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Taking a stance, Jordan’s first blind judo team breaks barriers

By Mays Ibrahim Mustafa - Mar 27,2023 - Last updated at Mar 27,2023

Jordanian Suleiman Al Arini, an international judo coach and referee, has taken on a mission to train the first blind judo team in Jordan (Photos courtesy of Suleiman Al Arini)

AMMAN — Jordanian Suleiman Al Arini, an international judo coach and referee, has taken on a mission to train the first blind judo team in Jordan. 

Arini decided to start this project when he was refereeing a judo tournament in Egypt, where he noticed that there were blind judo competitors from different Arab countries. 

He started by reaching out to the principal of the Abdullah bin Umm Maktoum School for blind students, who welcomed the idea. 

After gaining approval from the Ministry of Education and the Jordan Paralympic Committee, the team, which is currently made up of five fighters, began training in June 2022. 

The training is conducted at the Jordan Judo Federation free-of-charge, according to Arini.

In an interview with The Jordan Times, he noted that judo is popular among blind and visually impaired athletes, as “it’s one of the few competitive sports in which they can participate without major accommodations”.

To provide the best learning environment for his blind students, Arini relies on verbal instructions. “I try to be as descriptive and exact as possible,” he said. 

Whether they are sighted or visually impaired, the teaching process depends on each individual athlete’s strengths and weaknesses, he added. 

However, in order to allow blind students to be as “self-sufficient” as possible, it’s essential to make sure that they are aware of their surroundings by describing the room and allowing them to explore it before the training begins, Arini said. 

He also pointed out that his students do not only train and compete among each other; they’re also integrated into regular judo classes whenever possible. 

Judo helps visually impaired persons attain independence of movement by improving their coordination, balance and speed; “it even teaches them how to fall safely, which can help them better adapt to obstacles they might face in everyday life”, he added. 

Aside from improving physical health and overall fitness, the sport also promotes teamwork, discipline and self-confidence, Arini said. 

Mohammad Arab, 17, started training with coach Arini last year and he already has plans to “make Jordan proud” by participating in and winning international tournaments in the future. 

“I train for one and a half hour three times a week, and I love every minute of it,” he told The Jordan Times, noting that practising the sport has helped him step out of his comfort zone.

Arab’s father said that his son “found himself in judo”. 

“I am beyond proud. With the help of his coach, Mohammad has enough will and drive to commit to this, and hopefully score wins in international competitions,” he told The Jordan Times. 

Alaa Abu Khadra, a student at the University of Jordan’s Faculty of Sports Sciences, started training with Arini last November and won her first silver medal in January after competing with sighted fighters. 

In an interview with The Jordan Times, the 21-year-old said that during the time leading up to the match, she felt “scared and anxious”.

“Before the match, I kept calling the coach for tips and reassurance. Going through with it — despite my fear — definitely changed me; I am braver and I have more faith in what I am capable of,” she said. 

Unlike most sports, which can require a personal attendant and spaces that meet certain requirements, Judo involves “minimal” accommodations for persons with visual impairments, according to Abu Khadra. 

“Still it was really hard at first, but step by step I felt more confident and at ease. Now nothing is stopping me from making it to international tournaments,” she said.  

Arini’s current team members are between the ages of 16 and 21. His future plans involve establishing a summer judo camp for blind children.

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