When Jordanian diplomat Monther Awad Abu-Obeid leaves Abu Dhabi in August at the end of his posting, he will take more than happy memories with him.
The consul and political officer, who assisted about 300,000 Jordanians living in the UAE, will return home with a skill in the UAE’s unofficial national sport, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is also popular in Jordan.
“Jordan was introduced to jiu-jitsu … because of links between Jordanian competitors who started learning in Brazil, grew their talent and opened schools back home," he said, adding that Jordan has very advanced coaching.
The UAE is established as one of the top destinations for the sport.
“We can say Abu Dhabi is the world capital of jiu-jitsu,” Mr Abu-Obeid said.
The martial art is taught as part of the curriculum in more than 100 UAE schools, and there are more than 15 centres teaching the sport across the country. It is also practised by the Armed Forces.
The sport’s popularity here is the result of the advocacy of Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, National Security Adviser, who became interested in jiu-jitsu after watching the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993.
During his four years in the UAE, Mr Abu-Obeid has gone from a beginner to a blue belt competing in jiu-jitsu championships in Abu Dhabi, when he earned a silver medal at the Jiu-jitsu Pro tour in June.
"Managing my time between long office hours, diplomatic duties afterwards and training in jiu-jitsu was almost impossible, but having a passion for both diplomacy and jiu-jitsu with a belief in the pivotal role of sports diplomacy pushed me to train to climb the ladder to a silver medal, which was a dream," he said.
The 36-year-old was inspired to take up the martial art after watching his countrymen take part.
“Whenever we have a delegation coming from Jordan, even in sports, I meet them. That’s how I started my enthusiasm for jiu-jitsu.
“When the Jordanian athletes, our national team, started coming here to compete, I showed up to support them. And then I just decided it was time to start practising.”
Mr Abu-Obeid said he had tried jiu-jitsu a couple of times in Jordan.
He took it up properly in May 2018, training with other Jordanians.
He spent two years working his way up the four ranks of the white belt. Players are promoted through belts: white, blue, purple, brown, and black.
And then the coronavirus pandemic struck.
“That made it slower,” he said. “I wished I competed on the white belt because I was mature as a white belt. I was at the apogee of it. When I went to blue, I was on the junior level."
In some senses, Mr Abu-Obeid is leaving Abu Dhabi just as he is hitting his stride.
“My first competition was in April this year during the Abu Dhabi World Masters Jiu-jitsu Championship," he said.
“It was the highest international competition. People came from all over the world to compete in it,” he said.
He plans to continue practising it in Jordan. His coach there, Sammy Jamal, is the highest-ranked expert in the region.
And Mr Abu-Obeid will soon have more time to do it. His busy role in Abu Dhabi meant often he could not train as much as he liked.
That meant he had to miss out on a tournament in July.
“I didn’t have the time to train because I was working 12 to 15 hours a day at the office, and I lost a lot of weight. When I don’t train, I lose a lot of weight. So I couldn’t compete," Mr Abu-Obeid said.
“Definitely I am sad to leave but I am very excited to start what is coming next.
“I am looking forward to my new posting. I have no idea where I am going next, but I will take all the good memories and experiences from being here.”