Asma Al Hosani
Asma Al Hosani is the first female Emirati athlete to win a gold medal in martial arts in the Asian Games.

Dubai: Just five months ago, 21-year-old Asma Al Hosani scripted history by becoming the first Emirati woman to win a gold medal in martial arts in the Asian Games.

In an interview with Gulf News, the jiu-jitsu champion shares how she has also become a beacon of Emirati women empowerment.

A third-year mechanical engineering student at Khalifa University, Abu Dhabi, Al Hosani recalled her journey from a young martial arts enthusiast who once participated in closed-door competitions to a champion who placed the UAE on the global sports map, inspiring future generations to defy stereotypes and reach for the stars.

Al Hosani’s interest in martial arts was sparked during her school days when she participated in a jiu-jitsu programme initiated by President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan when he was the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

“Sheikh Mohamed introduced this programme in all public schools,” she recalled.

While many Emirati kids of her age joined the programme because it was mandatory, Al Hosani found it interesting.

“I was in grade six. At first, I just wanted to try it because I love sports. But day by day, I liked it more and I decided to join some club to learn it outside the school as well.”

Slowly, she got fully involved in jiu-jitsu practice and went on to win many local competitions.

Changing times, changing games

Initially, Al Hosani said, there were apprehensions about how a girl can fight in front of boys and men. She recalled the limitations imposed on female fighters, with competitions held in private and without media coverage.

When they had the Mother of the Nation Jiu-Jitsu Championship for girls, she said it used to be a closed-door affair back then. “It was strict. There were no cameras and no boys or men around as fighters didn’t wear hijab. But now, the Mother of the Nation [championship] is a public event and they show it live,” said Al Hosani who is happy about the progressive shift towards inclusivity and proud to play for her country by wearing a hijab.

Despite initial reservations about a girl competing in a male-dominated sport, Al Hosani persevered, gradually earning recognition in the sport.

From Al Shumookh School in Al Marfa in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, she moved to Al Dhafra Jiu-Jitsu Club to hone her skills in the martial art. After becoming a grey belt holder, she secured her spot in the UAE National Team in 2016.

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Asma Al Hosani celebrating her victory Image Credit:

Challenges and triumphs

Al Hosani is grateful to her parents who she said have been pillars of support. She also credited her coach Marina with transforming her mindset, teaching her the technical skills and inspiring her to dream big and never give up.

“My parents have struggled a lot to ensure that I get to play for the country. They took me to Abu Dhabi from the Western Region every day to train with the national team. It means a lot to me,” she said

She recounted the rigorous training regimen, including daily practices and participation in important competitions, culminating in her selection for the prestigious Asian Games.

Al Hosani also made sacrifices to chase her dream to win her first gold medal for the country. “I stopped my studies for one semester. I completely focused on practising for several hours and attended a training camp outside the country.”

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The final match, where Al Hosani faced a formidable opponent from China, tested her resolve.

She recalled how she remained focused on representing her country with pride amidst the fervent support for her opponent. “Most of the crowd came from China to cheer for her. But I knew that the entire UAE was with me. I just decided to mute all the sounds in the surroundings and just focus on fighting her. With everyone’s wishes and prayers, I managed to win gold finally.”

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Asma Al Hosani with her family members after winning gold medal at the Asian Games Image Credit:

Cherished moments

Apart from the winning moment, what Al Hosani cherishes the most is the appreciation she received from the President himself. “It is an unforgettable moment,” said a proud Al Hosani who has kept her photo with Sheikh Mohammed as her WhatsApp profile picture.

Highlighting the multifaceted benefits of martial arts, including physical fitness, mental agility, and personal growth, Al Hosani advocated for perseverance, consistency, and dedication for aspiring athletes and young women.

‘Give your 130%’

The fourth among eight siblings, she has inspired her younger sister Mira to take up jiu-jitsu. She is happy that many of her co-athletes are also inspired to train with her.

“I feel now I have more responsibility. I feel really great to influence women to try sports and influence the new generation to continue to achieve more in this field. Jiu-jitsu has changed many things in my life. It has helped me to be strong mentally and physically. It is also a stress buster for me. So I think every woman should try a sport. I think everyone who wants to achieve something should be consistent and always motivated. Even if you are tired, you should give your 130 per cent not just 100 per cent.”

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Asma Al Hosani with her gold medal at the Asian Games

Aiming high

Al Hosani’s next goal is to achieve a black belt and win gold for the UAE in the World IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation) Jiu-Jitsu Championship.

She also aspires to earn a master’s and doctoral degree in mechanical engineering.

“I always try to schedule my classes either after or before my training sessions, depending on the day, to ensure that my academic and athletic commitments do not clash,” she said.