For Faisal Al Naqbi, there cannot be a better place than Japan to go to develop a career in competitive judo.

Japan is where the martial art originated in the first place – founded in the 19th century by a man named Kano Jigoro. Japan is also the most dominant force in the world: it is No 1 and significantly ahead of its nearest rivals, Russia and France, in the global rankings table.

So, it is for good reason Al Naqbi is excited to be offered a judo scholarship by Tokai University. There, he will be given the chance to pursue his higher education while training with some of Japan’s elite young judokas. The soon-to-be-18-year-old called this recent development the “biggest breakthrough” of his fledgling career.

It is also the best birthday gift – he turns 18 in July – the teenager could possibly have received since he started practising the martial art nine years ago. It goes without saying the next four years at the Tokyo-based varsity will almost certainly be the most crucial period of his life.

“Judo is my first love, so I was over the moon when I was told of the scholarship,” Al Naqbi said while competing in the Zayed Ramadan Games at Armed Forces Officers Club last Friday. “Tokai is renowned for producing Olympians in judo, and I’m so proud to spend the next four years training in this environment.”

Al Naqbi is the second Emirati and the first male pupil to join Tokai since 18-year-old Maitha Al Nyadi, a double international in judo and archery, enrolled in March. The Kalba native’s scholarship is the result of a Memorandum of Understanding the UAE Wrestling and Judo Federation signed with Tokai.

“As the governing body for the sport in the country, we need to provide opportunities to these youngsters to pursue high performance training and achieve international success in the sport,” UAEWJF general secretary Nasser Al Tamimi said.

As for Al Naqbi, he is determined to draw from his Japanese experience as early as 2022.

“I am already dreaming of competing at the 2022 Asian Games,” he said. “Realistically, the Asian Games and Olympics are my long-term objectives, but I want to compete and win as many medals as possible in the world circuit.”

A member of the national team, Al Naqbi has already won plenty of medals. He bagged silver at the Asian Cadet Championship in Hong Kong and Macau in 2016 before striking gold at the same event in the two subsequent years.

And even as he prepares for life in Tokai, he is eyeing prizes at the Macau Cadets Asian Cup in July and the IJF (International Judo Federation) Junior World Championships in Morocco in October.

Zayed Al Naqbi, right, is eager to follow in the steps of older brother Faisal Al Naqbi, right. Khushnum Bhandari for The National
Zayed Al Naqbi, right, is eager to follow in the steps of older brother Faisal Al Naqbi, right. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

The Ramadan challenge

“As members of the national team, we train throughout the year to stay in good shape,” Al Naqbi said after winning his 55-kilogram weight at the Ramadan Games. “Last month we were in a camp in Georgia and we’ll spend the next two months in a camp in Abu Dhabi.”

Competing during Ramadan may throw up its share of challenges, but Al Naqbi is up to it.

“This [Ramadan Games] is a good competition to keep us on our toes, especially during the fasting month of Ramadan when training is not very intense,” he said. “All of us from the national team are enjoying it.”

Al Tamimi concurs.

“The Ramadan Games has provided them another platform just to keep their momentum going,” he said. “It’s an easy month for them because of the fasting and then the school examinations coming up by end of this month.”

All eight members of the UAE squad travelling to Budapest for the schools’ world championships were also in action last weekend, including Al Naqbi’s younger brother Zayed.

“I’m following the same pathway of my older brothers,” said the 14-year-old, who won the Best Emirati Cadet judoka for 2019. “We are a judo family. I have two brothers and six cousins in judo.

“We train together most of the time and within us we have a squad to practise and share our experience with each other.”

Updated: May 14, 2019 01:10 PM


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