She may be one of the UAE’s top female jiu-jitsu players, but 17-year-old Mahra Al Hanaei doesn’t let that go to her head.
As she prepares for the Abu Dhabi leg of the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu World Tour from 10th to 12th January, Mahra tells us why jiu-jitsu is similar to chess and her goals for 2019.
How did you get into the sport of jiu-jitsu?
When I was young, about 11 or 12, I was very energetic at home and school, so my dad thought it would be a good idea to put me into some sports activities to put that energy to good use.
Jiu-jitsu, as you know, is very popular here and supported by our leadership.
I loved jiu-jitsu from my first day of training and I’ve never looked back since.
You’re 17 years old and are already competing at an international level, last year taking home silver at the Asian Games. Have you always had a competitive side?
Yes, absolutely. This is a sport that requires years and years of training on the mats and in the gym. It is like chess on the mats: one wrong move and you will find yourself in a choke hold. The Asian Games were historic as it was the first time that jiu-jitsu was included and I hope in my lifetime, it will be included in the Olympics as well, which would be a dream.
Do you ever face any criticism being an Emirati woman in such a sport?
Not at all – society has become more accepting over time. My friends, immediate and extended family only have words of encouragement and my parents could not be more proud of me. Without their support, it would not be possible. So I am really fortunate and grateful for their support.
Do you ever consider that you’re paving the way for the next generation of Emirati women who want to be professional jiu-jitsu players?
To be honest, I do not think that way. I am just working hard every day to be the best version of myself. If that inspires the next generation, then that is good, but if I think on those terms, then that brings an added pressure upon myself that is unnecessary. To be great in something, it needs thousands of hours of work, practice, heart break, learning from losses and winning international level championships. That is my focus; if it inspires even a single person, then I am happy.
You must be working hard to balance jiu-jitsu competitions with academics. Will you be attending university and what do you want to study?
Yes, it is hard at times, but I’ve been balancing academics and training since I was 10 or 11, so I am used to it now.
I will definitely go to university. I like meeting people and expressing myself, so I am looking at getting into New Media and PR, but I am also looking at other options such as Strategic Planning.
With the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu World Tour coming up, what are you most looking forward to about competing on home soil?
I’ve been competing at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu World Tour for the past three seasons, touring the world in Tokyo, LA, Rio and London, so it is a really tough championship; the best of the best compete in it and when it comes home. First of all, you have the home advantage, all my family and friends will be cheering me on, so that is exciting and I get to compete among top athletes from the region, so that is something I am looking forward to.
It’s a new year and new season with many competitions coming up. What are your goals for 2019?
My goal for 2019 is to keep improving and developing my jiu-jitsu skills and move up to purple belt in the rankings, which inshallah I will achieve sometime this year. There are some big tournaments and championships this year that I am looking forward to and the aim is always the same: to try to be the best and make my country proud of me.
Watch Mahra and other local athletes compete at this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu World Tour at Mubadala Arena from 10th to 12th January. Entrance is free.
Thursday 10th January, 5pm-9pm
Teen [All belts] | White Belt [Juveniles, Adults & Masters | Males & Female]
Friday 11th January, 11am-7pm
Blue, Purple, Brown & Black Belt [Juveniles, Adults & Masters | Male & Female]
Saturday 12th January, 11am-7pm
Abu Dhabi King of Mats | Blue Belt [Adults & Masters | Male & Female]
To find out more, visit: events.uaejjf.org