Hamzeh Rasheed recalls almost everything in terms of belts. He talks about the periods of his life, of his friends’ lives, of the places he’s been and the memories he’s shared cast to the foreground of colours awarded to martial artists to signify their prowess.
Hamzeh and his older brother, Asian Games gold medallist Haider Rasheed, are part of a family of martial artists — they estimate 10 in total — who all practice a combat sport, mostly jiu jitsu. The family business spans two gyms, four spots on Jordan’s national team and numerous medals both regionally and internationally.
The younger of the two brothers, Hamzeh, even clinched the world championship at the JJIF World Ju-Jitsu Championship in Bogota, Colombia in 2017. Haider told The Jordan Times that it just runs in the family.
The brothers were introduced to the sport after their cousin brought them to Zaid Mirza, the founder of the Desert Force Championship, a mixed martial arts tournament for Arab countries.
Haider’s striking coach, 25-year martial arts veteran Ismail Moeen, credits the tournament with introducing martial arts to the public regionally, “Desert Force started around the Middle East and we used to have a lot of champions, such as Haider,” he said.
“We stuck with it and we had commitment,” Hamzeh said, adding that even thought the two are in different weight classes, competition played a major role in helping them improve. “We like to compete a lot and we’re both competitive, it’s never an easy fight with Haider, it’s always tough. He wants to submit me, I want to submit him. This is how we got better.”
For such a small country, Jordan has made waves in the martial arts circuit recently. At the 2018 Asian Games, held in August, the Kingdom clinched two gold medals, one in Taekwondo and one in jiu jitsu, one silver medal in taekwondo and nine bronze medals in taekwondo, jiu jitsu, karate and boxing. It was a record haul for the country, which has been competing in the games since 1986, according to the Jordan Olympic Committee.
Zeid Abu Al Soud, Jordan’s jiu jitsu coach told The Jordan Times that despite the resources of some bigger countries, “I think we have the ability to compete at the highest level.” He added that getting athletes who compete in an individual sport to put aside egos and squabbles took some time, but it has since paid dividends.
“I’m not a trainer, it’s more like captaining a ship,” he said, adding that the Rasheed clan has been a big part of Jordan’s success recently, calling the younger Rasheeds “two very talented brothers... Usually you don’t have as many family members performing at such a high level”.
“The environment around us was perfect [growing up],” Haider said. Both brothers credit their parents for playing an important role in supporting them when they were younger, and when the sport was less popular in Jordan.
“When we [our family] sit with each other, we talk about jiu jitsu, we share moves, we share knowledge, and I and my cousin coach the kids’ national team as well,” Hamzeh said. “I love it. I enjoy coaching it, I love everything about it. It makes you a better person for sure, it humbles you.”
Haider, in a separate interview but as if on the same wave length, echoed his younger brother’s sentiment, “I love jiu jitsu; it’s more of a lifestyle. I can’t remember my life without it,” he said.
“When I get injured I feel like something is ripped from me, because I’ve been doing jiu jitsu since I was seven-and-a-half years old every day,” Hamzeh said.
The two describe the sport that has altered their lives less like a competition and more like a window to some state of physical and mental transcendence.
Hamzeh credits it for his relationship with his brother, the confidence in his speech and for teaching him to open his mind to new ideas when he is coaching.
“If you talk to one of the kids’ parents at my gym or at any gym in the jiu jitsu world, they’ll tell you how much jiu jitsu made a difference with their kids. They always get better at talking and making eye contact,” he said.
“You find some people from rich schools and you find some people from moderate schools, than you find some people from poor schools… and you have to learn how to respect everyone for themselves,” Hamzeh added. “You disregard the materialistic things in life when you’re on the mat and you get measured by your skill and your commitment, and how you behave and react to other people’s issues.”
Despite his passion for the sport, Hamzeh said he will have no qualms when it comes time to give up competing and pass the torch. And who knows, maybe he and Haider will be passing it to another Rasheed.
The brothers have a younger sister that trains in muay thai with Moeen.
“She did a bit of jiu jitsu. I’m going to take her to Thailand to compete in muay thai... But we’re going to try to put her in jiu jitsu,” Hamzeh smirked.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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