A 48-YEAR-OLD, mother-of-three has created history by becoming the first Bahraini woman to win a medal in an International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) event.
Ema Janahi clinched a silver medal in the Blue Belt Female Master Four category at the 2023 European Jiu Jitsu IBJJF Championship in Paris last Thursday.
This comes just three months after she became the first Bahraini woman to ever win a tournament in Europe when she won gold in the Women’s GI/Blue/Master1/55kg division at the Abu Dhabi Jiu Jitsu Pro (AJP) Tour Rome International Pro – GI and NO-GI tournament in Italy last October.
Janahi, who only took up jiu jitsu in 2020, battled through the pain caused by a badly injured knee to give eventual gold medallist Audrey Florence, from France, an extremely tough time before the referee stopped the fight to ensure that the Bahraini fighter’s leg didn’t get damaged further.
The championship, one of four annual major IBJJF tournaments, is considered to be among the largest and most prestigious jiu jitsu competitions in the world. More than 3,500 athletes participated in the 2023 edition, which started last week and concluded yesterday.
“I was hoping to win the gold medal but I was a bit unfortunate because I hurt my knee badly before the bout and it really hampered me,” Janahi told the GDN upon her return to Bahrain yesterday.
“I had it checked out at the hospital after the fight and the doctor said I’ve damaged a tendon. I still can’t walk properly.”
But she was still very happy to have won the silver medal, Janahi added.
“It is a great sense of achievement,” she laughed. “Obviously, if I hadn’t been injured, I could have done better but I’m not complaining. Just participating in one of the world’s biggest tournaments was quite an experience and to have actually won a medal is the icing on the cake!”
Amongst the audience to celebrate her podium finish was Janahi’s 18-year-old son, Tariq.
“He’s recently taken up the sport and I took him along so that he could experience the atmosphere at a world event of this scale,” Janahi explained. “My two older sons – Yousif, who’s 24, and Mohammed, 23 – are already participating in different tournaments and all four of us might compete together in AJP Tour events in Qatar and Istanbul later in the year.”
Also an accomplished scuba diver with a passion for underwater photography, Janahi works for Bahrain Polytechnic as director, academic development and community initiatives and is currently enrolled in a PhD programme for Higher Education at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.
“I actually submitted my thesis just a couple of days before I left for Paris,” Janahi chuckled. “So that’s another reason for me to have an additional sense of achievement!”
She travelled to France as part of a five-member team from globe-trotting Bahraini jiu jitsu star, Ali Monfaradi’s academy.
“Ali was also competing,” she explained. “And we also had two teenagers in the team: Abdulla AlShaikh, who’s only 16 and competed in the Blue Belt Juvenile Two event, and Ahmed Maithem, 17, who took part in the Blue Belt Juvenile One competition.
“And Alaa Hasan, 22, competed in the Blue Belt Female Adult competition.”
Monfaradi, 30, who has won more than 200 medals in tournaments around the world since earning his black belt in 2017, didn’t manage a podium finish this time but heaped praise on Janahi.
“She is utterly phenomenal,” he told the GDN. “I have no doubt that, if she hadn’t been injured, she would have won gold!
“I competed in the Black Belt Master One category and needed to win six fights in order to win the gold medal. My first three fights went spectacularly but I lost the fourth, three advantages to one.”
Monfaradi, who participated in the tournament for the first time, added that the experience was an “eye-opener”.
“This is one of the four main ‘grand slam’ tournaments held annually,” he explained. “And, even though I’ve taken part in some of the best competitions in the world, I found this to be on another level. It was organised so well which couldn’t have been easy, given how many athletes took part and the scale and scope of the event.”
Janahi, who competed in her first jiu jitsu tournament just last March, agreed.
“One had so much to learn from this tournament from the top-notch organisation of the tournament to the professionalism of the athletes,” she said. “I, personally, came back with such great knowledge about the dedication and time-management and discipline that it takes for all those athletes to function the way they do.
“It’ll help me to get ready for next year. I plan to put that knowledge to good use and train harder and better and, hopefully, return with a gold medal next time.”