The World Games Champion in Ju-jitsu, Rebekka Dahl, started her career by a coincidence: “I wanted to do everything my older brother Bjørn and ‘borrowed’ brothers Mikkel and Mathias Willard were doing. First that was being a scout like them – so yes, I even got to be with the boy scouts. Then they started doing Ju-jitsu and I wanted to do the same.” It wasn’t love at first sight: “In the first couple of years, I always let my mum know by the end of the season that I didn’t want to do it any more, but somehow I started again. I was terrible at it, and I think also not the easiest and most concentrated kid. I remember we celebrated the time I got my first-ever point in an entire competition – yes, I was that bad.” But Dahl kept going on with Ju-jitsu, and the day came when she won her first tournament. “I liked that feeling, so the motivation got a bit higher and I wanted more, a lot more. After winning that little tournament as a kid, I wrote in my diary that now I wanted to be world champion,” she laughs. Rebekka Dahl is our athlete this week Building up to Birmingham!
In 2017 Rebekka Dahl won gold at The World Games 2017 at the age of 20. “What was super-special was that the two ‘borrowed’ brothers I initially started the sport with, Mikkel and Mathias Willard, were there with me: one as my coach, and the other winning the category of -85 the day after my gold medal!”
The World Games 2017 was the first multi-sport event Dahl took part in. “I thought it was super-nice to be a part of, and walk around with top athletes in other sports from all over the world. It wasn’t like anything I’d tried before.” For her own part, she had expected to do her best, but not realised how far she could go: “I was only 20 at the time, so it was huge just to get qualified. I did not realise I could win gold!”
“I have also never had so much support with me from home, as then. My mum has almost always joined me and been there for me – but this time my brother was there, and it was the first time my dad and family who live in the Faroe Islands came to see me, and also other friends from home. It was so heart-warming.”
After this huge success, the biggest challenge of her career followed: “The period after winning at The World Games was the hardest time for me until now. I was not prepared for the mental fall-back I would have. It has taken me years to work on, and to enjoy the sport now in another more sustainable way.”
“My mental state was broken. I didn’t like training or tournaments, and it pained me because I didn’t know how it could change so much, when it had been the number one love of my life for so many years.”
“I gradually came back to liking training again, but somehow I just didn’t enjoy tournaments. So why should I spend so much time and effort on this, if I didn’t enjoy it? Therefore my only goal of 2020 was to enjoy fighting at tournaments again – nothing else. Then the pandemic kind of came in the way of that, but it also gave me a needed break and some perspective. I re-found my joy. I was happy to be on the mat again last year and enjoyed every minute of it. I look forward to experiencing another multi-sport event this year when returning to The World Games in July!”
Rebekka Dahl says what she likes about Ju-jitsu is the versatility. “I think I get bored a bit too easily, and I am not the greatest example of practising the same thing a million times in a row – but here, you need to be very good at a lot of different things. It’s like, if you don’t know if you want to start doing Judo, or Karate, or BJJ (Brazilian Ju Jitsu), you can just do Ju-jitsu and you don’t have to choose between punches, kicks or throws. You get it all.”
“Also, the fact that you can fight and keeping on fighting, without really getting hurt. For example in Mixed Martial Arts, one fight and you need months to recover before the next – here, I can fight several fights in tournaments, I can do about the same high intensity in training and my body can handle it.”
“Another huge aspect of why I chose and keep choosing Ju-jitsu, is the people in it. It feels special, it’s one big family – and I feel that spirit internationally also. I don’t think that it is particularly special for Ju-jitsu though, I do think all sports have that, but this sport turned into MY family, so of course this then feels special for me.”
At The World Games 2022, Rebekka Dahl looks forward to cheering for her country mates: “I’ve learned that there’s a lot of Danish qualified athletes in other sports (that sounds really cool), that I had no idea of – so I think it could be super cool to go and support each other when being that far from home.” If she had to compete in another sport than Ju-jitsu, she would choose Sport Climbing: “It would be pretty cool!”
Dahl is currently writing her Master’s thesis in humanities and social science in sports with psychology, and working for a telecommunications company as a student helper. Voluntarily, she works for the EYA (European Youth Ambassadors) programme that is connected to the EYOF (European Youth Olympic Festival) as an alumni, and she’s a trainer at her club and helping her sports federation with media.
As for sports hobbies, she mainly sticks to Martial Arts: “I’ve done different kinds of martial arts but all to aid my Ju-jitsu. I do, mostly, like to play other sports, but I’m tragically bad at them, especially ball sports, and I’m also such a bad loser. So for the time being, sticking to fighting is maybe good,” she laughs.
Dahl also got several questions from social media, and here are her answers to the rest of them:
How long before The World Games are your “sport plans” affected by it?
I would say already now. The programming is for the period to The World Games, prioritizing other events lower. I know I have to “last” all the way to July, so I have that in mind with training, especially regarding injuries and mental health.
How do you feel about talent?
I don’t like the idea of someone just having talent, it undermines all the hard work that is behind their successes. The ability to work really hard is a talent.
Who are your three idols in Ju-jitsu?
I feel like I finally humanised most of the people who I used to call my idols. A lot of people inspire me, but I don’t like the idea of idolising, though I probably still unconsciously do idolise a lot of people.
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association, organised with the support of the International Olympic Committee. The 11th edition of The World Games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from 34 sports and over 100 countries will take part in The World Games.