Professional Jiu Jitsu Athlete, Ali Monfaradi, has made the Kingdom of Bahrain proud with his historic win. Following years of unwavering determination, the 28-year-old athlete’s efforts came to fruition when he won the gold medal at the 2021 Jiu Jitsu World Championship. He tells Farah Baig about his achievement, his journey as an athlete and the significant role of family.
Walking into Elements Jiu Jitsu on a weekday afternoon, we couldn’t help but feel a sense of community – happy children train under the watchful guidance of trainers while proud parents looked on. Given his calm, down-to-earth demeanour, most people might not realise that the owner and Founder of Elements Jiu Jitsu Academy and Jiu Jitsu coach, Ali Monfaradi, is in fact a world champion. The seasoned athlete has competed all over the world and recently won the gold medal in the 77 kg Division at the 2021 Jiu Jitsu World Championship, organised by the Jiu Jitsu International Federation (JJJF) in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
A LOOK BACK
“One would argue that Jiu Jitsu was in my DNA since the early days. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to train martial arts,” reminisces Ali Monfaradi.
Like every other boy from his generation, he grew up watching martial arts movies and wished to train. “It just so happened that my entire family trains or trained but there weren’t any kids classes at the time,” he says, adding that when he first started training at the age of 12 it was the beginning of classes for children in Bahrain. “And I’ve never stopped since.”
By the time Ali was a young teen he decided to compete in tournaments but there were no divisions for children and teenagers. “I would just compete with the adults and needless to say, in my first few tournaments I lost and I lost and I lost until I won my very first medal, which was coincidentally at the first World Professional Jiu Jitsu Championship. I got a bronze medal, and to this day, I might say that was my most beautiful medal as it meant a great deal to me,” he says of a moment that would spur an illustrious sporting career.
“That first medal incentivised me to go for the next one and the one after that, and before I knew it, I was a professional competitor.”
THE BIG WIN
Ali had previously participated at the Jiu Jitsu World Championship in 2018, then winning the bronze medal. “The gold medal is one that I’ve been chasing for a very long time. With the pandemic and whatnot, I didn’t have the opportunity to redeem myself,” says Ali.
Prior to the tournament, Ali had won the Asian championship building momentum leading up to the international event. To step up his game, Ali hired a personal trainer to oversee his strength and conditioning, and another for his mobility training while the team at Elements oversaw his Jiu Jitsu training. “The tournament is based on national teams and to have the Bahrain flag at the top of the podium was not only a huge deal for me, but for our folks at home too,” says Ali.
“Shortly after the medal ceremony, I received a call from His Majesty King Hamad, who congratulated me and asked me to convey his regards to my family and the entire team,” he says. “To my surprise, a few days later, we were told that we’re going to be flown into Bahrain to join them on a very special lunch.”
The event was the first official visit of the President of Brazil, Jair Messias Bolsonaro to the Kingdom of Bahrain. “I received the badge of Bahrain of the second degree and honour which was bestowed upon me by HM King Hamad. I also had the opportunity to meet and speak to HE the President of Brazil, his top ministers and delegation,” says Ali who speaks fluent Portuguese.
“We flew back to Abu Dhabi just a few hours later as I was still coaching and competing. It was an unbelievable day and I’m still trying to recollect some of the top moments from that experience.”
THE ‘BEST ASIAN ATHLETE’
During the tournament, Ali had also won the title of ‘Best Asian Athlete’ for the second consecutive year. “The trophy doesn’t represent a single tournament run, but is rather your accumulation throughout the season. It was very neck and neck for a while, but I’ve been very focused and will hopefully go for the third next year,” says Ali.
When asked what he believes is the reason for his success, Ali modestly says that he doesn’t believe anything distinguishes him from the competition. “That’s a tough one; I just think that I am willing to play the long game. I need to take a pure and honest look at myself, reevaluate, see where the flaws are, see what I need to improve and such is life,” he says.
“I really don’t think there’s any secret other than grit, determination and daily sacrifice. I think the people closest to me will see that, at the very least, I embody those qualities,” he adds.
THE TIME IS NOW
The world of sports is rapidly changing in Bahrain and Bahraini athletes are consistently proving that they are a force to reckon with. Hence, Ali believes that now is the best time to be an athlete in Bahrain. “There’s no denying that Bahrain’s sports have reached another level following the leadership of HH Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa and HH Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa who brought sports to a completely different level, not just through exposure, but also in the form of support and national participation,” he says.
Ali believes that Bahraini athletes have several resources at their disposal and that the age of social media provides them with the opportunity to get recognition and respect.
“That being said, I’ve always felt that there was a sort of stigma that we downplay ourselves as Bahrainis, but people need to be concerned when they have a Bahraini guy in the brackets. Aside from resources, we have determination… nothing is going to stop us from achieving what we want,” he says confidently.
“So, it gives me a lot of pride to be a Bahraini athlete during such a time,” he adds.
THE GREATEST CHALLENGE
Ali Monfaradi is now known for being an established athlete in the Kingdom of Bahrain after years of perseverance, but things weren’t always that way. “Looking back, and obviously I don’t look at these things as sacrifices, but I suppose the most difficult part was believing that I could one day have all of this - be a high-level athlete, have an academy and this entire support system,” he says.
“There was a point in my life when I had nothing of the sort and had to simply believe that it will one day happen. There were many years of this and it was tough. The difficulty I would say was undeniable, but did I ever doubt that it would happen? No, it was just a matter of time to me.”
“A DEMOCRATIC SPORT”
Jiu Jitsu is known for being a highly inclusive sport which allows people of varying levels of fitness and athleticism to participate – molding itself into what the person requires.
“What I love about Jiu Jitsu is that it’s a very democratic and approachable sport. Almost anybody can practice it. We have people with special needs, amputees, older people, younger people, kids suffering from bullying, professional athletes, women who want to learn self-defense and grown adults who just want a nice community be around,” he elaborates.
Elements hopes to cater to a larger portion of the population through its diverse courses, levels, training and methodology. “I believe that Jiu Jitsu is much more beneficial and we want its benefits to reach as many people as possible,” he says.
Ali started teaching on the side throughout his competitive years when he was purely a professional competitor and began helping out with classes when he was just 16-years-old. “As long as I have the physical capacity to do it, I want to be out there getting things done. To a larger extent, I want to create more athletes who can do this, not just what I do, but better. I want to see the academy grow,” he says.
With a career dotted with accolades, awards, medals and trophies, Ali now coaches some of his students to participate at local and international tournaments. “Watching my students compete is a thousand times as stressful for me to watch than when I myself am competing. It’s my job to keep myself composed so I can perform to the best of my ability, but when I watch my students perform, I want them to do well, be happy and succeed. It’s not like you have remote control of them so there’s always that element of surprise,” he says.
Reflecting on the early days of his career, Ali believes his students have more resources when compared to those available to him at the time. “I did not have the resources, the knowledge, the methodology and information that they have today. So, I believe that they have all the resources they need, not only to succeed as much as I have, but to do a lot better,” he says.
FAMILY AT THE HEART OF IT ALL
“My father, who’s probably my best friend, is one of the head coaches at the academy, one of my training partners and helps run the gym on a day-to-day basis,” he says.
Ali graciously believes that family support has also played a significant role in his journey as an athlete. “When I talk about family support, I need to start and end with father because he always believed in me, but not in a way that applied any sort of pressure on me. Whenever I would leave a fight, the smile on his face was identical whether I lost or won those fights,” he says.
“Obviously I had my own determination and sense of pressure to outdo myself, but I never felt that in any negative capacity from my father. He supported me no matter what and always insisted, and showed through his actions, that his main concern was that I was happy doing what I love,” he adds.
Elements has grown to be a “mini family reunion” of sorts as Ali describes it. “My brother is very much in a similar capacity except he’s younger so I get to bully him a little bit. We also have a number of my cousins, some of which are assistant coaches while others are simply part of the family training for fun,” he adds.
Having his parents, brother and cousins play a role at Elements on a daily basis has left Ali feeling quite fortunate. “You know, I always say that I’m a professional athlete, a coach, and a business owner, but above all else… I’m a family man,” he beams.
“I mean that to a much larger extent; we’ve built a sense of community here and are a family. Whatever I accomplish personally as an athlete is meaningless compared to the joy I feel when I share it with my family here. I think perhaps that is my defining characteristic in one word: family.”