Jiu Jitsu has the potential to transcend politics.
I’m gonna share something about myself (I don’t often talk about myself outside of talking about my jiu jitsu experience) I am Jewish and I have a lot of family in Israel. That said I want this amazing sport to be as available to me and my family members, and Israelis in general, as it is to everyone/anyone else.
Up until 2005 no Israeli had ever competed in an ADCC event. Haim Gozali was the first. Abu Dhabi (and the rest of UAE) has no political relationship with Israel and thus Israelis cannot travel there. After breaking the boundary for Israelis and competing at his first ADCC in 05, Gozali went on to become the Israeli representative of the ADCC and he has overseen the Israeli installment of the tournament since its inception in 2008.
I had a chance to sit down with Gozali for an interview about his experiences as a jiujiteiro, a competitor and a part of the now very well respected organization.
Gozali is currently the highest ranked jiujiteiro in Israel (third degree black belt) “I started karate when I was 6 years old. My background is karate, Jiu Jitsu and ninjutsu. I started BJJ in 1994. Renzo Gracie since day 1.”
He followed the ADCC since its early years “I saw the ADCC for the first time in 1999. It was a dream of mine to complete in ADCC but I couldn’t because in Abu Dhabi early on and Israelis can’t go there. In 2005 they did an event in the United States and I received an invitation. My dream came true!”
My conversation with Gozali was mainly about Jiu Jitsu but I was curious about his thoughts on Sheikh Tahnoon, namely if he felt as though UAE’s policies were any reflection upon Tahnoon (and as a corollary the ADCC) “This has nothing to do with the Sheikh. Israelis can’t go to Arab countries. We do not have peace treaties with them. But today I am in charge of the ADCC in Israel and every year I organize the ADCC Israel event. In 2008 the Sheikh let me be his representative in Israel. And today ADCC Israel is the biggest event in Israel. Also it’s broadcast on television.”
The ADCC working with Israel is a true symbol of Jiu Jitsu transcending politics. “ADCC treats all of their fighters alike no matter if you are a star or UFC world champion; they treated their competitors like kings.”
Gozali’s first match with the ADCC he got to go up against a former UFC champ “I sent them an email and the Sheikh agreed to let an Israeli compete for the first time ever. My first fight was with Ricco Rodriguez, the UFC champion, it was like 8 and a half minutes, he submitted me.”
That first moment of breaking the ice wasn’t the last for Gozali and the ADCC “I sent an email to Guy Neivens, representative of the Sheikh, and ADCC president at the time (today Marko Leisten is the president of ADCC Europe) and I told him I would be a good representative to ADCC and Guy gave me confirmation to do ADCC Israel that same year and we had for the first time ADCC ISRAEL championship.”
Haim experienced more success than he initially expected “It was bigger than what I thought it would be. Every year it just gets bigger. This year we had an event with 450 competitors. I know Jiu Jitsu in Israel is growing every day, a lot of competition!”
In closing Haim Gozali had some words of wisdom that we should all embrace “Jiu Jitsu can connect cultures and people.” He also issued an invitation to everyone to check out Renzo Gracie Israel if they ever are in the area. Haim is sponsored by VHTS and gave a shout out to them.
Jiu Jitsu grows every day, it can be a vehicle for us to explore our human potential, it can also be a way for us to move beyond petty differences and crank on each others’ limbs and necks.