Last weekend I attended an open mat for women. After eight spirited and controlled rounds of rolling and sharing techniques, what stood out most were the discussions. Although I learned a lot about myself and I want to share those points, what matters most is the totality of ideas expressed from other women in this experience. (Before delving into that, I want to remind readers that this unique two days of training deserves many more follow-ups).
The setting was a school located in Richmond, Virginia that teaches jiu-jitsu for sport and self-defense as well as Muay Thai. Twenty-seven remarkable women (from late teens to mid-40s) attended, most from the southeastern United States, but a few from as far away as Australia. The school also raised funds for a local YWCA women’s shelter through donations.
The experience was so powerful and beneficial that other attendees have already announced plans to organize more open mats in Chapel Hill, North Carolina as well as in Norfolk, Virginia. I will help promote and attend those events, as well as ask my coaches and other schools affiliated with mine if they would be willing to host a similar event in the future. I intend to visit other schools more often to experience different teaching styles and learn about attitudes in the martial arts in order to increase cooperation, efficiency, and safety to benefit the most possible people.
Lessons from Women Who Roll
Attendees at the women’s open mat ranged from an absolute beginner without any experience to a formally ranked black belt. All who had gis rolled in them at this open mat. What was most striking was the down time between rounds when I was blessed to sit in and talk with friendly, intelligent, and skilled female jiu-jitsu practitioners who all knew I wrote for BJJ Today.
This camaraderie yielded so much information I decided to outline the most powerful insights that your other half can give you, in what remains a male-dominated sport. These women also give a lot of themselves to this sport, from writing, to coaching, and even developing better quality, NASA-tested, and environmentally friendly gis (see Green gis on Facebook).
The Female Point of View: Jiu-jitsu Parallels Life
- There are times when it’s appropriate to apologize in daily life, and on the mat. However, as with landing a punching, women should not apologize for submitting someone or putting up a good effort. Although it is in women’s nature to nurture, we should never apologize for needing more help, asking questions, or even needing to take a breather. Accidents happen in contact sports—care, don’t coddle.
- Many women believe that if you can make it to purple belt, you can make it to black belt. Even making it to blue belt is a huge achievement, and any stripes you earn, or skills and achievements you have accomplished in any style deserve self-pride. Jiu-jitsu, in particular, encourages women to invest in their self-preservation, which makes them stronger in the face of adversity. Hopefully, along the way, you have made athlete friends to lean on, and developed rapport with coaches who understand what you’re going through, and are receptive when you need to talk.
- Communicating effectively with male training partners makes them better men, and teaches them how to use the different size and shape of a woman to their training advantage—a point I mentioned in a previous article, “Making The Most Of Your BJJ Team.”
- Women’s open mats, seminars, and camps are not just about training technique and getting in a ton of sparring rounds. The most important time occurs during conversations, when participants can discuss relevant issues and challenges they face both socially and technically with male teammates.
- Rank becomes a side issue when women discuss their various martial arts backgrounds and experiences. We all share different life experiences, medical issues, academic and athletic achievements, but this does not make us any more or less important to the human race!
- When rolling with other women, allow yourself to use less strength, and put yourself in more dangerous spots. It was a true test for other participants to see what they really needed to work on. When rolling with higher ranks, ask for generous time on top— catching submissions and letting them go. Feel her adjustments and make your own. I had never rolled with a woman who held a purple belt. Flow rolling with her was a treat, and I felt as if the rest of the world fell away. The life lesson here is simply to roll with it! Experiment and learn what you need to work on.
- Tapping to a woman does not mean you are weak, unskilled, or vulnerable to a street attack. This goes for both men and women.
- When women train with other women or smaller men, it is a better and more realistic preparation for competition. Unless a man has developed the acuity to gauge the strength, agility, and skill of a female rolling partner, most men tend to sit around, or come out so aggressively that it spurs the woman to reciprocate. This is completely counterproductive. Life is short. Be as productive as you can be!
- Losing is learning, and learning is the path to teaching. In fact, when you identify why you lost and take chances and lose in practice, the more knowledgeable and better you become as teacher. To make a better contribution to your team and to society, you must accept that you made errors, have the courage to admit it, and become an individual empowered with the knowledge obtained and the moral obligation to disperse it.
- As in all areas of life, we should strive for personal accomplishment that will benefit others. Walk away from your workouts and your work with your head held high, so you can lay your head on your pillow every night knowing you did your very best to improve yourself and others.
June Louise Elliott, MA
American Council on Exercise, Certified Personal Trainer
No matter which way you look at it, BJJ is a male dominated sport. This is at all levels and in all aspects. Whilst we can not say that this is 100% true across all gyms and academies (after all, we haven’t been to all of them), we know this to be true across the entire BJJ community.
We at BJJ Today support women in BJJ and we want to really push this envelope. But to do so, all practitioners, male and female, need to understand the female point of view and what women go through in the sometimes called “BJJ Boy Club”. We hope that this article has given everyone some good insight into the female perspective on BJJ and in some way will help promote women in BJJ.
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