UAE: Rising Emirati jiu-jitsu star makes history

Shamma Al Kalbani recently won two bronze medals at World Games 2022

Shamma Al Kalbani
Shamma Al Kalbani

Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Sun 21 Aug 2022, 5:43 PM

Last updated: Sun 21 Aug 2022, 10:37 PM

Each Emirati Women’s Day has been a celebration of a nation that has empowered its women to achieve the unthinkable. From business to sports, there is no field that the women of the UAE have not left their mark on. This year, we profile some incredible women who are shattering glass ceilings and walking paths untrodden to make the nation proud of them.

At just 19, Shamma Al Kalbani is a golden rising star in the UAE’s jiu-jitsu scene. She made history at the recently concluded World Games 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama, by winning two bronze medals, thus becoming the first woman from the UAE and the youngest Emirati to win a medal at the world championships.

Seven years ago, the youngster was in Grade 6 when she found out that jiu-jitsu was being offered at her school. “I was studying in Abu Dhabi at the time,” she said. “And I remember thinking that it would be a good experience as I wanted to learn some self-defence techniques.”

From the very first day, Al Kalbani fell completely in love with the sport. “It is hard to explain,” she notes. “I enjoyed it so much. However, if someone had told me then that I would be competing, I would have laughed at them.

I remember watching YouTube videos of competitions and marvelling at the fights. I never imagined that one day I would be there competing with some of the best in the world.”

Champion in the making

The 19-year-old was a gold medallist at the 6th Asian Jiu-Jitsu Championship in 2022 and at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship 2021 in the under 21 categories. She estimates that she trains at least 6 to 7 hours a day. “I train for two hours each in the morning and afternoon,” she said. “In addition to that I go to the gym to then train some more.”

The champion perfected her game by competing in several local and international competitions. “From when I started doing jiu-jitsu I have competed in several fights,” she says. “This helped me develop my techniques. I usually stick to the basics and perfect them by practising again and again.”

Currently a student at the Rabdan Academy, Al Kalbani studies disaster management when she is not doing jiu-jitsu. “My university is very supportive,” she says. “When I miss classes, they always make sure that I am taught whatever I missed. It is a great help especially when I have to focus on competitions.”

A prodigy of the jiu-jitsu school program in the UAE, Shamma notes that the support the UAE gives has been one of the biggest driving forces behind her success. “We have the best jiu-jitsu facilities in the world,” she says. “We have the best coaches and the whole country supports us unequivocally. It is the best feeling in the world to know that there is an entire nation behind you. I draw a lot of inspiration from that fact.”

Big Dreams

Al Kalbani has won at least 11 medals in the past 12 months of her professional career, predominantly with the national team and the Baniyas Club. Yet for the young champion this is just the beginning. “I dream of being the best black belt female fighter,” she says. “I want to represent UAE at various international competitions and make the nation proud.”

The university student says she learns from every person she trains with. “I don’t have one role model,” she reveals. “I have learnt from every person that I have trained with or competed against. Everyone has some special qualities, and I am constantly learning. So, all my peers and competitors are role models for me in some way.”

According to Al Kalbani, the support she receives from her family has been a game changer. “In the beginning my family was a bit worried about me,” she says. “Jiu-jitsu is a very physical sport, so they were constantly scared that I would get hurt. But a few years down the lane, my parents started to get very excited every time I competed. Now, they are my biggest support system.”

The youngster called on every Emirati woman to follow her dreams. “When I started out, there were a lot of people telling me that girls shouldn’t be fighting,” she concludes. “I want all women out there to know how to tune out the discouraging voices.

We live in a country that wholeheartedly supports its women and their dreams. Believe in yourself, do what you love and blaze a path that is unique to you.”


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