Abu Dhabi World Pro 2019: Jose Junior says leaving the UAE 'like leaving my 10-year-old son behind'
Brazilian was integral to establishing the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation's schools programme. He tells Amith Passela he is looking to draw on his experience to help set Saudi Arabia on a similar path to success
Jose Junior says he will use his experience of helping establish jiu-jitsu as a national sport in his new role overseeing the development of the martial art in Saudi Arabia.
The Brazilian was recruited by Palms Sports, the technical arm of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF), in 2008 to help establish its schools programme which has acted as a breeding ground of the country's current crop of champions.
Having left his role as the federation's school's programme manager six months ago to move to Saudi Arabia, Junior returned to the place he called home for 10 years this week with 50 competitors from the Kingdom to participate in the ongoing Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship 2019 at the Mubadala Arena.
Any thoughts that Junior, who as well as developing the UAE's next generation of fighters was also crowned world champion at the World Pro in 2017, might have taken the gig in Saudi Arabia to wind down would be mistaken. The Brazilian combines duties as the martial arts director of The Arena Fitness Centre in Jeddah alongside twin roles of technical advisor and head coach at the Saudi Arabia Jiu-Jitsu Federation.
“At the moment I have three roles but in time to come this will be handled by three different people," he added.
“My first job is to work at The Arena, a jiu-jitsu specialising gym. We are developing the sport in the country. It’s been there for the last three years and we are going to take it through to the next phase.”
The UAEJJF's schools programme is well reputed, thanks in no small part to Junior's guidance. He hopes to draw on his experience working in the UAE to establish Saudi Arabia as a major player in jiu-jitsu.
"Yes, of course. All the lessons learned and the experience will be fully implemented in Saudi Arabia,” he said when asked if he would copy the same plans of the UAE.
“We are still at the beginning stage. We don’t have anything established at the moment as we did in the UAE. But we will get there.
“We are starting the programme in private schools and the initial stage of developing a national team is also starting now. We have a big opportunity there. It’s a big country with lot of talent.”
Junior believes the UAEJJF's schools programme is now the benchmark for all other nations, including Brazil and the United States.
More than 81,000 Emirati girls and boys practice jiu-jitsu in 166 public schools across the country.
Some of those to have graduated from the school programme include Omar Al Fadhli, 18, who won gold in the Jiu-Jitsu World Championship in Sweden in November and an Asian Games silver medal in Jakarta in August; 18-year-old Hamad Nawad, a gold medalist at the Asian Games, and Mahra Al Hanaei, 17, who picked up a silver medal in Indonesia last year.
“Nothing is perfect but the UAE’s vision has been accepted by the world," he said. "Not only for their development programme but their role in promoting the sport globally.
“The model was established in the UAE and followed in other countries. The Saudi federation was founded only two years ago. The Saudi government has started to give support. It’s just a matter of time.”
Looking back, Junior said he spent some of his best years in the UAE. He remembers his time here fondly.
“Leaving the UAE was like leaving my 10-year-old son behind,” he said. “It’s a beautiful part of my life.
"A couple of memorable moments in the UAE is winning the world title in 2017 and to see some of the kids reaching world level, like Omar Al Fadhli, one of the best talents to emerge from the school programme.
“They started jiu-jitsu when they were eight or nine and then becoming international champions.
“You plant a seed and then see them grow. It is very satisfying, even though they are not my students, but the fact is they came through the school programme.
“The UAE have achieved so much in 10 years and they are going to be even better in the next 10 years.
“They understand that I had to move on. It’s a different position and role. I believe there are so many good guys working here to carry on the good work. They are my family. Sometimes you have to let go someone.”
Updated: April 22, 2019 10:51 AM