x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Al Saif sword-throwing titles decided as record-breaking games close

A laser-light fight, giant virtual warrior and fireworks bring traditional contest to an end.

Giant falcons, projected on to the walls of the Fujairah fort, watch over the proceedings of the Al Saif championship for swordsmen. Courtesy Mohammed S AlBloushi
Giant falcons, projected on to the walls of the Fujairah fort, watch over the proceedings of the Al Saif championship for swordsmen. Courtesy Mohammed S AlBloushi

FUJAIRAH // Heavy metal music blasted as a laser show zigzagged across the night sky, with two swords, one red and one green, fighting in Star Wars fashion. And then a huge, virtual swordsman stepped out of the fort.

Fireworks exploded to end the evening and the Al Saif competition, a traditional sword championship.

The unexpected show captivated the audience, particularly the competing swordsmen who had received their prizes minutes before it began.

"What was that? I have never seen anything like this in Fujairah my whole life," said Saif Al Yammahi, 21, who won second place in the competition on Friday night.

From the mountainous area of Al Tawain, the Al Yammahi tribesman took home a silver-plated sword and Dh60,000 in cash in his second year of competing. He withdrew last year because of an eye injury.

"I misstepped and the sword I threw up fell near my eyelid," Saif said. "Thank Allah I didn't lose my eye."

He had a hard time convincing his family to let him enter the competition this year, but won them over when he told them: "This is part of our proud tradition. A true swordsman must have scars."

Stories of injuries are the norm for all 16 contestants in this year's championship, which began on November 11.

First and third place went to swordsmen from Ras Al Khaimah. Nawaf Abdullah, 21, won a gold sword and Dh100,000; Mohammed Al Shehhi, 22, won the bronze sword and Dh40,000.

"I was surprised I won first place, because we are all good and unique to begin with to even participate in this championship," said Mr Abdullah.

The top three prize-winners are determined by public voting through SMS. The semi-finals are battled out by contestants with the highest points as determined by a judges' panel.

"I would prefer the top three to be determined by points, not by how many friends you have that voted for you," said Mr Al Shehhi, who admitted to being disappointed in coming third. "I had 380 points out of 400, the highest in the competition. So I want to advise anyone who is thinking of competing to be aware that in the end, it is the public that decides."

The winners headed home followed by a parade of supporters honking all the way.

There were other reasons to celebrate this championship.

"Fujairah can proudly say it has the world's largest sword," said Tarika Vara, the Guinness World Records manager and adjudicator.

Across from the fort, Al Saif roundabout displays the 14.93-metre sword.

"It is like they took a real sword, which is about one metre long, and magnified it by 15 times," Ms Vara said. "There is nothing like it in the world."

Last year, two other Guinness world records were set. Fujairah took the record for the largest "youla", when 285 people performed the traditional dance in the sword arena for five minutes and five seconds; and for the highest throw of the sword, when Hazza Sulaiman Al Shehhi, of Dibba, threw his sword 21.275 metres.

Friday's finale also saw the soft launch of a sword competition video game created by the Crown Prince of Fujairah, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad. It is available at saif.mhm.ae.

The leading character is called Hamad, and the three reigning champions each believed the character was modelled on them.

"But nothing beats actually throwing the sword in real life," said Mr Al Yammahi who, along with the other two winners, did just that.