Sultan Al Neyadi
A screengrab of the video shows Sultan Al Neyadi doing the bicycle moves used in jiu-jitsu on board the International Space Station. Image Credit: Twitter@Astro_Alneyadi

Dubai: UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, on Thursday scripted yet another chapter in history by becoming the first person to practise jiu-jitsu in space.

The intrepid explorer, who is on the longest Arab space mission on the International Space Station (ISS), shared a six-minute video that showed how the martial art helped him thrive in the microgravity laboratory and perform his historic spacewalk.

“Discipline, focus, & adaptability I gained from #JiuJitsu have been invaluable to me on the ISS,” he said in the description for the video.

“Even in microgravity, the moves & postures I learned on Earth serve me well up here,” Al Neyadi pointed out.

“Oss! What Jiu-Jitsu moves would you be interested in doing in space?” he asked his followers using the hashtags #UAEJJF and #FromMatsToStars

A jiu-jitsu fighter for several years, Al Neyadi appeared in his jiu-jitsu kimono in the video from the orbiting laboratory 420km above Earth. The kimono is one of the personal belongings that he had taken along with him for the six-month-long space odyssey.

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Proclaiming his love for the martial art, he says: “I’ve been doing jiu-jitsu for so many years. And I think jiu-jitsu helped me a lot during my preparation with this mission and getting adapted to the environment here on the International Space Station.”

Centrifuge experience

For example, he recollected how he trained on the human centrifuge, a massive spinning arm that replicates the g-force (gravitational force) of liftoff to space, which is three times the gravity on Earth, by rotating at a speed of 96 km per hour.

“I remember the few times I was on the centrifuge, which is a machine that simulates multiple times the g-force that we encounter during launch and re-entry. The g-force is the weight that we feel on the ground when we’re on Earth and now we are living in a microgravity environment. So our weight is literally not available. So we float as you can see,” he explains.

And during the centrifuge, Al Neyadi recollected he was encountered up to eight times his weight.

“The first sensation was feeling an opponent [in jiu-jitsu] on top of my chest.”

“One of the things that I learned during jiu-jitsu is to regulate breathing. So this is exactly what I did during the centrifuge experience, and I think jujitsu really helped me overcome that experiment.”

Using toes to balance

“Also when we arrived here, I was surprised that we mainly use our feet to stabilise ourselves. So one of the fundamentals, as you know, is that we use our toes to establish a foundation. So the pressure on the ground, the contact should be on your toes, not your heels. So on the ground, if you’re putting your weight on your heels, any small move can push you in any direction. That’s why I feel like doing a jiu-jitsu posture when I’m in space with my toes positioned under the handrail. So, I feel very stable.”

“I cannot move easily if I’m stable like this and basically I’m using my toes to translate everywhere. I can do all sorts of tricks here. I can jump from one place to another. And yeah, literally use my toes to stabilise myself,” he says as he does a somersault.

Spacewalk experience

Al Neyadi goes on to explain how jiu-jitsu training stood him in good stead during the historic spacewalk or EVA he did on April 28.

“During jiu-jitsu training, we try to train our forearms, and this is exactly what I felt…really helpful. Recently I finished an operation called an EVA, an Extravehicular Activity where we work for hours. I spent seven hours working outside of the International Space Station. It is called spacewalk, but actually, we don’t walk, we use our arms [to move along the handrails on the exterior of the ISS]. So, having trained to do jujitsu for so many years, I think having really strong ribs from that training really helped me accomplish the mission with no problem.”

During a spacewalk, astronauts keep translating across the station’s surface by pushing against the handles on the outside of the station.

Al Neyadi further explained that he could relate a lot of things from his jujitsu experience to life on the ISS.

Bicycle moves

Discussing the connection between physics and jiu-jitsu, a floating Al Neyadi demonstrated bicycle-kick warm-ups practised in jiu-jitsu to explain the science behind how large gyroscopes help stabilise and maintain the attitude of the ISS. “When I arrived, I tested the concept with the bicycle kicks,” grinned the astronaut, as he rotated in-line with the direction of his backward and forward kicks.

“You do bicycle kicks like this. See how I’m moving backwards. And when I reverse I start moving forward. And this is exactly what we use here on the International Space Station to maintain that attitude,” he says while displaying those movements.

Al Neyadi goes on to say that it is a lot of fun to live and work on the ISS.

“I was doing a lot of front rolls and backflips as well. Still learning but I can demonstrate some of these tricks,” he says and successfully demonstrates those moves.

“I am really happy that I’m transferring whatever I learned during my training in the sport of jiu-jitsu here on the ISS.”

Al Neyadi concludes by asking his followers to comment about their favourite moves that can be done in the microgravity environment of the ISS.

From mats to stars

Jiu-jitsu is a key pillar of the physical education syllabus in several UAE schools. Jiu-jitsu practitioners have been extremely proud of Al Neyadi for taking the martial art to literally a new level. Social media pages of jiu-jitsu organisations and championships had earlier posted about Al Neyadi becoming the first jiu-jitsu practitioner on board the ISS.

Reflecting on Al Neyadi’s historic achievement, Abdel Moneim Al Hashemi, chairman of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, president of the Asian Ju-Jitsu Union and senior vice President of the International Jiu-Jitsu Federation, said: “We are eternally proud of Sultan. His bravery, intelligence and humility are a credit and inspiration to the UAE, and all our citizens and residents. He is an example for the Arab and Muslim worlds, and to a global nation of jiu-jitsu athletes. He has put the sport of jiu-jitsu on an entirely new map, taking us from mats to stars.”

“We wish for his safe and successful return and the UAE takes great pride in his remarkable achievements,” he added.

The federation also released images of Al Neyadi speaking at the Jiu-Jitsu World Championship in Abu Dhabi in 2021, his winning a jiu-jitsu tournament years ago and his friendly fight with an astronaut in a spacesuit during his training period.