It is time for morning practice at Prana when Emad ties his new, brown belt around his waist. World Champion Juan Kamezawa from Brazil is visiting and is instructing today. Emad pairs up with black belt and World Pro winner Max Lindbland, to start the drills. While watching them from the side of the mat, we speak to Kenta Hammarström, founder of Prana and the person who took Emad in when he moved from his family in Gothenburg as an 18-year-old. When the training session is over, it’s finally time for Emad to tell us his story in his own words.


A rowdy kid from Angered

It was in Angered, a suburb in Gothenburg, that Emad grew up as the youngest of five children in the Omran family. He explains that there was a lot of criminality and fighting going on in those days between groups of different suburbs. “The thing is that if a guy gets beaten down, he and his crew will want revenge, and preferably give a little more back than what he received. I got into a fight with a guy once, so we met with our guys and I won that fight. But at a later occasion I was at a party with a few friends and we realized that all of those guys were there, so we got a serious beating. I still touch base with my friends from Angered on a regular basis, but unfortunately many of them are either in jail or dead. I could have walked down the same path if I hadn’t moved.”

His parents were worried and decided when Emad was 8 years old, that the family would move to Olofstorp, a nicer neighborhood. However, the problems did not disappear. They just changed. “We were basically the only foreigners in Olofstorp and people didn’t want us there. They sent threats, threw rocks at our windows and did everything in their power to makes us feel unwelcome. In the beginning I was afraid, but quite soon it turned to anger.” The anger followed Emad into the classroom and he was more involved in fighting than in studying. He was considered a troublesome student and had difficulties focusing on schoolwork.

”Even though we moved to Olofstorp, I still hanged out with the boys in Angered. To them, the main reason for doing bad stuff wasn’t money, but rather the adrenaline rush. If you walk by a school and see a video projector in there, you break the window and steal it, even though you have no use of it. Your pulse hits the roof and the adrenaline kicks in. As I said, many ended up in bad condition, but the thing in common for all those who continued with university studies and got good jobs was that they chose not to join when the others were going out, and by that, they stayed out of trouble.”


To find your calling

As many youngsters in Sweden, Emad started playing football as a child. He describes himself as the worst player in the team and no matter how much he trained, he didn’t seem to improve. As a 14-year-old he joined a friend to try out MMA, and he liked it. “You could forget about all your problems for a while. MMA demands 100% concentration, so there was no room for thoughts on other things. It was a kind of meditation. However, I didn’t fancy getting punched in the face, but found the grappling fascinating, so I switched to BJJ. That was my thing.”

”I lost many, many bouts in the beginning. I got eliminated in every tournament. But I kept on going and I still remember the happiness when I eventually won my first fight. One competition that had a large impact on me was Swedish Open. I was 16 and was granted permission to compete in both junior and adult category. By the end of the day I had won all bouts against juniors and against adults, plus I was awarded my blue belt. I don’t think many people can understand that feeling, when you’ve struggled for so long and finally reach success.”

After having felt like the worst football player on the team, the worst student in school and received poor grades, you can suppose that Emad was in need of acknowledgement and the feeling of being good at something. He was doing better and better in BJJ and a belief that he had finally found his calling was starting to build up inside of him. After a couple of tries at the World Championship he realized that if he really wants to become great in jiu-jitsu, he has to move somewhere like Brazil or USA. But after he got to know some people at Prana Jiujitsu, he decided to leave high school to try his fortune in Stockholm. “My parents didn’t take me seriously at first, but when they realized that I really meant it, they supported me. My older sister, who has two degress and always has been an impeccable student, said that I would always feel regret if I chose education and a boring job over my dream. Her words made me take the final decision.” Emad moved into a tiny storeroom in the gym and had three trainings sessions per day, and he loved it!


Jiu-jitsu lifestyle

The main part of a normal day in Emad’s life is all about jiu-jitsu. He trains BJJ twice per day, plus a strength and conditioning session. In between the trainings, he give private classes and classes at SATS. Besides from that, he reads training related literature and studies BJJ matches on Youtube. You can easily see that he sacrificed a lot of fun and pleasure for his training, so we ask him if he ever gets sick and tired of it all. “Of course it’s tough from time to time. In preparation for Worlds we had two hours of sparring twice a day, which in combination with weight cutting and mood swings could make me cry. But it’s supposed to be tough, that’s when I learn. My biggest fear is to get comfortable. Of course I’ve sacrificed a lot, but I’m getting all of that back now. Thanks to jiu-jitsu I get to travel the world and experience much more of ‘the good life’ that I would have without it.”

Most fighters struggle to get the economy to work. With the help of sponsors and private classes, Emad can pay his bills and still have some money left. But it doesn’t come by itself, a lot of effort is required. “I was told that it’s impossible to get money from sponsors in BJJ, ‘cause our sport is so small. But that’s bullshit! Everything is possible, it’s all about understanding what you have to offer. I’m lucky to have people who want to follow me on Facebook and Instagram, which means that I can offer exposure. At the moment I’m in negotiation with an açai company that I went to meet in Holland two weeks ago. I also get supplements from Kruth Series and a car wash company, Ecoshine Östermalm, sponsors me as well. The private classes actually started with a guy I got to know during a flight to Lissabon. He knew a lot of people and had a big interest for BJJ. He and his brother started buying classes from me, and then it spread to their friends and onwards.”

When you look at Emad’s fights and his sparring, you get the impression that he’s extremely flexible and that this is one of his major strengths. “I’m actually not so flexible, but I have good external rotation in my legs. That means I have many ways I can use them in my jiu-jitsu. But I would say that timing is my greatest asset. Timing is the shit! You can train your timing by first learning a movement correctly. Then you practice to execute it as fast as possible. In the end, you practice to do it in a certain situation, so that when such a situation presents itself in a fight, the movement will come by instinct.”


Plans for the future

In 2016, Emad finished 2nd in the Abu Dhabi World Championship. The upcoming tournaments he’s focusing on are the World Championship in the US in June and the European Championship in Portugal in January. He has finished 3rd and 2nd in the EC, but is still looking to win the gold. This time he can be considered one of the favorites to win the tournament in -76 kg. However, he will not use any preparation program unique to the EC. “I spar and analyze situations where I get submitted. There are positions I want to end up in, and positions I want to avoid. It’s a constantly on-going process that never ends. If you focus on the process instead of the results you’ll achieve great things.”

A long-term goal for Emad is to open his own gym where he’ll be able to help others to reach their goals in BJJ. However, before that he will focus only on his own BJJ career, win a few more nice gold medals and get the black belt. But how long is it realistic to compete on the highest level in BJJ? “Very long time. Cobrinha [Rubens Charles] just won the World Championship and he’s 37 years old. Obviously, an injury could end my career at any point in time, and it’s a bit scary to think about. My economy completely depends on my body. But I can’t give up what I love to do, just by fear of getting injured. I don’t have a plan B. I think that people who have a plan B will lean towards that and won’t go after their dream with the same determination.”

Before we end the interview, we discuss Emad’s sources of inspiration, MMA fighters and whom he thinks we should interview next. “In BJJ I look up to Leandro Lo. I want to move like him, he’s great. In MMA, Reza [Madadi] was a favorite of mine while he was fighting. Nico [Musoke] is another favorite. Conor [McGregor] is great fun; I like him because he always puts on a big show full of entertainment! Lastly, I’d like to recommend you to interview Diego Gonzales. He’s a legend in Swedish martial arts, but he doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves!”

We want to thank Emad for the itnerview, and wish him good luck in upcoming competitions and in the future!