Find out how jiu-jitsu got its grip on the UAE

Is the UAE on its way to becoming the international capital of jiu-jitsu?


When Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan discovered martial arts while studying in the US, it set a wheel in motion. After returning to the UAE in 1997, he established the Abu Dhabi Combat Club and hiring top instructors from around the world.

Known as the godfather of the sport in the UAE, Sheikh Tahnoon became the first Emirati black belt, paving the way for future martial arts athletes in the UAE. He was and continues to be instrumental in the development of the sport locally and globally, with added support from older brother, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who declared jiu-jitsu to be the national sport.

In demonstration of the sport’s growth, on 13th and 14th January some of the world’s top athletes will come to the capital for the first-ever local leg of the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu World Tour in an effort to promote the sport on local shores.

Sporting success

An unarmed combat sport that encourages discipline and focus, jiu-jitsu is growing across the world.

On local shores, Abu Dhabi is coming to be recognised as the new international capital of jiu-jitsu. The ultimate aim is to reach 100,000 players in the UAE by 2020.

The UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF), the official authority for the sport in the country, plays a leading role in achieving this goal. While the sport has been steadily growing in recent years, it was in 2016 that the federation gave the sport a real boost by adding events to its 2016-2017 season. It’s all part of an effort to give athletes a broader platform to compete, and attract more children, adults and women to the sport.


The season features 11 local championships, including an Al Ain kids’ tournament, as well as over 60 global championships.

This year saw the introduction of The Jiu-Jitsu President’s Cup, open exclusively to national players and UAE clubs, with a final round to be held on 4th March. Additionally, the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Martyrs Championship was announced as an annual fixture.

The UAE national team also participated in the 5th Asian Beach Games, a multi-sport tournament considered the biggest event for athletes in sports like jiu-jitsu, beach volleyball and basketball.

This year, the annual Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Jiu-Jitsu World Tour has been expanded to include five global legs in cities including Tokyo, London, and for the first time, Abu Dhabi. Each city has been carefully selected for its contribution to the sport so the addition of Abu Dhabi bolsters its efforts for international recognition.

Open to adults and juniors of all nationalities and belts, the Abu Dhabi leg will see fighters grapple for world ranking points and a cash prize of over $150,000 (AED 550,000).

Still to come on the UAEJJF calendar is the youth Challenge Championship on 24th and 25th February and the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship from 14th to 23rd April.

Jiu-jitsu in the community

The foundation for any sport starts with youngsters, which is one of the reasons UAEJJF, together with Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), implemented a jiu-jitsu schools programme in 2008.


Currently over 130 schools and 76,000 students in grades six to 12 participate in ADEC’s programme, which aims to promote children’s mental, emotional, physical and social skills, self-development and teamwork through lessons and competitions.

In addition, many sports clubs have added jiu-jitsu to their roster to increase access to the sport.

INTERVIEW: Faisal Al Ketbi

As the third Emirati black belt jiu-jitsu fighter, world champion and UAE national team member Faisal Al Ketbi is an inspiration to many. Ahead of his fight at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, we speak with Faisal about the sport’s growth and future talent…


When you started training in 1998, the sport was very new. What changes have you noticed since then?

We have programmes in the military and police, and clubs are hosting the sport, so it’s growing fast.

We compete all around the world. It’s showing us that we have people that are good at jiu-jitsu and giving experience to our people. We need to catch up the level, because jiu-jitsu started maybe 50 years ago in other countries; the fastest way is to compete.

We have good results, good players. We’re still building our national team and we are doing well so far.

What are the benefits of jiu-jitsu?

Mostly it’s about teamwork because, yes this is an individual game, but you cannot be anyone without the help of your other competitors, training mates or coaches. Also discipline, respect and self-defence. Being with people and dealing with the coaches daily gives you more experience. Of course the most important thing is to respect and obey the orders of the coaches whenever they guide you.

Why is ADEC’s school programme important?

If you want to build something, you have to start from ground zero.

We see good results form young boys, and I see a lot of Emiratis that like to do jiu-jitsu even if they are not competing. That was the idea, to spread the game and to give a chance to everybody to try it. If you put it in school, they have the choice to join or to quit, but at least you gave them the chance.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Slam is coming up. How do you train for this?

Daily we do around eight hours of training between physical, jiu-jitsu, sparring and technique. We do it five days a week; sometimes we add one session on a Saturday afternoon just to finish the week.

Why is it an exciting event for spectators?

One, normally we go to the mall or cinema, we don’t watch a competition. Second is to support the national team or people who compete. You can learn about jiu-jitsu and there will be a daily raffle during the competition so I hope you will enjoy it.

Faisal will be competing in the Under 85kg adults black belt category at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam on 13th and 14th January. Support him and his fellow athletes at IPIC Arena, Zayed Sports City. From 2pm on 13th, 11am on 14th. To find out more, visit:

WORDS Rachael Perrett
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