Meet the Match
A Jiu-Jitsu Champion Fights to Empower Jordanians
“The podium only lasts for a few seconds, what matters is the journey…”
This phrase describes the philosophy of Jordanian jiu-jitsu player and human development worker Rima Yacoub. Born in Jordan’s capital city of Amman, Rima excelled in traditional sports like gymnastics, track & field, and badminton before finding her way to combat sports. But, it was never the medals that motivated her. Instead, it was what sport taught her about herself, and what she hopes to share with other girls in her country: “We are strong, we are fearless, we can make our dreams into realities.”
A natural athlete throughout most of her youth, Rima was selected for Jordan’s national badminton team in 1999. It should’ve been the start of a career. However, in 2004, she transitioned out of the sport as she finished her bachelor’s degree in English and literature at the University of Jordan (Rima also completed an MBA at German Jordanian University in 2014). After years of weightlifting, Rima started jiu-jitsu.
When Rima began martial arts, she didn’t plan to compete. Sport was a way for her to feel strong and healthy. But, then she made the choice almost two years ago to compete in her first major tournament.
Entering her first match at the recent World Championships at Abu Dhabi, Rima felt a combination of nervousness and excitement.
“After two minutes my opponent was smashing me,” Rima recalls. “I was suffocating and I was about to tap. But, then I told myself, ‘No Rima, you’re not going out of this tournament in your first match!’
Rima was able to turn the tide and win the match and eventually the gold medal in her division. When she caught sight of her coach, he was jumping up and down cheering for her. She said he later told her, “I’ve never felt more proud of you in my life.”
With the support of her family along the way, Rima is fortunate to be able to pursue a sport uncommon for women in many parts of Jordan. Even in the eastern section of Amman, she says many women are expected to “cover up” and follow in the footsteps of their mothers and grandmothers: husbands, children, and family life. In west Amman, where Rima lives, families are more open to women playing sports, but combat sports are still discouraged.
For much of her career, Rima has been the only girl in her jiu-jitsu club. It has not been an easy ride, but she has always persevered.
“Jiu-jitsu can be awkward and intimidating environment for many girls” Rima says. “There are still certain people that will ask me, ‘Why do you do this to yourself? You should’ve gotten married and live a normal life.’ But that’s something that I’ve gotten over. I ignore it.”
After working as project coordinator for the Rasheed Coalition for Integrity and Transparency, Rima accepted a job as the partnerships and communications officer at Ruwwad (the Arabic word for “entrepreneurship”), a local NGO that focuses on child, youth, and community development. Rima vets volunteers and checks their lesson plans to ensure they represent the organization’s values. She sees her volunteers and trainers as mentors who have the potential to change the course of a girl’s life.
Before starting with Ruwwad, Rima always thought about launching a small organization to help professional female athletes secure sponsorships for competitions outside Jordan. She realized, though, more meaningful work can be done with the local community.
“Ruwwad is located in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Amman and every day I see girls who have rebelled and chosen their own path,” Rima says. “These are girls who will go all the way to hell to get what they want. And I don’t want to lose them.”
Rima hopes to create a solid, sustainable sports program for Ruwwad, less reliant on volunteers. In order to achieve this goal, she will be mentored by Jill Hotchkiss, vice president of marketing and creative for Disney XD. An award-winning expert in youth and global marketing strategy, Jill serves as the branding lens for all marketing, overseeing strategic planning, creative development and implementation of all on-air and off-air creative content. With her creative vision and experience, she and her Disney team will be able to provide Rima with the tools to develop, market, and fund a program that allows more and more Jordanian girls to get involved with any sport they desire.