Abu Dhabi: UAE jiu-jitsu’s blue-eyed boy Faisal Al Ketbi is soaked in sweat from head to toe.
The 31-year-old has been grappling non-stop for well over 90 minutes with his national team compatriots but he is in no mood to call it a day yet.
After catching his breath for five minutes, he is back on the mat for another round. One could clearly gauge that there is a madness and obsession behind his approach. And it has a lot to do with the heartbreak that Al Ketbi has had at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship in the past two editions.
Al Ketbi, who has been the face of UAE jiu-jitsu, has won gold across all belts at the World Pro. However, ever since he became the first Emirati to become a black belt holder four years back, the gold at World Pro has eluded him.
Al Ketbi, who competes in the 85kg category, had to be content with sliver twice in succession — in the 2017 and 2018 editions.
2018Asian Games in Jakarta where Al Ketbi won gold for the UAE
Both finals defeats — to Brazilians Claudio Calasans and Isaque Bahiense — in front of home fans has been a hard pill to swallow and this time Al Ketbi is keen to set that record straight.
“Competitions in the black belt is always high and there is no room for any errors,” says Al Ketbi reminiscing the setbacks.
“It’s is like a game of chess. One mistake can cost you the game. In jiu-jitsu, you need to think quickly according to the situations,” adds Al Ketbi, who had participated in all the editions of the World Pro since its inception in 2009. While starting with in the blue belt category, he clinched gold two years on the trot and also went to sign-off from the category with a silver in 2011. After graduating into the purple belt, he again won gold in 2012. The 2013 and 2014 season saw him clinch gold in both weight division and absolute class.
“Yes, I missed out on gold in the last four years in black belt but this is another challenge and another opportunity and of course, the main goal is to win gold,” he says. “I want to represent the UAE in the best way, fight and honour our flag.
“Our preparations are not just going out there doing fitness and fighting opponents but working out strategies, always trying to learn something new, improve skills and tactics you already know.”
Al Ketbi won gold for UAE at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta despite nursing an injury which he had kept under wraps.
“Asian Games gold was special but I had a muscle injury behind my thigh and the team management and coach (Ramon Lemos) decided we keep it under wraps,” he says.
“Any adverse news could have had an impact on the team, particularly when the team leader is suffering an injury. That’s why we didn’t inform you guys as well. I competed while undergoing treatment. I was careful not to aggravate the injury but it all worked out well for me.
“It was the first time jiu-jitsu was included in the Games and it maybe a once-in-a-lifetime medal for an athlete.”
Al Ketbi asserts that he is 100 per cent fit now and was raring to go all out to break the jinx.
“We began training for the World Pro from December and didn’t participate in some of the competitions for strategic reasons,” he says.
“We normally do a camp overseas before the World Pro but this time we didn’t because we already did one in Los Angeles before the Asian Games. We spent almost a month training and our management decided to hold a camp inside the country. Hopefully it will all come together now.”
Male Adult Black
1. João Gabriel Batista De Sousa (Brazil) 1,220 pts
2. Diego Ramalho (Brazil) 1,200 Points
3. Ricardo Evangelista (Brazil) 1,040 points
4. Adam Wardzinski (Poland) 1,040 points
Female Adult Brown/Black
1. Gabrieli Pessanha (Brazil) 1,420 Points
2. Mayssa Caldas Pereira Bastos (Brazil) 1,340 points
3. Samantha Cook (UK) 1,100 points
4. Thamara Silva (Brazil) 920 points
UAE men’s jiu-jitsukas to watch out for
1. Faisal Al Ketbi
2. Omar Al Fadhli
3. Hamad Nawad
4. Taleb Al Kerbi
UAE female jiu-jitsukas to watch out for
1. Maha Al Hinaai
2. Reem Abdulla
3. Hessa Al Shamsi
Jiu-jitsu, whose origins began in Japan in the Sengoku period (1467-1600), is now widely popular in the hearts and minds of the martial arts community. The sport’s core values of loyalty, justice, morality, serenity, humility, honour, self-confidence and respect, are admired by the UAE leadership which has invested in bolstering the sport within the nation.
The UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, first saw the emergence of martial arts practice in 1997, thanks to the efforts of Shaikh Tahnoun Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE National Security Adviser, who is dubbed the UAE’s “Godfather of Jiu-jitsu”. He was first introduced to the sport while studying in the United States. Realising its importance, and the lessons learnt behind the sport, he formed the Abu Dhabi Combat Club, ADCC, in the same year.
In 1998, the first ADCC World Submission Fighting Championships was created, with a set of “neutral” rules that would allow practitioners of various martial arts to compete against each other, using “grappling” methods applied in jiu-jitsu.
A decade later, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, launched the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
Also in 2008, the Abu Dhabi Education Council, ADEC, adopted the sport of jiu-jitsu in public schools across Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Dhafra regions, launching the ‘Jiu-Jitsu School Programme’. The decision stems from the UAE leadership’s belief in the sport contributing to building a focused and robust youth. Today, the number of schools that have adopted the programme in the emirate surpassed 165, with over 76,000 students taking part.
Another triumph for the sport was attained in 2012, following Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed’s decision to establish the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, UAEJJF, as the official authority for jiu-jitsu in the country. It’s mission: “To work towards creating a supportive and motivating sports environment to achieve excellence and global competitiveness in jiu-jitsu sports.”
Since its launch, the federation has played a significant role in strengthening the local, regional and international presence of the sport, and launched its leading strategy to promote the culture of jiu-jitsu, through signing partnerships with leading institutions from various sectors and jiu-jitsu federations from around the world.
Following its establishment, the federation supervised jiu-jitsu programmes in schools and worked to strengthen the UAE’s international position in the sport. The upcoming 11th Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship is a testament to the growth of martial arts within the UAE.
Currently, the UAEJJF boasts a membership of 35,000 jiu-jitsu practitioners, with 11,000 members from the around the country participating in local, regional and international championships.