ABU DHABI // A global sport holds its zenith event here this weekend, as athletes from various nations compete in the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
The UAE capital has become the focal point of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under the steering of black belt practitioner Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed and enthusiast Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
The competition for men, woman and children begins with the minors' today followed by tournaments tomorrow and Saturday in the hierarchy of belts: white, blue, purple, brown and black.
"This is the important competition of the year," said Faisal Al Ketbi, the UAE citizen who will compete among the purple belts. "This is our goal. We compete at all the competitions, all year, just to compete in this. This is the main event."
The UAE will have a large - and growing - roster in the white and blue divisions, and the purple will include Al Ketbi, Yahya Al Hammadi, Mohamed Al Qubaisi, Talib Al Kurbi and Tariq Al Ketbi, among others.
"We will push ourselves until next week, inshallah," Al Qubaisi said last week. "I'm just worried about the Brazilians, the US ... because they are the toughest people in the sport."
The list of competitors include participants from New Zealand to Canada to Angola to Finland to six different countries in South America, including a huge and gifted helping of Brazilians, especially in the black-belt divisions.
This offshoot of judo, born when the Japanese judo maven Mitsuyo Maeda opened an academy in Brazil and taught the Brazilian Gracie brothers, began roughly 87 years ago. The UAE took up the sport in the late 1990s after Sheikh Tahnoon learnt it in California and brought it home.
The UAE athletes have prepared in part with an event in Portugal and a tour of the United States.
Some said the level of training had intensified across recent months, then smoothed out as they fine-tuned for this gathering.
"As a competitor," Faisal Al Ketbi said, "you have to control yourself. You have to sleep more. You have to rest. You have to train. But whenever you start fighting, you just forget and do your best."
Said Al Qubaisi: "We're getting better each competition." Now they aim for more of a repeat of their sterling 2010 showing [four gold medals] above their wanting 2011 showing [one gold].
"This is the best thing to ever happen to jiu-jitsu in all the world," Faisal Al Ketbi said. "It's never been done, actually, as a government supporting this sport like this … Here, we have government support. They want to change education, sport education. To let people know what it means to train."
In turn, he said: "We want to give something to the country as a gift."
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