Schools will teach pre-teens martial arts

Compulsory jiu-jitsu lessons for more than 3,000 children aged nine to 12 begin today in public schools.

Abu Dhabi - October 8, 2008 - Matheus Queiroz, 8, practices Jiu-Jitsu with a member of the UAE national Jiu-Jitsu team at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club October 8, 2008 in Abu Dhabi. ( Jeff Topping / The National ) *** Local Caption ***  JT003-1008-JUJITSU 7F8Q2680.jpg
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ABU DHABI // Compulsory jiu-jitsu lessons for more than 3,000 children aged nine to 12 begin today in public schools as part of a Government initiative to find future international champions. Two 50-minute lessons of Brazilian jiu-jitsu per week will become part of the curriculum at 14 public schools. The number of participating schools is expected to double next year.

Children who show exceptional talent will be selected for training to turn them into world-class fighters. Sixteen coaches have been hired from Brazil to teach the martial art, including four women who will teach at the Al Mushrif School and the Al Maali Model School for girls. In addition to practical lessons, pupils will take theoretical classes about the sport, including basic Portuguese, since the names of the sport's manoeuvres are in that language.

"The idea is to choose three to four children from each school who have good talent and turn them into professional jiu-jitsu wrestlers," said Carlão Santos, the UAE's national jiu-jitsu coach and the project's organiser. "That means round-the-clock training." The project is expected to run for one academic year. If it succeeds, Brazilian jiu-jitsu could be made compulsory in the national curriculum. Of the schools starting the programme today, six are in Abu Dhabi, six in Al Ain, and two in the western zone of Madinat Zayed. The initiative is part of a wider scheme by the Government to establish the UAE as the world's leading venue for Brazilian jiu-jitsu and to have the martial art recognised as an Olympic sport. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and his brothers Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed and Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, are fans of the sport and there are plans to establish an international Brazilian jiu-jitsu federation, based here. Next April, the capital will host the Brazilian jiu-jitsu World Cup, a three-day tournament involving 400 top fighters from more than 35 countries, competing for US$120,000. (Dh441,000). Brazilian jiu-jitsu was introduced to Abu Dhabi when Sheikh Tahnoon fell in love with the sport while studying in California. He brought back his coach and jiu-jitsu master, Nelson Monterio, and founded the Abu Dhabi Combat Club. Last year, Mr Santos, a three-time world champion, organised the Asian Super Cup in Abu Dhabi. The competition is scheduled here again, on Dec 12-23, at the Armed Forces Officers Club. There has been a mixed reaction from two schools involved in the pilot project. "The classes will teach children about personal safety and how to defend themselves," said Salem al Haddad, the headmaster of Al Suqoor Model School for boys in Abu Dhabi. "Sport is important but some children may prefer to play football. We will have to wait and see what the reaction is from our students." Sultan al Mutawa, the headmaster of Zayed School for boys in Abu Dhabi, said: "Many of our parents are worried that their children will end up with broken bones. I'm not sure this sport is suitable for students of this age group."