Bashayer Al Matrooshi insists there is still "a lot of pressure" when she competes at age group level as she reflected on winning a gold medal at the Al Ain Kids Jiu-Jitsu International.
The 16 year old is a member of the UAE women’s national team and recently returned with a bronze from the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan last month. Before that, she won a silver at the Asian Championship in Vietnam.
In both competitions, she competed against opponents who were older and graded higher, so her latest success in the Under-18s event at the UAE University’s sports complex at the weekend was not unexpected.
While Bashayer admits that competing at age-group level is less challenging than with adults, she said the focus placed on her means she cannot afford to lose, which creates more expectations on her shoulders.
“There is a lot of pressure in every competition,” said Bashayer, who is a blue belt, the highest rating a juvenile competitor can reach .
“For me, I have a lot to lose than win at this level because a win for me is normal, but if I lose, it’s big news. My objective always is to win gold, regardless what level I’m competing.”
Bashayer normally competes in the 60kg division, but stepped up to 70kg to give herself a bigger challenge.
She won all three of her three fights on points; against Yamna Al Shamsi, Jawaher Al Yaqoubi, and Latifa Al Ryani in the final.
“I competed in a heavier weight so I can compete against some of the stronger opponents,” she said.
With no tournaments coming up for the women’s national team in the immediate future, Bashayer said every competition, whether local or international, will be useful for her to maintain her competitive edge.
“The Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games was an excellent learning curve for us,” she said. “We want to take that forward. It was really tough competing against brown belts and fighters with more experience.
“Hopefully I can compete for Al Ain Club at the Grand Slams in Rio, Abu Dhabi and London.”
The Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu World Tour heads to Rio de Janeiro on November 10-12, before coming to the UAE capital on January 12-13. The World Tour then concludes in London on March 10-11.
The next big event for the women's UAE national team, which boasts an average age of around 17, is the Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang from August 18 to September 2.
“The competition in Turkmenistan was a trial for the Asian Games and I’m sure our federation (UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation) will leave no stone unturned to have us ready for it,” Bashayer said.
As well as her jiu-jitsu ambitions, Bashayer plans to pursue a career as a fighter pilot. She’s a Grade 12 pupil at Al Mali School in Al Ain and plans to study for a degree in mechanical engineering.
“Jiu-jitsu hasn’t disrupted my studies,” she said. “I have managed to balance them both. I have always been active and want to continue doing the two things I love most.”
Bashayer competed in athletics and swimming before taking up jiu-jitsu six years ago after watching some of her friends training at school.
“Like all girls I tried and liked it,” she said. “I did it for a year at school and joined Al Ain Club as I wanted to improve my levels.
“At first, my parents objected but they eventually gave me the OK. They have supported me since then. On my part, I haven’t disappointed them as I have done well with both my studies and jiu-jitsu.”
Bashayer has a twin sister, Rauda, who she says has no interest in jiu-jitsu, but is excited her little brother Khalifa, 4, has taken up jiu-jitsu at an early age.
“I’m thrilled Khalifa is in jiu-jitsu,” said Bashayer, proudly displaying his photo in her phone cover page. “My sister is just the opposite. She has no interest in sports, so my brother joining me in jiu-jitsu excites me.”