the boys have taken the lead and achieved international success, the girls are not far behind.
“From what I can see, the girls seem to love the sport, and jiu-jitsu being a combat sport, it’s all the more admirable,” Al Suwaidi said.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, is the sport’s main patron and its resulting rapid advance in popularity has come as no surprise.
The Emirati fighters get to meet Sheikh Mohammed more often through jiu-jitsu than in any other sport.
“What more incentive one needs, to meet His Highness in person and to pose for a photo with him,” Al Suwaidi added.
[ Sheikh Mohammed welcomes home Al Ketbi ]
There are 20 female fighters preparing for two competitions, the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games at Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, from September 17-27, and the Balkan Open in the Under 15 age group from September 22 to 24.
The UAE team for Ashgabat consists of nine fighters and four will travel to Podgorica, Montenegro, for the South East European championship.
“The training camps in Abu Dhabi have now been going on for more than eight months and those in Al Ain have been training separately,” said Rosalind Ferreira, one of the Brazilian trainers of the women’s team. “Next week they will both be in one camp in Abu Dhabi before travelling for the competitions.”
Ferreira is also a leading referee and counts more than six years in Abu Dhabi during which she has seen several girls graduating to the national team.
“The growth of jiu-jitsu in the UAE has been remarkable, particularly among the Emirati girls,” Ferreira said.
“I have seen many of the girls start from scratch and reach a good level. They are improving day by day. They have had some success in the recent Asian Championship in Vietnam [last month, winning two gold medals].
“These girls are very young and it’s a matter of time before they make their mark in the international circuit. I’m so happy to see them grow in front of my eyes during my time in Abu Dhabi.”
Also from Amith Passela:
- No time to admire medals as Al Ketbi heads to Brazil with rest of national team
- Abu Dhabi academy providing a pathway for future generations of titans
Six girls are vying for the four slots in the team for the Balkan Open. They are Mahra Al Rwais, Shamma Al Klbani, Balqees Al Hashmi, Meena Al Mazroori, Shamsa Al Amire and Shamsa Al Ketbi.
It will be the first time that the U15 girls compete abroad and they are all excited to make the cut.
“It’s been a healthy competition between us to be the four fighters to represent the country at the Balkan Open. There will always be a next time for those who don’t make it this time,” Shamsa Al Ketbi said.
Shamsa Al Amire added: “Whoever represents the country will do their best to return with medals. And of course we want to take the experience forward.”