Top Arabic Phrases for the Traveling Grappler

As someone who has been to the Middle East on numerous occasions, respect goes a long way. Simple greetings—please and thank you—carry a lot of weight when spoken in Arabic from a native English speaker. It shows that you took the time to learn their language, even if just a passing phrase, and will bring a smile to most.

Taking the time to be mindful and respectful of Islamic courtesies goes a long way as well. While this article focuses on language, non-verbal communication can have a big impact as well. Here are the basics:

  • Always shake with your right hand
  • Touch your chest/heart after you shake someone's hand
  • Remember that idle chit-chat before any business or training is a must!

Jiu-jitsu in the United Arab Emirates is not new. From what I can gather, it's been around since the late 1990s. Abu Dhabi Combat Club was founded in 1998, and there are frequent requests for black belts to travel overseas to train and compete. Additionally, the United Arab Emirates Jiu-Jitsu Federation hosts numerous tournaments in the area, is involved with many local clubs, and is a driving force behind making jiu-jitsu a staple in the Emirates.

The main push behind the growth of the sport is due in large part to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, His Highness Muhammed bin Zayeed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. You will frequently see him at tournaments, handing out trophies, or supporting local events.

Abu Dhabi is definitely one of the worldwide capitals of jiu-jitsu. With the hosting of the ADCC, the UAEJFF presence around the world, and the high quality training and competitions, it’s a must-stop for practitioners when they want to compete at the highest levels.

Having said that, I wanted to give readers some basic words to use should you travel there. Most Arabs will speak limited English, but as mentioned above, if you can speak a few words in Arabic or instruct some fine points in Arabic, it shows a vast amount of respect to students, competitors and other coaches. These are also good to know when competing:

Right - yameen
Left - yassar
Next to - bijanib, yem
Behind - khalf, wara
In front - amam, gidam
Turn - dowr
Hand - yed
Head - rai's
Hip - warik
Leg - rejl
Foot - qadim
Ankle - kahal
Arm - daraa
Chest - sadir, or you might hear buton for stomach (knee on belly)
Neck - anq/ank
Waist - khassir

I recommend that you search YouTube for some of the tournaments in the Middle East and see if you can identify or pick out some phrases that you hear from above.

Off the mat, these are some basic phrases that will help you getting around. Most of them are very basic, but when you can add these within general conversation (even if using mostly English) it's definitely a good thing. Try your best to use these and to learn even more while you are there:

Please - min faddlik, tifaddil (go ahead), arjook (i beg of you),
Thank you - shukran
You're welcome (excuse me/sorry) - afwan
Good morning - sabah al khair
Good morning reply - sabah al noor
Good afternoon/evening - masah al khair
Good afternoon/evening reply - masah al noor
How are you? - kaif al hal, kafik (more informal)
I am good/well - ana bakhair
I don't understand - ana la afham, la afham

In closing, you can read a lot about Abu Dhabi through Wikipedia or travel websites, like Lonely Planet. They will give a pretty good historical account of the area, the country, and the people.

Travel. Be safe. And enjoy the jiu-jitsu world.

About Brian Boswell

Brian Boswell is a former Marine, intelligence analyst, and Arabic linguist living in the DC area. He currently holds a purple belt under Jeremy Lafreniere at Capital MMA in Virginia and also trains at Conquest BJJ in Maryland under Vicente Jr. Follow him on Twitter @tomuchisgiven.

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