The UAE has forged itself as the world’s capital for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, that is now only Brazilian in its name.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu finds a home away from home
Maybe you can measure the profundity here by the words of someone who hails from 11,740 kilometres away.
Maiky Reiter grew up in the 28,000-strong town of Estrela, Brazil, down in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, down in that notch where coastal Brazil starts to think about becoming Uruguay or Argentina. He grew up unaware of Abu Dhabi. He grew up so far from Abu Dhabi that if you flew from one to the other, you would be … OK, you would be a mess.
Yet he says this: "I want to stay here forever."
And this: "I don't see my life out of Abu Dhabi."
And this: "When you do what you love and you get respect for that and good money, what else do you need?"
You might need a family, of course, but he and wife Renata, a Sao Paulo native, intend to build their family here.
He said all this on Wednesday morning at the UAE Wrestling, Judo & Jiu-Jitsu Federation, as he prepared to train Emirati jiu-jitsu practitioners such as Mohammed Al Qubaisi, Hassan Al Rumaithi, Faisal Al Kitbe, Yahya Al Hamadi and Khalifa Ahmed Al Mazrouei.
Reiter, 26, trains them now at their utmost time of year, ahead of the World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championships, in Abu Dhabi from Thursday through Saturday.
He trains them here at a sport hatched by Brazil's late Gracie brothers - Brazilian jiu-jitsu it is, officially - even though in Brazil itself the sport remains overshadowed by the other overshadowed sports, with all the sports in the shadow of one. (Guess.)
"It's a Brazilian sport," Reiter said, "but if I tell anyone in Brazil I'm a jiu-jitsu fighter, the guy's going to look at me like a criminal! If I tell a journalist," the journalist might look baffled. "But here …"
"Here," he had just finished saying earlier, "we have the respect we never had before."
That's right: Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed and, in turn, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Command of the Armed Forces, essentially have taken a sport and given it a capital. The gratefulness for that spreads wide. Said Al Kitbe, "This is the best thing ever to happen to jiu-jitsu in all the world." Sheikh Tahnoon learnt the game while studying in San Diego in the 1990s, and the Emirati athletes refer glowingly to the chance to train with him for two weeks this year. Sheikh Mohammed came on with enthusiastic support that gains him references among the athletes as "the godfather of jiu-jitsu".
And here in this place he never imagined, Reiter lives and trains the Emirati athletes with a backdrop of a running family joke, of the day his father in Brazil bewailed:
"You sold your car to buy a dream?"
Not the sort to sit still, Reiter raced motocross from ages six to 12 in Brazil. In a "really bad accident", his right shoulder became so dislocated that a doctor told him, "You're going to lose some motion."
"Of course, you're 14 years old, and you cannot move," Reiter said. "A motocross racer, full of energy. And now I have to stop moving around."
A friend, Luis, suggested jiu-jitsu, and the 14-year-old Maiky soon turned up at the Sol Jiu-Jitsu Gym in Porto Alegre, the state capital, Brazil's 10th-largest city and the home of the football club Internacional, which graced Abu Dhabi's Club World Cup in December 2010. He did get a little queasy early on, but he loved it, even as the smallest guy in the group and even starting off scared.
It became "an amazing experience", and he "started going every day", and he says, "It's crazy how we find time for these things."
As a teenager with four siblings, he worked in his father's logistics business until he sold the car for a dream to stir his father's response and the ensuing years of family joking about the father's response. "I was just training," he said. "You know, it was a hobby. One hour a day, two hours a day … One day I came to my father and said, 'I'm going to do this.'"
His father was supportive if bewildered, and in 2007 off went Maiky, the first jiu-jitsu fighter from his town, to Thailand, to the Netherlands, to various veins of competition including mixed-martial arts, and by 2009 to here and "forever". As he put it, "I found my place."
Now he provides one of many windows on the meaning of this particular capital, and he gets a kick out of his father's obvious pride in him, including that moment when his father visited Abu Dhabi and beamed as he got into the son's car, whereupon the son said, "Wow, my dream bought my car."
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