Shamma Al Kalbani is the latest prodigy off the UAE's jiu-jitsu school programme production line.
The Emirati schoolgirl took up the martial art only five years ago and announced herself on the world stage last year when she won a gold medal at the Jiu-Jitsu International Federation’s (JJIF) World Youth and Aspiration tournament.
Shamma, 16, part of the UAE's female high performance team, was set to defend her title next month, but those plans have been dashed as global sport is in worldwide lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“To win gold on the world stage in such a short period since I started is a wonderful accomplishment, but I have bigger ambitions,” she said.
Those objectives mirror most young Emiratis who have successfully come through the Abu Dhabi school programme: to achieve black belt status and raise the country’s flag at international competitions.
More than 80,000 practitioners are currently in the programme, launched in 2008 by Abu Dhabi Educational Council in affiliation with the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation.
"Jiu-jitsu was in the school curriculum and I loved it from the very first lesson I attended," Shamma told The National.
“I didn’t do any other sport but I thought I was pretty good in the martial art sport from the time I started. I wanted to improve and attended private classes outside school training.
“I was successful and like in any other sport, success meant I received support and the backing from everyone.”
Shamma’s jiu-jitsu record stands at 68 wins against nine defeats and includes winning a gold medal at the Grand Slam Los Angeles and silver at the Grand Slam Tokyo in the youth division.
Her best moment on the mat, though, came at the Mubadala Arena last April when she defeated Australian Brioni Cuskelly in the blue belt 52-kilogram final at the JJIF World Youths.
“To win gold on the world stage in such a short period since I started is a wonderful accomplishment, but I have bigger ambitions,” she said. “I know it will get harder and harder as you go on to the higher levels, but it is great to have the World Youth title on my CV.
“If I want to fulfil my objectives of achieving black belt and be a world champion, I must be able to compete against the best in the world.
“I will keep pushing myself all the time to achieve my goals. If successful, it will be great. If not, I can still be happy that I tried.”
A Grade 11 pupil of Al Hunnain School in Abu Dhabi, Shamma says she plans to pursue a degree in marine science.
“I want to be successful in both jiu-jitsu and academics,” she said. “It’s not hard. You just need to divide your time. It becomes easier when you love what you do. My parents have been very supportive and they are a great strength for me.”
Shamma is not the only one in her family with a love for jiu-jitsu. Younger sister Hamda, 14, is a yellow belt.
“She’s my training partner at home these days,” Shamma said. “Our federation has given us a home workout schedule to keep us in good shape while the country is combating to contain the coronavirus."