Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a male-dominated sport. It is growing in popularity for women but most academies have more males than females training. Being one of these many females, I learned to fight with the big guys. I was never afraid. I gladly launched my five foot frame at the 250-pound bruisers. People thought I was really tough. They would cheer when I would choke out a new guy or marvel when I climbed someone’s back like a spider monkey. I felt special and was fearless.
I was fearless, that is, until I went to an all-female open mat.
All of a sudden I was surrounded by women that did jiu-jitsu. I was nervous and had no idea how to act around them. We seemed to notice everything about each other: hair, makeup, new gi, old gi, new belt, old belt, patches, nail polish, braids, embroidery, no kids, lots of kids, big chest, small butt, weird lips…. I was not in Kansas anymore.
It became even more evident when it was time to train.These ladies rolled completely differently. They were faster and more technical. They were also very focused and didn’t fool around. I was out of my element. I was slow and smashy. I knew how to use my weight to make my 120 pounds feel like 200 but it didn’t matter because I wasn’t getting the opportunity to get top position anyway. I couldn’t use the same techniques on the women because they played a completely different way.
I got beat. Bad.
I had to make a decision. I would either have to start training with women or come to terms with the fact that my jiu-jitsu education would not be complete without female training partners.
What I really wanted to do was run away because I realized one very painful truth.
I was afraid.
I don’t know why it is – whether it is a primal response that is coded in us from the caveman days that tells us women to be wary of other women but over the years I have learned that I was not alone. It happens in neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, households and on the mats. Women often feel an immediate and irrational competitiveness with other women. We prejudge their personalities, talents, abilities, and jiu-jitsu skills based on their appearance or our first impression.
It happens in competition. The same pony-tailed sprite that would gladly take on the HULK in the gym trembles when a 110-pound white belt with pink toenails and frosted blonde hair steps up to the mat. All of a sudden, all the bravado and confidence that we had shrinks and a rapid heatbeat and sweaty palms takes its place.
Men often tell the few women in the gym, “Oh, you beat all of us guys up all the time, think how great you are going to do when you fight women.”
Women know other women. Women are fierce. When women compete with other women they are often not just out there for the joy of “just being there.” It takes a lot of courage to compete in a male-dominated combat sport so many women devote a lot of time and energy into preparing so that they are not embarrassed. Many women fight differently than their male counterparts. Women’s bodies and minds are different.
No matter if you have one female in your gym or ten, find open mats and look for female-only events or seminars. Pick out a female that you don’t know to roll with when you train or visit another school. If you are looking for a new school or want to compete try to find one with a strong women’s program. You can sit around with the one or two other women at your gym and train only with the guys or you can face your real fear and put yourself out where you feel most vulnerable. If you are going to compete against women, it stands to reason that testing yourself and learning in the gym with other women will give you the best education. Males are great teachers and training partners but training with males-only may not be sufficient enough preparation for competition and competition is the best way to test your jiu-jitsu.
Your jiu-jitsu will never be the same. And that will be a good thing.
Check out: www.girls-in-gis.com
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