x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

UAE national karate champion is 14 but aiming for the stars

Football, public speaking and horse riding are all favourites for the multi-talented yet modest Al Abbar, but it is in shotokan karate that the teenager is looking to make his mark.

Khalifa Al Abbar, right, is one of a group of children selected to the elite panel of students by the Ministry of Education.
Khalifa Al Abbar, right, is one of a group of children selected to the elite panel of students by the Ministry of Education.

If Khalifa Al Abbar wants to achieve his ambition of being a karate world champion by the age of 18 then something is going to have to give in the 14 year old's hectic schedule.

For when he is not playing the leader in classroom team activities, participating in public speaking competitions or riding in equestrian endurance events, he trains in shotokan karate at Al Shabab Club - a discipline in which he has already won a number of medals.

He is the UAE national champion as well as being ranked second in the Gulf, and third in both Asia and Europe in his age group category.

On the academic side, he is one of a group of elite students selected by the Ministry of Education and recently won the "outstanding" award for public speaking.

Al Abbar is modest about his achievements because not only does he take part in karate as a sport, he also lives the martial art's concepts of discipline.

His goal is to become the world champion by the age of 18 and compete at the Olympic Games in 2020.

"I played football and basketball besides karate, and I liked karate the best and settled for it full time," said Al Abbar, who has a busy schedule starting from next month with the Cadet and Junior World Cup in Greece.

"I want to train well and perform well in this competition. If I will win a medal it will be good but if I don't, I come back and train again for the next, which is the Asian Championships in China."

A student at the Research and Science School in Dubai, he will compete next in the Japan Karate Association World Championships in Bangkok, Thailand, on August 18 and 19, the German Open in Aschaffenburg (September 24 and 25), the seventh world Junior and Cadet championships in Malaysia (October 13 to 16) and the Karate Premier League in Salzburg, Austria (November 12 and 13).

"Even though he is very young, Khalifa has the experience of taking part at the international level since 2008," said Nader Beigi, the UAE national team's Iranian coach, who has been assigned by the Karate Federation to work with the ninth grade student.

"I have been working one-to-one with Khalifa for more than two weeks and will continue to work with him until his first competition in Greece. He is 60 per cent ready and I am sure he will be 100 per cent at the time of the competition.

"We work four days a week and, when the school holidays begin from June 28, we will reschedule his training to twice a day, daily. The competition he is heading for this year will be much harder, but I have a lot of confidence in Khalifa's abilities."

Al Abbar follows a strict schedule. As well as training with the national coach, he works on his fitness twice a week under a personal trainer - Nikolay Vacher from Bulgaria - and spends the remaining day with Al Shabab's Egyptian instructor, Khalid El Hady.

Al Abbar is the eldest in a family of one boy and three girls. His father, Adnan, said his son flourished in karate from a young age.

"I encouraged him to do sports and took him for football, swimming and martial arts at the age of four," Adnan said.

"He played football for a while and enjoyed swimming for some time but it was martial arts that he showed a real liking [for]. We started at the Aviation Club when he was only four, spent two years at Al Wasl Club before moving to Shabab.

"His karate really took off at the age of nine under Franklin Kawaeu, a former member of the Philippines national team and instructor at Shabab. My son also became very serious and spent more time in training."

Al Abbar received his black belt last year and is a second Dan black belt. He trains under three different instructors, including his fitness coach, to improve his power and speed.

"He works on his schedule under minimum supervision, dividing his time between studies and sport," said his father, who is a senior vice-president for planning and development at Dubai World.

"He was selected to the elite panel of students by the Ministry of Education, which is done by an expert panel for students … who have excelled in different subjects after a psychometric test."

Khalifa also travelled to Turkey for a summer camp on a leadership programme organised by the ministry last year.

The son complimented his father for his support, saying: "It was the discipline instilled at a very young age from my father that I have been able to strike a good balance between my sports and academics. And he has stood behind me solidly for whatever I achieved so far."

The young Al Abbar is also a qualified equestrian endurance rider, having completed two qualifying rides over 40km and 80km, which he won on a horse owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed at the Dubai International Endurance City last year.

He enjoys equestrian sports and, like many teenagers, skiing at the mall. But those pastimes do not detract him from his priorities, where academics and karate top the list.

"I am of the belief that there are a lot of uncovered gems in this region that nobody has spent much time on noticing them. Khalifa is one of them," said Jimmy Poon, his agent and the managing director of Boqin Group. "I had a good relationship with his father, Adnan, whom I met at the Aviation Club and through our gym work. I had just got into the sports marketing business and was hungry to find young talented individuals.

"It was then I heard about this 11-year-old 'Karate Kid'. I was told he was training and doing really well. So I went to visit him one day at the Al Shabab club during a training session, which was done in a squash court.

"As soon as I saw Khalifa training, to be honest, which I do with every athlete, I needed to see one thing. It's the look in the eye.

"Everything else is standard if you are strong and mentally fit. If you look in the eye and if the hunger is there, then I see him as a potential athlete.

"Khalifa had this. And as soon as I saw him, I made my decision [to represent him]."