LONDON: Emirati astronaut Sultan Al-Neyadi, who a week ago became the first Arab to perform a spacewalk, followed that up on Thursday by becoming the first person to practice jiu-jitsu in space.

Al-Neyadi, who is serving aboard the International Space Station, uploaded a video to his social media channels in which he is seen performing the martial art while wearing a UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation Gi, the traditional, kimono-style attire worn by the sport’s practitioners.

The clip quickly racked up thousands of views in the UAE and beyond. In it, Al-Neyadi explained how the martial art, which is a key pillar of the physical education syllabus in schools in the UAE, has helped foster the skills of discipline, focus and adaptability among young people, and how those skills helped him prepare for the six-month space mission and after he arrived at the space station.

“I love jiu-jitsu. I have been doing jiu-jitsu for so many years,” said Al-Neyadi. “Jiu-jitsu helped me so much in my preparation for this mission and getting adapted to the environment on the International Space Station.”

Recalling his training sessions in a centrifuge, which help astronauts prepare for the stresses on their bodies during space travel, Al-Neyadi said: “When I was encountering my weight times two, three or even up to eight times, the first sensation was (like) feeling an opponent on top of my chest.

“One of the first things I learned in jiu-jitsu was to regulate my breathing, so this is exactly what I did during the centrifuge experience. I think jiu-jitsu really helped me overcome that experiment.”

Now in his second full month aboard the space station, Al-Neyadi said his lifelong passion for jiu-jitsu is paying great dividends in the confines of the orbiting laboratory, 420 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

“When I arrived here, I was surprised to find we mainly use our feet to stabilize ourselves,” he explained. “One of the fundamentals is that we use our toes to establish a foundation, so the pressure is on the ground; the contact should be on your toes, not your heels.

“That’s why doing a jiu-jitsu posture when I am in space, with my toes positioned under a handrail, I feel very stable. I am using my toes to translate (my movement) everywhere and do all sorts of tricks. I can jump from one place to another, using my toes to stabilize myself. I’ve been doing a lot of front rolls and back flips.”

Abdel Moneim Al-Hashemi, the chairperson of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, president of the Asian Ju-Jitsu Union and senior vice president of the International Jiu-Jitsu Federation, said he is proud of Al-Neyadi’s achievements.

“His bravery, intelligence and humility are a credit and inspiration to the UAE, and all our citizens and residents,” he said. “He is an example for the Arab and Muslim world, and to a global nation of jiu-jitsu athletes. He has put the sport of jiu-jitsu on an entirely new map, taking us from mats to stars.”

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