As I sat on the training mats in the Armed Forces Officers Club in Abu Dhabi, UAE I witnessed an experience that may have been subtle to some. The red and blue mixed mats laid down in the oddly shaped polygon room with padded walls and pillars and a ceiling of triangle-shaped mirrors was just enough for the group of athletes in town for the 2013 World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship this week. From white belt to black belt, the interactions and comfortable environment create a bond. All the way in Abu Dhabi with people from all over the world, it doesn’t matter how foreign the world is outside of the mats because the Jiu-Jitsu community and the presence of mats can make any athlete feel like home. What I witnessed were a few things that brought out the strongest qualities of the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle:
A trip to Abu Dhabi grants a tourist experiences that can fill a scrapbook of memories from mosques to oases to islands. For the athletes preparing for the tournament, however, they will be found within the Armed Forces Officers Club and on the mats either drilling or rolling. From morning to night, the mats are filled with people seeking to maintain their level of Jiu-Jitsu and constantly better themselves. Their dedication to the art is astounding as the only breaks they take are to eat or sleep. People like the Miyao brothers continue to drill with one another while adding in rolls with other people from time to time. Even scoping out their opponents is a way to constantly be focusing on their goals on the mats. Keenan Cornelius seeks out partners from any affiliation and any belt to continue his work towards yet another double gold. People like Roberto Cyborg Abreu, Victor Estima, Gabi Garcia, Luiza Monteiro and many many others would rather spend their time on the mats inside the moist and often crowded training room than seek any other enjoyment outside of it. Dedication is obvious here.
The numerous pairs you will see on the mat area would surprise you, but only after a few times. The patches on the back of your gi no longer matter in Abu Dhabi because everyone trains with everyone. On Wednesday morning I saw crowds of Nova Uniao, Fight Sports, Gracie Barra, Atos and others well-represented in the room but each mingling with other athletes. Gabi Garcia was training with Luiza Monteiro and then finding her training partners, even with Mackenzie Dern who she competed against at the Pans just weeks ago. Jiu-Jitsu brings people together and being so far from home, the politics suddenly drift away and the divide dissolves. Camaraderie is strong in Abu Dhabi and given that Jiu-Jitsu takes two, any person can fill those shoes.
Between the perseverance, will to win and perhaps the distance from home, the training mats in Abu Dhabi bring out the best. It’s easy to tell who is a true champion on the mat not by knowing someone’s previous titles or the stripes on a person’s belt or how tall they walk. It’s a level of true love that shows on these mats as even the best seek out anyone to roll with them just so they can continue to expand their knowledge. Throwing the ego aside and even the element of competition in a way, the most respected are those that put in their time on the mat no matter what. Forget the politics and treat that mats like your home. From early morning to late at night, these athletes can be found picking partners to roll and drill, staying on the mats like a fish in the water, a turtle in its shell.
Abu Dhabi hosts not only a prestigious tournament with opportunities found nowhere else, but it also brings the most worthy opponents together to bond while living the true Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle.
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