The slight frame betrayed a ferocious spirit. And not a little skill and physicality. It is what it takes to become a jiu-jitsu champion.
Shamsa Hasan of the UAE, a blue belt fighting in the 58kg category, had just overcome her first opponent at the Asian Cup Open at Al Wasl Sport Club in Dubai; television cameras lined up to get her post-fight thoughts as several hundred looked down from the stands.
The floor of Sheikh Rashed bin Maktoum Hall had been divided into five fighting areas, with both male and female bouts taking place at the same time. On the edge of the action, coaches screamed instructions and encouragement.
On the sideline, fighters waiting to start their fights stood impatiently, faces creased with concentration.
Hasan was not the only Emirati female in the competition either. Her Al Jazira clubmates Shefaa Moosa Hassan (white belt, +74kg weight category) and Eman Mohammed (blue belt, 69kg category) stalked the sidelines too.
It is scene that is becoming familiar and is a mark of just how far the sport has come in the country, indeed the region, over the past few years.
Jiu-jitsu is one of the fastest growing sports in the UAE and indeed the Middle East. In April, Abu Dhabi held the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Many of the fighters present at that competition were back in the UAE for the sport’s latest high-profile event.
The Asian Cup Open is the second of the eight competitions in the federation’s calendar of events for the 2013/14 season, and Mohammed Salem Zahiri, vice president of Emirates Jiu Jitsu Federation, said that its first Dubai edition will further raise the profile of the sport in the country, as well as draw spectators to such competitions.
“Jiu-jitsu is a fast growing sport in the UAE and our objective is to take the sport to a wider audience,” Zahiri had said on the eve of the competition. “The sport is very popular and has captured the Emirati youth as well as the expatriates.”
The UAE may have entered a notable three contestants in the women’s section, but in the men’s it was a completely different affair. There were 56 fighters of varying ages and categories from around the country representing the UAE. And they made the country proud.
Hamdan Ahmed Alblooshi of Al Ain Jiu-Jitsu Club came top in the adult white belt, 88kg category as did Sultan Adil Al Ali of the gladiators (white, 100kg), Ali Al Darai of the UAE Jiu Jitsu national team (purple, 88kg), Yahia Mansour (UAEJJ, purple, +100kg) and Faisal Al Ketbi of UAEJJ (brown, open weight). In the Masters class, Saif Al Noueimi (UAEJJ) came out on top in the blue belt, 82kg category, while Ahmad Suhail Al Ketbi of UAEJJ Federation Hall (purple, 76kg) and Majid Al Naqbi (UAEJJ, purple, 88kg) also won their divisions.
Despite the competition’s moniker, it was open to non-Asians and attracted competitors from over 150 countries. Alongside regional fighters from Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Lebanon fought international fighters from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and beyond.
The crowd, too, reflected this. It may not have filled the hall yesterday, but it was certainly diverse. Many of the countries had a few fans, and as ever there were spectators from Brazil, the birth place of jiu-jitsu.
It helps the growth and popularity of this category of fighting that so many of those taking part have the flag of the UAE adorning their uniforms.
As ju-jitsu continues to grow here, it is those local fighters that are showing that this is a sport were the possibilities are endless.
And none more than Shamsa Hasan, who overcame Candy Heng to win the 58kg class.
The attention is well deserved.
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