Students and instructors at Lac La Biche-based KABZ Martial Arts have been fighting a busy schedule over the last few weeks.
Coached by recently-crowned world black-belt champion Ahmad Kabalan, a group of KABZ students from the northeastern Albrta community were competing in Red Deer over the weekend at the Canadian Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s (CBJJF) tournament held in Red Deer. Kabalan wasn't able to be with his fighters — he was competing at the 2022 PanAm Championships in Florida.
Both tournaments come on the heels of the recent 2022 Alberta Spring Open, a jiu-jitsu tournament in Edmonton on March 26 that drew dozens of competitors from across the province. The Lac La Biche club came home from that one with an impressive medal count.
“Everyone did awesome over the weekend. We have a combined 13 medals all together; seven gold, four silver and two bronze…the students worked hard and it paid off,” said Kabalan.
The event, which was hosted by the Ambassadors Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) league, was the second of the year. The first event in January saw the KABZ crew bring home nine medals.
For 13-year-old student Zayna Kabalan, who returned from that competition with a gold medal recently, competing in her female youth tier is all about applying her skills learned from class, “shutting out the noise” and performing her best, she said.
“I was nervous and also excited, but once I get to compete it feels like no one is even there; it’s just me and the girl I’m fighting. I wouldn’t say it’s fighting for your life but you fight a lot harder than you normally ever do.”
The enthusiasm from the students and his own commitment to the sport makes the long hours of training for the stream of tournaments worthwhile, says the coach. He trains his students at the Bold Center on a weekly basis and heads to his own training sessions with a world-class trainer every Monday.
In recent months, Kabalan has been doubling-down on his preparation for the Pan Am tournament.
“It’s been non-stop training,” he said last week just before heading off to train at Edmonton’s Frontline Academy run by world-renowned third-degree black belt and coach Pedro Lott. “Everyone's been helping me sharpen up…and prepare. It hasn’t been easy but I’m excited to compete on the world stage again.”
Kabalan won a gold medal last fall in the black belt category at the 2021 IBJFF World Master Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Las Vegas. To bring home another medal to the Lac La Biche community is the ultimate goal, but also an accomplishment his students are looking forward to considering how much thought and dedication he applies to the sport, said 15-year-old silver medalist and Kabalan’s daughters in the club, Aya.
“Everything that we learned at the club we do that at the tournament and that’s why we always do well…He pushes us and wants us to be at our best,” she says of her dad-coach, explaining that the lessons and training are always based on enjoyment of the sport. “He doesn't care if we win or lose because he wants us to have fun. He tells us that we learn from our mistakes. We are very excited to see him perform. He’s always been a great teacher.”
The coach is pleased to hear compliments from his students — but modestly says it is simply the role of a good coach to make his team better.
“It feels good to know they are working hard and enjoying the class at the same time. The way they train is the way they compete…I enjoy it and I always want my students to enjoy it as much as I do,” he said.
As he was heading to Florida for his own shot at the medals, Kabalan said he would be thinking about his students. He is confident in his team’s abilities when they represent the club, the community and themselves as fighters.
“The students are ready and there is a lot of support within the club…they’ll help each other along the way,” he said.
For an update on the weekend events of the coach and the students check www.lakelandtoday.ca