UAE astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi proudly etched another exciting chapter in the country’s history books today, as the intrepid space explorer became the first person to practise jiu-jitsu in space – while very much dressed for the occasion.
Floating aboard the International Space Station (ISS) sporting a UAEJJ Gi – the traditional kimono-style attire worn by the sport’s athletes – Al Neyadi posted a six-minute video on his social media channels that instantly racked up thousands of views from excited space and jiu-jitsu observers in the UAE and around the world.
In the video, Al Neyadi outlined how the martial art – a key pillar of the physical education syllabus in UAE schools – has helped foster skills of discipline, focus and adaptability that he has transferred into both his preparation for the six-month mission, and now, during his life amongst the stars in micro gravity.
“I love jiu-jitsu, I have been doing jiu-jitsu for so many years,” smiled 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 pre-mission training drills in a centrifuge – a machine that simulates multiple types of G-Force that astronauts encounter during launch and re-entry – Al Neyadi said: “When I was encountering my weight times two, three, or even up to eight times, the first sensation was feeling an opponent on top of my chest. One of the first things I learnt 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 ISS, Al Neyadi reflected on how his lifelong passion for jiu-jitsu is paying dividends in the confines of the orbiting laboratory an eye-watering 420 kilometres above the Earth’s surface.
“When I arrived here, I was surprised to find that we mainly use our feet to stabilise ourselves,” said the 41-year-old astronaut, who will celebrate his birthday in space on May 23. “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 stabilise myself. I’ve been doing a lot of front rolls and back flips.”
Discussing the connection between physics and jiu-jitsu, a floating Al Neyadi demonstrated bicycle-kick warm-ups practised in jiu-jitsu to explain the science behind how large gyroscopes help stabilise and maintain the attitude of the International Space Station. “When I arrived, I tested the concept with the bicycle kicks,” grinned the astronaut, as he rotated in-line with the direction of his backward and forward kicks.
Al Neyadi also had time to outline how jiu-jitsu helped him physically prepare for his history-making spacewalk earlier this week: “During jiu-jitsu training, we try to train our forearms and this was really helpful in the EVA (Extravehicular activity) mission, where I worked for several hours outside the International Space Station. It’s called a spacewalk, but we don’t walk – we use our arms. Having trained in jiu-jitsu for so many years, and having really strong grips, it helped me accomplish that mission with no problems. I relate a lot of things from my jiu-jitsu experience to life here on the ISS.”
Reflecting on Al Neyadi’s historic achievement, His Excellency Abdel Moneim Al Hashemi, Chairman of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation, President of the Asian Ju-Jitsu Union and Senior Vice President of the International Jiu-Jitsu Federation, said: “We are eternally proud of Sultan. His bravery, intelligence and humility are a credit and inspiration to the UAE, and all our citizens and residents. He is an example for the Arab and Muslim worlds, 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.”
“We wish for his safe and successful return and the UAE takes great pride in his remarkable achievements,” His Excellency added.