Maha, Mahra, and Hana Al Hinaai attend a practice session. File
With three siblings, two of them established jiu-jitsu athletes and the youngest an up and coming player in her own right, it is no surprise that conversations at the dinner table revolve around that perfect headlock, or a sweep that earned two important points in a crucial match.
However, there has been a shift in conversation lately with the COVID-19 outbreak resulting in the temporary suspension of all sports events and closure of recreational facilities in the UAE, in line with government efforts to contain and stop the spread of the virus.
The Al Hinaai sisters may be unable to practice their usual routines in their beloved sport, but it hasn’t dampened their energy or competitiveness, with family challenges now centered around who can do the most sit-ups completed or which sister planked the longest.
“We have come up with our own workout schedule and we are keeping each other motivated to get our sessions done every day. Though we are away from the mat, the desire to get better and compete against each other is seeing us push each other to do that extra press-up or one more set of crunches,” says Mahra Al Hinaai, aged 19, who is the middle sister.
With the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation (UAEJJF)’s social media campaign ‘Stay Safe and Stay Fit at Home’ and its hashtag #UAEJJFChallenge proving extremely popular, the sisters have been following the online training advice of peers such as Wadima Al Yafei and Faisal Al Ketbi.
“The #UAEJJFChallenge is something that has really connected with us. Watching Wadima and Faisal demonstrate a series of workouts has also given us a few different ideas about exercises which can be incorporated into our routines,” says Maha, the eldest Al Hinaai sister.
That competitive, winning mentality has produced results on the mats for Al Hinaai sisters. Mahra, is perhaps the most accomplished of the trio, having won a silver medal in the 49 kg category at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta. In 2019, she added an Under-21 World Championship bronze to her medal collection.
Maha is also a bronze medalist from the under-21 World Championship and Asian Championship in the 57 kg category, while Hana, the youngest of the trio, is relatively new to the sport but has two ready-made role models to look up to.
Maha and Mahra are both at university, studying finance, and having just wrapped up their mid-term exams, Mahra says jiu-jitsu has helped in her academic endeavors: “The sport teaches us so many things, and these benefits are not just restricted to your body. We have learned to train our minds, enhance our focus and concentration as part of our mental conditioning. Working on these aspects has helped us outside of the jiu-jitsu mat, allowing us to successfully tackle academic challenges and pursue challenging academic courses.”
Thanks to the successful Jiu-Jitsu Schools Programme, which has engaged more than 80,000 schoolchildren across the emirates, a growing number of young girls are taking up the sport. The Hinaai says are grateful for the support of the UAEJJF and their school and their parents.
Maha adds: “Mahra and I took up jiu-jitsu when we were 10-11 years of age in school. Our parents have been extremely supportive of us playing this sport and keep us motivated. They have also encouraged us to improve on the mat, and their backing has been key to us doing well in jiu-jitsu.”
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