LAC LA BICHE - A Lac La Biche business owner and martial arts instructor will only have a few weeks to get used to being the 2021 World Master Jiu-Jitsu Champion before preparing for his next big event in the new year.
Ahmad Kabalan and his family run a Lac La Biche gas bar, and last month the local businessman got down to business on the mats, winning a gold medal in the black belt category at the 2021 IBJFF World Master Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Las Vegas.
“It was overwhelming,” said Kabalan, who also instructs at Lac La Biche’s KABZ Martial Arts studio.
It was also a bit surprising, he admitted — being in his first major competition as a black-belt.
“This was my first year competing as a black belt. I told myself if I get past the first round I’m happy. But I got past the first, second, and third rounds. After the momentum kept building, then I ended up winning,” he smiled.
With his first big win under his (black) belt, Kabalan is hoping that momentum continues in 2022 when he takes his World Champ title to the 2022 Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championships taking place in Florida in April.
Growing with the sport
His recent win is built on a combination of skill, training, family and community support, along with a recent change in mental perspective about the sport and his opponents.Kabalan says he has participated in national tournaments as a brown belt twice but came up short. But with practice and positive thinking, he acquired the right recipe to not only attain his black-belt, but also to think more clearly in competition.
“I’ve always been motivated but this time it was different. To be honest, I think I was overly confident during the last two world tournaments,” he said. “Before, I think I used to underestimate people which is bad; this time I overestimated everyone and I think that helped.”
That the mental shift, he said, supported him throughout the four-day event where more than 5,000 competitors from around the world competed in different categories.
Road to gold
Kabalan began his martial arts career in Karate 20 years ago in Fort McMurray before crossing over to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2010, looking for a challenge and to try something new. He and his brother are passionate about the sport.
Moving to Lac La Biche four years ago to join his brother with the local fuel business, he said finding a local gym to continue learning the art form was difficult. The idea of starting his own club began.
Continuing his own training with world-renowned third-degree black belt Pedro Lott, Kabalan and his brother began traveling to Edmonton on a weekly basis to train at Lott’s Frontline Academy Canada in Sherwood Park.
“There was a lot of hard work. Usually, my brother and I drive down there once a week. Every Monday we train for about 2 hours then we come back to work. We also do a lot of training here at our club. There is a lot of hard work that goes on and people don’t see it. It’s not easy but if you work hard it’s possible.”
With that continued instruction, Kabalan and his brother opened up a Lac La Biche-based Jiu-Jitsu club in 2018. Since then, KABZ Martial Arts has maintained a strong following.
Five of the club’s current members joined Kabalan at the recent world championships in Las Vegas, competing in their own divisions, and placing well.
“We all received a medal…There are tough (competitors) coming out of Lac La Biche.”
Sharing the trophy
Without the support of his wife and family—throughout his career—running a local martial arts gym, participating in tournaments and training with his dedicated coach, would not be possible, he said.
“My wife supports me 100 per cent. She even helps me train, prepares the meals for me whenever I travel…once you get family support—especially when your wife is happy—and everyone is getting involved you can’t ask for anything better.”
Ultimately, he said the title is as much his family’s and coaches’ medal, as his.
Likewise, the sport itself can be very family-oriented, explaining it as an inclusive sport that can be done as a family and for a healthy lifestyle.
“You can do it with your family. Jiu-Jitsu is one of the best martial arts you can get into,” he said, “With everything we’re going through right now with COVID…for your health and mental health it's one the best things you can do."
Kabalan and several KABZ members will be heading to Florida in April to compete at the Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championships and represent the community and local jiu jitsu family.