ABU DHABI // Jiu jitsu has found a home in the schools of Abu Dhabi, and as it spreads to Al Ain it seems the martial art is here to stay. Children aged nine to 11 will be taught jiu jitsu in their physical education classes in 42 government schools this year. Eighty-one coaches have been brought in from Brazil to serve as instructors.
The Abu Dhabi Jiu Jitsu Schools Programme began last year with 14 schools in the capital. Under the watchful eye of the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) and the Emirates Jiu Jitsu Team, children in grades six and seven were taught jiu jitsu as part of their sports education. With the first year deemed a success, the size of the programme has tripled. This year, 17 schools in Al Ain will participate, including two girls schools. Of the 25 schools in Abu Dhabi, four are girls schools.
"We have had a lot of support for the programme from schools and families," said Carlos Santos, the head coach of the Emirates Jiu Jitsu Team and the man behind the school programme. "Jiu jitsu teaches you everything. It teaches fitness, it teaches fighting, it teaches self-defence and discipline," Mr Santos said. "It is all about lifestyle. Being fit and healthy, and having respect for others." Another goal of the programme is to nurture a new generation of jiu jitsu champions, allowing the UAE to assemble a formidable national team.
A spokesman for Adec acknowledged the programme serves dual purposes. "The competitive element is important, but is balanced by sportsmanship and fair play," the spokesman said. "One of the main things that students learn is to respect their opponents and to win and lose graciously. These virtues will make students better and productive citizens of the future. "In the long term, we want to identify talented students who will be groomed to become national and international champions. We are already planning to set up venues in each education zone and to run classes out of school hours for talented students."
Last year, 25 coaches from Brazil worked in the programme, and more have been added to handle the increase in schools. The coaching team includes more than 20 world champions. "We chose the best coaches in the world," Mr Santos said. "We looked at each individual carefully, if they could be a good coach, if they had worked with kids before. For the best education programme you need the best coaches that is what we have."
Pedro Lott, 28, a national Brazilian champion, has been teaching in Abu Dhabi for a year. "It is a great challenge and I am very excited to be part of it," he said. "We hope to create national champions for the UAE. Some of the kids are very talented. There is a lot of potential here." Modern jiu jitsu found its way from Japan to Brazil a little over 100 years ago, when a business associate from Japan introduced the Gracie family to judo and jiu jitsu.
The Gracie family has been credited with creating the modern form of the martial art in Brazil, which has since been known worldwide as the home of jiu jitsu. Mr Santos has similarly grand plans for Abu Dhabi. Having arrived in the capital eight years ago, the three-time world champion has created a stronghold of jiu jitsu in the city. Originally brought to the capital to train the Abu Dhabi Armed Forces, Mr Santos and his team of Brazilian coaches quickly caught the attention of Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed. With his backing, Mr Santos became coach of the fledgling national Emirates Jiu Jitsu Team.
"In five years time I hope to have jiu jitsu in every school in Abu Dhabi," Mr Santos said. "We want to create a world champion UAE national team and the best way is to start teaching children when they are young." More than 50 of the Brazilian coaches took part in a tournament at the Al Ain Sports Club on Monday night, as part of the 15th Ramadan Football Tournament. The event was part of a drive to raise awareness of diabetes and a way to promote jiu jitsu in Al Ain.
One of the night's winners was Michel Maia, 28, who claimed the under 80kg category. A two-time world jiu jitsu champion, Maia is considered one of the top four champions in the world. "I want to help the children learn about jiu jitsu," he said. "It is a wonderful sport. It has been the only thing I've known all my life and I'm proud children in Abu Dhabi will be learning it." Maia is also keen to be part of the 2010 World Professional Jiu Jitsu Cup, which will take place in Abu Dhabi next summer.
The event was another brainchild of Mr Santos. "The main plan for the future is for Abu Dhabi to become the capital of jiu jitsu for the world," Mr Santos said. "We want all the players of the world to come to Abu Dhabi to play jiu jitsu and improve jiu jitsu. If you don't have competition from players from across the world, you won't have a successful national team. You need both. "Eventually we plan to have world headquarters in Abu Dhabi and create a university of jiu jitsu."