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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

No time to admire his medals as Faisal Al Ketbi heads to Brazil with rest of UAE jiu-jitsu national team

The squad will undergo a 25-day training camp in Rio de Janeiro before heading straight to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games from September 17 to 27.

Faisal Al Ketbi, left, during his victory over Thabet Al Tahe at the 2017 Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship on Friday. Ravindranath K / The National
Faisal Al Ketbi, left, during his victory over Thabet Al Tahe at the 2017 Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship on Friday. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // Barely 48 hours after arriving back from Vietnam after competing in the Asian Jiu-Jitsu Championship, Faisal Al Ketbi and company were on a plane bound for Brazil. The squad will undergo a 25-day training camp in Rio de Janeiro before heading straight to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games from September 17 to 27.

With the World Beach Games Asian edition in Thailand and the World Games in Poland last month, followed by the competition in Vietnam, it has been a busy one and-a-half months for the national team.

And especially for the team's totem, Al Ketbi. He skipped the competition in Thailand to travel to Poland for the World Games before heading to Vietnam, where he added to his growing medal collection with a gold and silver medal in the absolute class and 94-kilogramme division.

The Emirati said as professional athletes the national team must learn to adapt to a globetrotting lifestyle.

“This is the norm in any sports in the modern era and as professional athletes we must cope with the busy calendar,” he said before his departure from the Abu Dhabi International Airport on Wednesday.

“Our federation [UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation] have emphasised the importance of the competition in Ashgabat, and that’s understandable because it’s staged in association with the Olympic Committee of Asia.

“The camp in Rio is a long one where we can concentrate on our training and prepare both mentally and physically.”

Al Ketbi, 30, has enjoyed an excellent start to the new season, winning a gold in the 94kgs and silver in the absolute division in the World Games in Poland. He followed that up by taking a gold and silver in the Asian Championship in Vietnam.

He is the most experienced and decorated jiu-jitsu fighter in the country and the nation's undisputed No 1. Not someone who seeks the spotlight Al Ketbi is regarded by officials, coaches and teammates as a team man who would go the extra distance to ensure the success of the nation in any competition. He is a role model for thousands of the country’s youth practicing the martial art.

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“There is no shortcut to success in combat sport,” said Al Ketbi, who had his first lessons in jiu-jitsu at the age of 11 before shifting his interest to freestyle wrestling and judo.

“There were similarities in all three disciplines but I had some success in wrestling and it was an established sport at that time where I was able to travel and compete in tournaments.”

Thankfully, Al Ketbi turned his attention full-time to jiu-jitsu and it has brought huge success.

He won gold in the Abu Dhabi World Professional Championship in the blue belt in 2009 and double gold in 2010, watched and congratulated with a hug by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

“That’s an occasion I would remember all my life, and the images I’ll preserve forever,” Al Ketbi said.

Al Ketbi thereafter moved through the ranks and became the first Emirati black belt in May 2014, shortly after his double gold in the brown belt at the World Pro.

He had his first success in the black belt division at the Grand Slam Rio in the 83kg No-Gi (without the traditional kimono) in November last year.

“It has been a long and wonderful journey for me, but there is still a lot to offer for my country,” he said. “For me, what I have already achieved are history. What’s important is the next competition and that’s what I’m focused on at the moment. I would like to keep it that way, by taking one competition at a time.”

Out of competition, Al Ketbi trains twice a day. When a new tournament rolls around, he steps it up to six hours a day, six days a week.

“That’s what you are supposed to do when you are a professional athlete but above all you need to enjoy what you do. And I really enjoy what I do,” he said.

“Even then, success is not guaranteed in combat sports. I spend hours learning and mastering the techniques and tactics, a lot of cardiovascular exercises, running and drills.

“I feel I have achieved something for myself and my country. I definitely enjoy the success but get deeply frustrated when I don’t. But that’s how it is to be a professional athlete.”