BJJ Grrl

"Be gentle, kind and beautiful, yet firm and strong, both mentally and physically." ~Sensei Keiko Fukuda

Women: Training

A work in progress as I learn and grow, too. I want this to not just be we’re girls and we try hard so cut us some slack, but rather as a place to gather both the problems and the solutions that we ladies face out on the mats in a male-dominated world. (We love ya, boys, but we still need a little girl time.)

As always, comments, suggestions, criticisms, addendum, advice, etc. are all welcome. I certainly don’t know everything, nor do I pretend to. I just have an obsession with writing everything down ;)

I’m also looking for posts and articles by women that touch on some of the topics in here. So if you know of one — or want to write one — let me know and I’ll link to it.


Intro

Jiu-jitsu is one of the most rewarding things you can learn, as a male or a female. Through jiu-jitsu, you learn how to use leverage to control someone else, even someone bigger and stronger than you. You will also learn more about yourself in a few months on the mat than in years of regular life.

Jiu-jitsu is also one of the most frustrating things you’ll ever do, especially as a female. Everyone in class will probably be bigger and stronger than you, they’ll know most of what you know (so they know how to really counter it), and they will generally fight like anything to avoid losing to a girl.

A lot of this can also apply to small guys who routinely work with lots of big guys. So if you find that it does apply, feel free to substitute “small guy” any time I say “girl.” (And yes, I say “girl” still, not “woman.”)


Contents

Bits & Pieces
Training with Girls
Working with Boys
Being a “Girl”
Failing and Frustration
Talking to Your Instructor
On Belts
Aggressiveness, Intensity, Intent



Bits & Pieces

Another thing — as you learn jiu-jitsu, you may start to wonder whether it could really work as self-defense because you try it in class on the big boys and… nothing happens. What the–? But remember, they’re training with you. They know all your moves. They know the proper defense. They know how to keep and recover position. Anyone attacking you, however, will not.



Training with Girls

I’m becoming more convinced that training with girls is essential. Even if you have great guys who actually let you work, find girls. If you’re the only one in your school, you will probably have to travel to train with girls. Do it. It’s worth it. You will find that you’re not some stunted jiu-jitsu reject, but that you really do know what to do. You’ll get to work on that elusive thing called “offense” that the boys are so enamored with. You’ll also get a chance to dust off those submissions you’ve learned and actually use them and they’ll work (well, better, anyway — girls are tough!). Tournaments are good, but you need to train with real girls, too.

Every time so far that I’ve gone and actually trained with other girls, I’ve come away refreshed and energized and motivated. And most of the time, I just got my butt thoroughly and completely whipped! But I feel the girls’ pressure and technique and I think, “Ah, so that’s it. I can do that.” And I can work some of my own technique and discover that I do, in fact, know some jiu-jitsu. When I go back and roll with my guys, they can immediately tell that there’s a difference, and they ask me what I’ve been up to. ;)

An important part of girl jitsu time is talking to other girls about your training. When you need advice, other jiu-jitsu girls are the best to ask since they’ve probably experienced it, too. The guys in your school may not be able to help, and non-jiu-jitsu friends will just think you’re more of a freak than before…

The first time I went to train with other girls, I was amazed at how many blue belts there were. They’re real! They exist! I thought. It really is possible. At the last women’s training I attended after I got my blue belt, several white belt girls were just as giddy as I’d been when seeing so many female colored belts around. By now, I’ve met purple and brown and black belt females, and I’m encouraged to know that they’re not superhuman athletes — they’re just tough women who refused to quit. I want to be one of them, too.

Reasons to train with Girls

  • Find out that your jiu-jitsu actually exists (and it doesn’t entirely suck, either!)
  • Find out that other girls train hard, too, so no more slacking
  • Find out that you’re not quite as abnormal as you thought
  • Learn how other girls deal with Problem X
  • Find out that what you thought was just the boys muscling you around is actually a pretty large hole in your game because all the girls ran right through it, too.
  • See that higher-belt females actually exist — and aren’t all athletic prodigies
  • For higher-belt females: provide encouragement to us lower belts
  • Meet other very cool gals who do BJJ

On Girls Who Aren’t Really There to Train

There are stories of girls whose only interest in BJJ is to find a man. (It was called “getting your MRS degree” in college.) There are even several stories told around my academy of females who used to “train” there before I came along. I personally haven’t met one of these girls yet (unless I scared her off on her first day), but I probably wouldn’t make life easy for her if one showed up again. One, because she’ll probably be a good-sized training partner for me and I want to take advantage of that and will be annoyed when she doesn’t want to help me out, and two, because I don’t want my good male training partners distracted.

Now, my normal reaction to manhunters is to just ignore them as long as they don’t interfere with my friends or my routine. In the case of a BJJ class setting, however, she’d be doing both — messing with my friends and interrupting my training (because I know I’ll get paired with her a lot). I do think that most guys who are serious about training would recognize her type and would avoid her (and dump her on me again). I would guess that if she’s only looking for a man that she isn’t going to be serious about training and especially not with me as I’m not male. I don’t see a girl like that lasting very long in our environment. She’ll probably end up in the kickboxing or Krav Maga class before too long, and then I don’t have to deal with her any more. And then she can distract the boys after class all she — and they — want.



Working with the boys

See also: Jen Flannery’s Safe Training Rules for Women

As hard as it is to admit it, and as much as jiu-jitsu is for the smaller and weaker to overcome the bigger and stronger, it turns out that guys are in fact bigger and stronger than us and will usually use this to their advantage, especially when threatened. It also seems that, in most cases, rolling with a girl is inherently threatening, and most guys will do everything in their power to not tap to a girl. Often, they don’t even realize that they hit a different gear when training with you over other guys.

I used to think this was just my imagination. But I’ve had it confirmed by several other girls, including Clinzy, here. Again, often the guys don’t even realize they’re doing it. (And see, another reason to find other females: you find out that you’re not just imagining things and that you’re not an anomaly.) Also, this behavior isn’t limited to us smaller girls: even physically larger and stronger girls get the same treatment, and somehow with even more ego.

The guys like this, avoid when possible. They probably don’t really mean to hurt you, but they generally will. I don’t think they’re usually mean or even really misogynistic; they just have a sub-routine of “can’t lose to girl” that kicks in when you sit down across from them. And/or, they’ve just gotten their butt kicked by every smaller guy in class, and they’re looking for someone to take it out on. You look like a good target.

Many guys, too, seem to be focused on racking up “points” with everyone they roll with: positive points for tapping someone, negative points for having to tap, double negative points for tapping to a girl. (“Points” can be redeemed for belts, stripes, or a pack of really cool stickers.) And losing to a girl, even in class, immediately means you won’t get your next belt:

hillarywins

(Just sayin’, I bet a guy wrote that caption. Never mind that Hillary is amazing and awesome and just got her black belt in 4 years and has won lots of high-level tournaments, even placing 3rd at Abu Dhabi. Never mind that she’s actually really really good at jiu-jitsu. The implication is still that losing to a girl means you suck at jiu-jitsu so bad that you’ll never get your next belt.)

If you do have to roll with them, defense is your best option. I find that some boys go psycho-nutso if I get anywhere near a sweep, much less an actual submission. So I rarely try anything that might be misconstrued as offense. (I do try every once in a while just to confirm that he’s still an idiot; if “yes,” then back to defense.) And usually, I’m defending against injury more than against any real submission threat. Defense good. Injury bad.

Also, as much as it stinks to have to tap to a not-real-submission-just-some-dude-squeezing-the-crap-outta-me, often you’ll have to. Or when they just grab a limb and jerk you in to a position or pick you up and flip you over. Other guys can just pull away, but often it’s a strong enough grip or pressure that it’s hard to break. It’s so frustrating and so annoying (especially when they smirk afterward and are proud of themselves. Grr.). Maybe one day I’ll learn the secret Houdini method for getting out.

But as it takes them longer and longer to arm-wrestle their way through a submission attempt, take it as a victory for your defense and technique. When they have to outweigh, overpower, and overwhelm you and still fight hard for five minutes to catch something, they aren’t improving their jiu-jitsu, while you’re proving the validity of yours.

As you get better, you’ll probably find yourself thinking, “Well, I should ought to be able to handle that newbie or that white belt by now.” (I do it all the time. Even my guys hint at it sometimes.) However, such a course generally has “Disaster” written all over it. He looks safe now, rolling with a bigger blue belt guy, but once he sits across from a smaller female partner, the inner beast generally awakens. It’s happened to me several times, and every time I’ve found myself fending off injuries and/or trying not to panic. I don’t necessarily like playing it safe, either, but I don’t really want to be hurt, either.

That said, I do think it’s a good idea to expand the range of who you will roll with and to work with guys who give you lots of trouble. (There’s a big difference between a guy who gives you fits with his good technique or speed or pressure and a guy who seems as if he’ll throw you across the mat if you get a good grip. Roll with that first group. Be careful with that second group.) Just do it carefully and when someone is there to keep an eye on your roll. If I have to roll with a guy I’m wary of, I’ll often grab part of the mat nearest to where the instructors are or next to a pair of advanced belts so I know they’re nearby and read to help if I need it.

Women’s Intuition

Ladies: In the previous section, I talked more about the logical reasons not to work with a particular guy: he’s spazzy, he cranks everything, he’s reckless with his partners, he outweighs you by 100lbs, he’s new, etc. But sometimes, you’ll just feel as if you shouldn’t work with a particular guy. You might not be able to explain the reasons, but you just know that you should stay away. And it might even be someone you’d normally work with, and it might be just for a single night. Please trust your intuition. If you really feel strongly that you should not work with a particular guy, even if everyone assures you he’s “safe,” trust your instincts. See Aparna’s story in the comments.

Instructors & Training Partners: We’re not looking for a free ride or an excuse. We ladies who stick with BJJ are tough chicks who are here to learn and to challenge ourselves. That said, there may be nights when we really feel strongly about not working with a particular person. Please create a training environment where we are able to act on our own judgment about who we train with.

Musing on Strength and Size

It seems to me that when guys say, “Don’t use strength,” they’re really saying, “Don’t add more force/effort than your normal grip/force/effort/strength.” And yet their “not strength” is generally stronger than my best grip/force/strength. When they hold me down “without strength” but using proper positioning and weight distribution, I cannot seem to counter this. (And sometimes, even when they’re not in position or are off-balance. I can see it, I can feel… I cannot do anything about it. Gah.) Whereas, when I put my entire weight on them, I get told to take my weight off my hands, feet, or whatever they think is still in contact with the ground, so I wave said appendage at them until they realize this is all my weight.

These size differences work the other way, too. Just recently in class, one of the guys was saying I’m too hard to triangle because my shoulders and neck are so much smaller, so he doesn’t even try to work to find them. On the other hand, if he sprawls, I can’t reach his legs — while if I sprawl, it’s like my legs never left and he can grab and sweep me right over.

And then you get to roll with a black or brown belt, and it seems as if he isn’t even touching you, and yet you keep falling in to sweeps and submissions. That to me is “no strength.” That is how I want to feel to my opponents one day.

Most guys initially get by on less technique and more natural attributes than we girls can. For example, I cannot muscle through a scissor sweep because my legs aren’t strong enough; I must get him stretched forward and off-balance, or he’s not moving. On the other hand, I can be turtled down on his legs and can even block the knee-through (that is, my entire base is back and down, entirely out of position for this sweep, and his fulcrum leg isn’t even in the right place), and he can just pitch me over with his legs. In his mind, he’s just completed a successful scissor sweep because it felt “easy” and as if he were using “no strength,” when really it’s only because he’s much stronger and I’m much lighter, which allows the improper technique to work.

I think a lot of times this gets labeled as “girls have better technique than guys”; really, it’s that a girl (especially at a lower level) is more likely to rely on technique than an equivalent guy because he hasn’t yet figured out that he’s doing it all wrong. (It works, he thinks; therefore, in his mind he’s doing it right.) It’s not that girls are better able to perform techniques than guys, but rather that girls are more likely to be doing the technique fully instead of taking strength shortcuts. Not because we’re “technically superior” by virtue of being female, but rather that in order for the technique to work, we have to hit every little detail almost exactly right.



Being a “Girl”

You probably aren’t a wimpy, hysterical, weak, whiny, sissy girl, or you wouldn’t have signed up to continue the abuse fun past the first night. However, sometimes, the stress and frustration and anger builds up and, being female, our body’s first reaction is usually to cry. Guys seem to punch things. Sometimes other people. Or walls. (What’d that poor wall ever do to you?)

But, it does happen, and to probably all of us at one point. Hopefully less as you train longer (at least I hope so, though since getting my blue belt I seem to be crying more rather than less, generally in frustration now that my training partners seem to be beating on me more. Maybe after I’ve cried through every permutation, it’ll ease up.). So you’re not unusual or weird or wimpy because you broke down on the mat. I’ve cried at the end of class just from being exhausted; my body was too tired to do anything else.

Do try to figure out what set you off, though. Someone hit you? Frustrated that you’ve shrimped until you’ve grown gills, and you still can’t get out from under this dude? Stress from outside of class? I find that as I identify what caused me to break down and analyze it once I’m calm that I’m more prepared for the next time the same situation comes up. But then the situations try to be sneaky and disguise themselves…

And of course when you do have to cry, you’re trying hard not to do it in front of the guys. It’s embarrassing, for one, and for another, you know that guys have no clue what to do when you start crying. Running to the women’s bathroom or locker room, if such are available, and locking yourself in seems to be the traditional behavior. But, again, you already knew that.

Funny — I’m trying to write about how to deal with/avoid crying on the mat, and all I can seem to say is, “Yeah, it’s gonna happen. And since you’re a girl, you already knew that. So what?” Maybe, then, this section is more for coaches and training partners. So, coaches and training partners, listen up:

We know you’d appreciate us not crying on the mat. We’d appreciate us not doing it, too; trust us, we’re as horrified by it as you are. So please cut us some slack and give us a chance to pull ourselves together; we’re trying our best.



Failing and Frustration

See also: BJJ – a year on

You will fail more times than you will succeed in jiu-jitsu. That’s normal. And being smaller and/or weaker than your training partners, you’ll probably fail a lot more.

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
— Michael Jordan

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.
— Thomas Edison

You will hear many times in your jiu-jitsu training that your technique & timing have to be more perfect than the guys’ in order to work. This is true. However, until your technique & timing are perfect, most things will hardly work, if at all. This can be very frustrating to deal with, especially when the guys get by with imperfect technique and large doses of strength and speed. You’ll seem to be getting nowhere, and they’ll seem to be budding world champions. You’ll find yourself working on every little detail while feeling the guys muscle past and physically demolish your defenses. It may even seem to other people — and yourself — that you aren’t trying hard enough or that there’s something wrong with you.

Yes, you do need to work on your technique and your timing. You may need to drill more reps and more times than the guys do to get it down just right and to square away all the details. (And then it still may not work in live rolling, because they still know how to counter it! Ack! *cue beating head against wall*) I don’t have any answer for this right now, of how to work through it or how to find any hint of progress, since I’m smack dab in the middle of myself right now.

Breathe. Go train with girls. Remind yourself that your defense is becoming stellar.

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

~Theodore Roosevelt



Talking to Your Instructor

I would love to be able to come in, keep my head down, be one of the guys, work hard and not have to deal with the fact that the training & training environment are not really set up to work for women. And yet, they often aren’t. (One example that springs to mind: we’ve done bag hangs on the heavy bags before. I cannot reach around said bags because they’re too big. And yet I’ll be penalized [though not as much as the guys, since there's a structural reason for me failing] for not being about to stay on. Sheesh, even finding small enough gis, rash guards, and board shorts is a problem! When even the gear doesn’t seem made for you…)

I probably don’t (well, okay, I don’t at all) speak up about problems I’m having that seem to spring from gender differences because I don’t want to be seen as a wimpy little girl. I give 100% of what I’ve got, but the guys are still faster, smoother, can reach further, can do more, are stronger, last longer, can take more pressure, etc etc. I don’t want the standard lowered, either overall or preferentially for me, because I will aim for the standard as set. I suppose I’d just appreciate some acknowledgment that what is easily attainable by the guys is often at the extreme limits of my physical abilities and may be harder and/or take longer for me to complete. But I will get there.

Instructors who aren’t small females may have a difficult time wondering why a small female is having (seemingly) so much trouble with the warmup, the rolling, the drilling, the conditioning. I think sometimes they see us as just smaller guys. Maybe they think that just a little more motivation will set us straight, or that we’re somehow being lazy/not trying hard enough.

(And some of this could just be totally me. Could be because I’m an office worker the majority of the week. I get up, go to work, sit on my butt in front of a computer, go to class, go to sleep. Repeat. While I do want to compete and be competitive, I also am not devoting my life to training. Jiu-jitsu is a hobby to me; I want to be good at it, but it isn’t my life. Well, except for the fact that I’m completely addicted and spend nearly every free moment reading or studying jiu-jitsu. Other than that, just a little hobby…)

This is something I’m still struggling with. Are there things that I can’t do the same way as the guys because of the size/strength difference? Is there ever a time when I should say something? Is there ever a way to tell an instructor that what he’s asking of me is too much? Is it really too much, or am I secretly really a whiny little girl? Does my instructor understand more than I give him credit for and is just pushing me to be better, or is he really oblivious to the problems I’m having with this?

(I suppose I’m thinking of something like Crossfit. There’s the WOD… and then there’s the scaled-down WOD or bodyweight % that you use if you can’t lift 200+ lbs over your head. Crossfit acknowledges that a women can lift a whole lotta iron, and yet also takes in to account that she can’t lift as much as a man. Should women not do Crossfit because they can’t lift the man’s load? No, of course not! The WOD can be scaled down. If it’s “clean 125% of your bodyweight,” the guy might lift 200+ and the women, 100+. I don’t know. I’m grouchy about this right now.)

I did talk to my instructor at one point about some of the problems I’m having. I said I was frustrated. He said he was frustrated, too — because he says he knows what I’m capable of but so often I don’t seem to be measuring up to it during class. Oh. So we talked about the scary spazzy guys, and he said he didn’t realize I was scared of them. So he really didn’t know I was having a specific problem with these guys, which is why I was incapable of doing what he wanted, and we had both ended up frustrated with each other. Now that he knows they scare me with their freak-outs, he said he’ll pay more attention to who rolls with me.



On Belts

See also: Jen Flannery’s Musings on Being a New Blue

Jiu-jitsu isn’t about belts and who taps whom. I think girls figure this out more quickly. Because if getting a belt depended on me either tapping out the guys at the belt above me or even tapping out all the guys at my own belt, then I’d be a white belt forever. Most days, if getting a belt depended on my even being able to sweep a guy or defend for a whole round, I’d be sunk. Not that I don’t still have a competitive streak — I do, and I want to do well, who cares if they’re all boys? — but I realized very early that it would be a long time, if ever, that I could measure progress by taps. I also realized that having a new belt would only make me an accessible target.

Most boys seem to take a little longer to catch on. They’ll spend longer keeping track of points and how long everyone’s been training (e.g., “So-and-so’s been training 2 weeks longer than me. That’s why he’s so much better.”) and predicting when they’ll get their blue belt. They seem to start “targeting” people, either guys who are newer or aren’t as good (to get as many taps as possible) or guys they perceive as being higher in the hierarchy (to move up in the “standings”). Targeting also seems to increase when a round of promotions goes through and these guys weren’t included.

About a month before I got my blue belt, there were several white belt guys — most who were very close themselves to their blue — who would chill and give me a good roll. As soon as I got my blue belt (before them), however, they changed how they roll and began to take every opportunity to crank and rip and jerk and overpower me. For the higher belts my promotion meant they could/should increase pressure and make me work harder (and, boy, have they ever! Thank you guys very much). For the white belts who didn’t get promoted, it seemed to have given them a blue belt target who they could beat to get “points” toward their blue belt…. Personally, I think if they had just chilled and rolled with me as before, showing off their technique (which is generally very solid but goes to crap when they get in a hurry), that they would have been promoted sooner rather than later. But instead, they focused on “points” and “beating” a blue belt.

Within a few months, though, the guys in this group who were close to their blue did get it. And guess what? 90% of the time now, they roll with me like a sane person again.

So belts are great, and they mean you’ve progressed. They also mean that guys will view you as a stepping stone and as a means of showing the instructor that they can beat a higher belt and so should get one, too. Blue, purple, girl/guy, 100-lb difference, age difference, crank/smother — doesn’t matter. All they see is the color of the belt, and bonus points for making you tap in any way possible.

(See the Comments for notes from Hillary (purple then, now black), Elyse (purple), and Dolph (purple). The “get the new belt” goes on and on.)

It still seems illogical to me — first I’m no threat because I’m the same belt as them and a girl so who cares if they tap me out, so they’ll just work positions and details; but then I get the next belt and suddenly I’m a threat and a legitimate proving-your-worth tap. *shakes head*

To instructors: please remember that your female students — especially if you only have one! — still have to roll with the boys every day. It’s great that she has good technique and that she does well against other girls, but she trains with the boys, and you’re probably promoting her over some of them. When you do promote her, make sure she’s ready to handle them beating on her to “prove” themselves. And please watch out for her in those first few months after a promotion.



Aggressiveness, Intensity, Intent

Ha. Like I’m one to talk… Maybe it’s just the words that are bothering me. Silly English major, having denotation and connotation dancing in her head.

When my coach tells me to be more aggressive, I don’t like hearing that. Aggressiveness, to me, is what the guys generally have too much of — pushing, pulling, ripping, pulling, fighting tooth-and-nail to win at all costs with no thought to your partner. Tournament speed. And for some reason I feel very small and vulnerable when he says that and often immediately start thinking defense, defense, defense. Perhaps my experience with the guys is that, when he says that to me, they become more aggressive. It seems that they interpret the coach telling me to be more aggressive as a sign that I will shortly be challenging and threatening them, so they go on the attack first.

I also seem to see this when my coach or an instructor says, “Good!” after I did something, as if by my earning a “good!” rating that my partner then automatically earns a “bad” rating. That is, if I did it right, they must have done it wrong. Usually, though, it was just that my “right” was slightly better or more appropriate than their “right.” And yet they go nuts. This ties back in to them going Captain Caveman/Incredible Hulk when I get near a sweep or (heaven forbid) a submission. This is what I think of when I hear “be more aggressive.”

I suppose I reason that the best thing to do against aggression is to not provoke it: slow down, use small movements, don’t give any reason to think you’re threatening. Being more aggressive myself, however, means that they in turn will be more aggressive, and they can always reach a higher level than I can. (It always reminds me Dragonball Z, where the characters fight at one power level for a while, then the one who’s losing “powers up” a level and then wins until someone else powers up to top him, and on and on. My top level of aggression is much, much lower than theirs, and they power up exponentially compared to me.)

Perhaps I should just try to hear something else when my coach says “aggression.” (Why can’t we just use a different word?) Intensity, maybe, or intent. Intensity means to me that I have a goal that I’m focused on and that everything I do is done with my whole effort behind it. Or Intent or Assertive — I will get off the bottom. I will finish this sweep. What would be another good word?

Maybe it’s just me and my dictionary and/or introvert baggage, or maybe girls do hear words differently than guys. “Aggressive” to me is not a motivating word; “assertive,” however, is. Hmm… what do you think?



Response = Wow! :o

When I started writing this page/essay, it was mostly as a personal backlash against some of the not-so-great experiences I’ve had in class recently. And I was half-way thinking that maybe a few girls would find it helpful but that others would say I was over-reacting, it’s not really like that, who are you to be saying all this, and that most other people would ignore it. And yet I woke up to tons of positive comments, and more throughout the day. Whoa. (Once again, a little affirmation for me that I’m not a complete abnormality.) So, basically, I was writing this to tell other girls that they aren’t freaks if they’re experiencing certain things in class, all the while feeling like a bit of a freak myself for writing it and thinking no one will believe me, and then you all affirmed that it’s true. Funny how that works out. :P

(Of course, if your experiences as a female don’t match what’s presented here, I’d love to hear about those, too. Different experiences are important to hear about. [I wonder what it's like to have the white belt boys walk in abject terror of you. Anybody?] So, don’t feel obligated to just post “yay” comments.)

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69 responses to “Women: Training

  1. [...] had some free time at work (!) the last few days and so gave a piece of my mind a new home. Usual ramblings, this time on being a woman and training. Comments, insights, violent [...]

    • Sherry says:

      I just found this page and I love your insight. So many things I’ve been thinking but not necessarily saying. I’ve only started BJJ a couple months ago, and Im 46 years old but loving it! Am I the only old lady freak doing this? Thanks for your “ramblings” – keep them coming!

  2. Great, great article. Loved it, and I agree with EVERYTHING. It happens at blue, and purple, from what I hear brown and black as well. It’s just a fact of life, sadly.

  3. Does it happen at purple? Yes, unfortunately, but you can see it coming sooner and hopefully communicate your concerns to whoever you’re sparring. Purples also have the authority to pick and chose their training partners as well as to switch partners if things go badly.

  4. (at least that’s the way it is at my school)

  5. Andrea says:

    Enjoyed reading this! So very true…

  6. leslie says:

    @georgette: Thanks!

    @Hillary: Thanks! Well, rats, I was hoping for some good news. :P

    @Elyse: I hope by purple I’ll have that option, too. Usually now, my coach matches us up; I know he wants to challenge me, but often I feel too overwhelmed.

    If there’s any advice or anything else any of you would like to add, I’d love to hear it. This is all just from my admittedly very small experience so far.

  7. pesh says:

    This is an awesome article! Let me say this, I am a “boy” and I would like think that I am not like the ones that you run into, but who knows, maybe sometimes I am. This article will be with me from NO ON as I roll with girls.
    I would like to think that I am attentive, sensitive, observant, etc. when it comes to how the girls that train with us. I mean, I am married, have a daughter, am a coach, but I am glad that you took the time to publish this. It gives me more insight into your experiences.
    Outside of the lessons I learned from you her, you did a GREAT job writing this ! I look forward to more and will share this with as many people as I can.

  8. leslie says:

    @Andrea: Thanks!

    @pesh: Thanks! I have found that married men — and moreso, fathers — are some of the BEST training partners for women. You guys seem to really understand that I’m not as physically strong but that I will work as hard as I can, and you make adjustments to let me work and let you work. You guys also seem to be watching out for me and taking care of me when you roll with me, so thanks for that. :)

    (Also, I totally read “attentive” as “attractive” first, and giggled.)

  9. Allie says:

    Love this site, Leslie! Thanks for putting this together!!

  10. Aparna says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for writing this…sometimes I just feel like a complete wimp when I’m about to (haven’t yet actually) cried, just out of frustration, but at least I know now I’m not alone and it’s just a natural thing. Everything you’ve said is completely true, and I know I’m really lucky to train at a gym where almost all (except the brand new) guys understand they need to roll differently with me.

    @leslie – so true! Especially the married men with daughters–they just want to see me succeed, and I love it.

  11. Allie says:

    I’m going to add another comment, at the risk of being a complete nerd. ;) This post really helped me. I’m still a newbie in this whole BJJ world, and recently I’ve been getting frustrated because of the very things you’re talking about in this post. But hearing that I am not an alien after all gives me motivation to keep working and to just relax. I’m not going to be able to tap all the guys in my belt class, but I can still improve my technique from class to class. Thanks again for posting this!!

  12. leslie says:

    @Allie: I’m glad it could help. (And here I was, half-afraid that everyone would say it was all just in my own head. Reaffirms to me even that I’m not a mutant.)

    @Aparna: Glad it could help you, too. I’m sure your guys will straighten out the newbies before too long, too.

  13. slideyfoot says:

    Another awesome piece of writing: please keep these articles coming! :D

    Definitely a lot in there that applies to small guys too, especially being picky with your training partners (in fact, I should probably link this on the FAQ entry for small guys). I’m always careful who I roll with, generally watching somebody first to gauge their level of control.

    I also very much sympathise with what you said in the last section. I don’t like the connotations of ‘aggression’ either, as to me that conjures up images of grim faces and popping veins, going all out to ‘win’ no matter who gets hurt in the process.

    I don’t want to roll like that. I want to develop fluid motion, low energy output, and a smile on my face while I explore technique. I want to live up to what Saulo Ribeiro says in Jiu Jitsu Revolution: “You have to think that your partner, the guy that you’re training [with], has to be your best friend.” That doesn’t fit my idea of ‘aggression’.

    As ever it comes down to semantics, but the elevation of ‘aggression’ to some kind of virtue seems to lean towards a more macho atmosphere, and goes against the prevailing ethos that ego has no place on the mat.

    So yeah, I prefer ‘intent’, although in the case of my rolling style, ‘terrified squirrel’ is probably a more accurate description. ;)

  14. Erik says:

    Hey Leslie,
    Thanks for the blog and the links to other women’s BJJ blogs. My girlfriend became interested over the summer and now trains at an MMA gym by her college in Washington. Because of this, I feel a very invested interest in women’s grappling.

    I really don’t ever want to be one of the guys who crushes the girls in class. Yet, I also don’t want to be soft on them or unrealistic. It’s hard for a guy who wants to give the girls a good roll – the expectations for us aren’t totally clear.

    I’m planning on teaching Jiu Jitsu after I graduate this March, and I hope to be able to teach the girls as well as I am able to teach the boys. Hopefully, I can gain some insight from blogs like this.
    Erik

  15. leslie says:

    @slidey: Thanks! (This is what happens when I hit a lull at work — I write more!) And this: I want to develop fluid motion, low energy output, and a smile on my face while I explore technique. That’s exactly what I want, too.

    And LOL at the “terrified squirrel.”

    @Erik: I agree, I think it is harder on the guys. For me at least, I want a roll where I can see that I’ll eventually be able to do what you’re doing, where I think, “I can’t wait until I can roll like him!”

  16. Triin says:

    Great job! The guys who hurt girls at our academy get their a…s handed to them for weeks by higher ranks. Mat police :)

  17. Tom D says:

    You said this ” Jiu-jitsu is a hobby to me; I want to be good at it, but it isn’t my life.)”

    I think your pants are on fire.

    I actually dont think Jits can be a hobby, its too hard to be a hobby, takes far too much time to be a hobby and its obvious from your writing that you lurve Jits even if it treats you badly from time to time. Its okay to admit that Jits is more than a hobby to you.
    :)

  18. slideyfoot says:

    Heh – no, I think its a fair description. There is hobby, and then there is serious. Now, if Georgette or Oli said that, I might be incredulous, given that they both train several hours a day. ;p

  19. Jen says:

    Wow, thanks for the shout outs. And I loved everything you said! Trust me, we all go through this stage. But I will admit, I haven’t felt it nearly as much after receiving my purple. Maybe that’s because my coach is my b/f and I’m one of the instructors at the gym. I’m not sure. Also, now I get asked who I want to roll with, not told who to roll with (at least most of the time).

    A lot of this change is a direct result from talking about my goals and desires in training with my coach and telling him who I prefer to roll with and why. As long as he thinks my reasoning is sound, he goes along with it.

    All coaches should take responsibility over how their students treat each other. Ryan will yell at, then proceed to beat the crap out of anyone who roughs up any of our girls – or any of the smaller guys for that matter. Once the newer students see/feel the punishment in store, they shape up very quickly, lol!

  20. Erik says:

    @leslie

    Oh, it’s definitely not harder on the guys. Like you’ve highlighted in your blog, girls have it toughest because they are the minority in every bjj school and already at a disadvantage because they are smaller by default.

    It’s definitely different for each guy who rolls with girls – there are the guys that go all out and go too hard and then there are the guys who go too soft and are being unrealistic. I’m just trying to figure out what a guy needs to do to give a good roll when going with a girl who is going to be smaller than him.

  21. leslie says:

    @Triin: Yes, they do, and while I relish that (probably more than I should), I still have to deal with the frustration — and sometimes fear — of rolling with those guys first.

    @Tom: LOL. Okay, fine, I’m an addict. :P Fine, then: hobby only in the sense that I’ll never make any money from it and will probably never be good enough to compete with the big girls.

    @slidey: And then there are addicts…

    @Jen: Thanks for those posts. They’ve helped me a lot, especially the one about protecting yourself; keeps me in check some nights.

    Hehe, I would imagine that having your BF as the instructor would definitely deter a lot of ego-driven guys. As would being an instructor yourself since they get to see you as an authority figure in the gym.

    You’re right — talking to my coach is something I really need to do more often. I had one talk with him today, and we understand what the other wants from us a lot better. Definitely need to do that more often.

    @Erik: Yeah, I meant that it’s harder on the guys to figure out how to work with the girl — how hard to go, where to put your hands, how much pressure. It’s relatively easy for girls — just go after him. :D

  22. Amy Robinson says:

    Thank you! I really enjoyed reading this!

    To all the guys, I know there is a fine line when rolling with a girl. You don’t want to go “too hard” or go “too easy”. My suggestion is to start out easy, get a feel for how she rolls. If she is newer at jiu-jitsu, maybe work positions and don’t even go for a submission. ( I know when I started out, I got arm bared 50 times a day and it was discouraging.) Or if you notice something that may help her, take this time while rolling to teach her.

    On the flip side, if you roll against a girl who could possibly tap you out, then go ahead, step it up. If you get a submission GREAT but don’t rip one of our limbs off. It is not a competition.

    I look up to and have great respect for the guys who have control over there ability. I look at the “aggressive” and “spazzy” guys as not reaching that mental level in Jiu-Jitsu.

    There is a difference between going easy, rolling and sparring. You have to find that yourself.

  23. leslie says:

    @Amy: Thanks for the advice for the guys. :)

  24. Most of what you have is true.. i’m 4’10.5 and i was 95lbs when i started JJ! However… being in it JJ and wrestling for 8 years all together size isn’t an excuse anymore…

    I know about fighting injury rather then threat and submission but you know what… sometimes (most times) we ladies have to grow a pair.. stop just saying on the defense and actually grapple… I find when a guy is getting really aggressive I’ve learned to be patient and fight back, I actually try submissions. Injury is going to happen weather or not your with a guy or an aggressive girl? its JJ its a contact sport where people make other people tap… I find even women… are aggressive especially if they are territorial. The guys I train with know i’m not going to sit back and take it, i’m going to fight back! AND they tell the new guys.. if they are shying away that I wil choke them out, if they are going to hard they say nothing.. so that I WILL catch them.

    I wasn’t happy with always being the smallest so I found a trainer at a crossfit gym and he made me bigger, faster, stronger… and SIZE isn’t an excuse for me anymore, if they are bigger I work on staying on top, getting out of things, if i can match them i work on everything.

    I think that if guys are shying away, powering through things, using all their weight they aren’t doing them self a favor (even when they go with lighter guys)… YOu actually LEARN MORE from rolling with someone smaller then someone bigger, because yOUR GAME has to be that much tighter.. and with me ROLLING with bigger dudes and even chicks it helps me be a monster with someone my own size.

    yeah when you first start your going to feel like nothing works.. but that in itself DROVE me to be better.. it developed thick skin for me, i may have shed a tear out of anger and frustration but as i was shedding the tear i was picking myself up and driving myself for more.. to get better….

    “if you know what your worth go out and get what your worth but you have to be willing to take the hits”

    My trainer at Cutting Edge does not dim down anything for me… he finds away to make it fit my body type… i know some men that can’tdo somethigns becuase weather your a guy or a girl your not a robot… everyone is programmed differently and work differently and have their strengths and weaknesses… If i can’t do something i figure out how to do it… regardless of my size… sometimes i take a few comments from the guys i train with but we are tight like that.. we support each other and bust each others balls. IF your instructor can’t figure out why YOUR struggling MAYBE they should really consider taking some kind of coaching cert. Because they should realize no one is the same… everyone is different and does things differently.

    I remember this one day in training they were carrying the heavy bags and i couldn’t reach around it.. BUT i found away to do it and they couldn’t believe it.. and i refuse to quit.. I wasn’t using my little arms, and legs, and body as an excuse… where there is a WILL there is a away!

    My trainers (all of them) know what i can do and we work on what i can’t do… I know there will never be a room full of girls to train with nor will i ever train with a women coach… I suck it up.. grow a pair and just do my thing… and if i need to talk or ask for help I do.. because I bet everyone in that room started in the same shoes I was in… ITS what they are there for.. BUT i’m pretty lucky.. there is quite a bond a family like bod if you will at the jj gym I train at… and i think thats been one of the best things that could have ever happened to me.. and its really helped me grow as a person and as a jj person!

    i thought what you wrote was true.. but i think between the lines is a bit of a wimpy girl… … but i think the longer you do it the bigger your balls wil eventually grow! HAHA!

    check out my training log at
    ladyjag.wordpress.com

    I usually update it when i can i have training videos, heavy lifting, i add a lot about myself, umm my training, crossfit etc… I also do mma reporting part time my training log was just to help me write a lot better and let people i talk to get to know me for who i am.. i think if your writing this blog you might find mine a bit interesting as well…

    christina sears

    http://ladyjag.wordpress.com

    searstina@hotmail.com

  25. leslie says:

    @Christina: Thanks for adding your perspective.

  26. dolph says:

    Great post! Thanks for writing this. . . .and please keep writing.

    When I started at my school, there were a couple of white belt girls who one or two of the big guys unnecessarily roughed up. The head instructor at the time starting saying, “if the girl cries, the guy dies”. The guys calmed down a lot after that.

    As a guy who’s under 120 pounds, I totally get where you’re coming from. I recently got promoted to purple, and about a quarter of our big white- and blue-belts came after me like I was a terrorist. I remember thinking, “Dude, you’ve got almost 100 pounds on me . . . .even if you get me to tap with a neck crank are you going to go tell your friends about tapping out a 118 pound almost 40 year old purple belt? They’ll laugh their asses off.”

    Having said that, my current school has a two or three guys within 10 or 15 pounds of me and a few girls who are about my size. All three of the girls have placed in international tournaments, and two of them has submitted me like a gazillion times. Their jiu jitsu is a lot better than mine, and I learn a lot from them.

  27. Joao Crus says:

    Great article!
    I enjoyed reading it!

  28. leslie says:

    @Dolph: LOL, I like that rule!

    Ah, but at that moment, you’re not the smaller and older guy, you’re just a purple belt. They’re not trying to tap you out; they’re trying to tap out your belt. (Hey, insight! I should write that down!)

    @Joao: Thanks!

  29. olga_tuxa says:

    you really said it all… it is not easy to be a girl in a mans world hehehe
    sometimes guys dont understand how we feell and even when we try hard to let them know that it is not easy for us, they still think we are being too girly… maybe this is true!!!

    but i believe that girls who like this kind of sport, dont give up easy and they work hard..

    I started training bjj last year and it became an addiction… i love it and i have trained more with boys than girls. for a long time, i was the only one there. now there are more girls and i can really feel the difference hehe
    i dont feel as frustrated as i used to and i started to believe that i could also atack and not only defend myself…

    keep on writing this blog… for me its great to know that i am not alone hahaha

  30. leslie says:

    (Ack, my apologies — I thought I’d responded to this earlier!)

    @olga: I’m glad what I said could help, and I’m glad you’re getting to train with more girls now. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes to have similarly-sized and -strengthed training partners!

  31. Aparna says:

    Well, here’s an update: I was training at a different school than I normally do since I’m home for a few weeks on winter break, and guess what? Spazzy new white belt broke my radius! It was completely a freak accident, but I’m positive it wouldn’t have happened with a blue belt or higher. And just that day I was talking to one of the blues about how I sometimes loathe training with n00bz.

    Bottom line: Gals, DON’Y BE AFRAID TO JUST SAY NO!! I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with this guy, and I should have said no, but I didn’t. I had some close calls before, but I figured I would be ok…yeah, notsomuch. Now I’m out of commission for at least two months, with no one to blame but myself.

  32. leslie says:

    @Aparna: Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry that happened to you, that’s terrible! Get well soon.

    Ladies: please trust your intuition. I know we don’t want to be thought of as scaredy cats or as being wimpy or whatever (I know I sure don’t, and I often risk more than I’m comfortable), but we also need to learn to distinguish when our intuition is warning us. Sometimes, we need to say, “No, thank you.”

    Instructors & training partners: we’re not looking for easy rides or cop-outs. But they call it “women’s intuition” for a reason. Sometimes we can’t explain it, but we know we shouldn’t work with someone.

  33. Megan says:

    You’ve really got me appreciating the guys at my gym. Maybe it’s because I don’t pose a threat yet, but the very worst I’ve experienced is some very rough rolls with submissions applied slowly. Even so, my instructor was very careful to check with me on how I felt afterward and checked my reaction to new guys later on. Part of this I think is because there are multiple women that have gone before me.

    I do worry though, that once I’m no longer a while belt, that because of my size (6′, 200lbs), I could run into some issues.

  34. cjmajor says:

    Oh my gosh I looove this blog. I cannot thank you enough. As much as I love my boys…its nice to know I’m not alone. I’ve felt all of these things and had no one to understand them. My roommates dont do jiu jitsu so they don’t really get my frustrations. Just wanted to say thanks again! If you are ever in Charlotte, NC hit me up, I’d love to roll!

  35. leslie says:

    @Megan: (So sorry I didn’t reply earlier. I probably “replied” in my head and just never wrote it down!)

    It probably does help to have instructors and classmates who are used to having females in class. We have some girls starting now, and I’m able to direct them to which boys they should roll with and which they should avoid. My instructors have also noticed which ones I avoid, and they generally keep them away from the girls, too.

    @cjmajor: Glad it could help. :)

    Will do. Charlotte’s not that far from Blacksburg. Also, there’s lots of women’s stuff that goes on in Richmond; if you ever need a carpool up there, let me know.

  36. cjmajor says:

    Sounds good! I’d love to go up to Richmond. I have family up there so it wouldn’t be a problem. Question for you: there is a guy at my gym that I just absolutely cannot stand. I have never disliked a human so much in my life. He tells me that I suck, I don’t know what I’m talking about and that I’m going to be a terrible cop. Things like that. He’s disrespectful to alot of people, saying things like “I’m gonna throw a flying triangle on you!” to the INSTRUCTOR! (Wtf?!) He makes things up like “Oh yeah my friend went straight from a white belt to a purple in less than a year.” YEahhh ok. My problem is: I can’t roll with this guy without wanting to hurt him. I really want to have one of my boys destroy him, is that wrong? What should I do?

  37. Aparna says:

    cjmajor: First of all, do NOT roll with this guy. It’s like asking for an injury. Secondly, just avoid him. At this point, it’s up to your instructors to kick him out/tell him in no uncertain terms that he is NOT welcome to train with them any more. You can make your concerns known to your instructors that you feel completely uncomfortable with this guy, but he just needs to get out of there. Guys like that are completely toxic.

  38. cjmajor says:

    @Aparna, you’re 100% right on him being toxic. He’s broken a guys nose before via sloppy jiu jitsu. He’s smashed my back before by putting all his weight in on a submission. He cranks arm bars wayyy too fast. The class is on the small side so he will be difficult to avoid (and he is in my MMA class too) I’ve already had to go to the instructor once about a creepy guy (and he handled that very well. Me and him are the only ones that know that I won’t roll with Creeper.) So I’m afraid of looking like a wimp/whiner. You know?

  39. leslie says:

    @cjmajor: Bwahaha, oh, I know this feeling, and I’ve named it the Gorgon. Though it sounds like you’re at one level past, which is the Harpies (ready to rend him limb from limb).

    We have one guy who says dumb stuff like that, and who I also cannot stand to be around. (What, some roster that has to be filled at every school? Stinky Guy, Stupid Guy, Sweat-dripping Guy. How do we all end up with that guy?) Some days I think I’m the only one annoyed and wanting to rip his head off, but then the other guys will echo my thoughts. If he’s that irksome to you, then he’s probably also getting on their nerves, too. They’re just not saying anything yet.

    If I were you, I’d try to avoid rolling with him as much as possible simply because, in my experience, being angry at someone while rolling/sparring leads to someone (usually me) getting injured. Leave him to the guys to smash, even though they’re probably not as tired of him yet — right now he’s still the Funny Guy Who Says Stupid Stuff.

    Also, if you can leave the area without being too obvious when he comes around, do so, or at least make sure other guys are around to hear. Call him out for being rude and disrespectful in front of the other guys, if you’re that kind of person, to let both him and them know that you’re not cool with this kind of talk.

    Our annoying guy has been around for a little over a year. I thought he needed to be mashed then and would glance over often to see if he was being, but the boys were nice to him and even tried to include him. However, he’s managed to become even more annoying, not only saying stupid stuff but also doing stupid stuff, like injuring people. It’s taken the boys a little while to voice their own annoyance with him and to say they look forward to him coming so they can smash him, but they’re there now.

    Justice might be slow on the mats, but it comes.

  40. Elissa says:

    I had my first Freakout yesterday! I’ve been training for about 2 months and got scared once before, almost to tears, but nothing like my first fight with a woman.

    I now realize that all the men i’ve ever fought were… “being nice to me.” Including my two older brothers who tried to make me tough with dead arms, five-finger marks and rope burns. This statement holds true, even when being pinned by a 300 lb guy (i’m 5′ 1″, 102).

    I’ve been training Gi, and this was also my first real no-Gi grapple aside from learning a move or two from my boyfriend and his Jiu-Jitsu buddies before I started training.

    My boyfriend has been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for six years, and is a purple belt. He’s six-foot, 190 with huge knuckles that make me gasp every time his hand reaches into my collar to show me a choke. I always know, though, that when I train with him, I’ll be defending against technique and It’s at least familiar. He always told me that wild white belts can be the most dangerous, and I’ve seen it with the guys a little bit, when they do silly things like rush to grab my legs where it’s a little uncomfortable, but i know they can’t really hurt me. This woman last night (who I know and like) is a lot stronger than me, and I really felt like I could get hurt. At one point, I had to tap because her legs were squeezing around my stomach so tight I thought my spleen might rupture. The whole fight was intense like that and I definitely used all of my survival techniques, staying fairly calm. It wasn’t until the last ten seconds of the second 4-minute match, where all of a sudden, she twisted my whole body and I heard my spine go ‘crack-crack-crack-crack.’ The coach called “TIME” and then began the freak-out. I held it back with just one little tear during the end of class ritual. I’m sure my face couldn’t hide it though. Trying to hold it back just made me hyperventilate a little, so, not that great of a tactic. My boyfriend, said, why don’t you go to the bathroom, but I couldn’t get it under control. I attempted to book it out of the building, but our coach was standing by the door and kinda chuckled and gave me an encouraging hug.

    I’ve been hearing that, “training Jiu-Jitsu is going to make me tough,” but this experience gave me a real glimpse into how this will happen. I’ll be back at the gym tomorrow, ready to keep testing my will power and discipline. I know now, more than ever, how important fine-tuning my technique and timing are, to go up against muscle and not find myself in such compromising positions. I’ll definitely be studying these Jiu-Jitsu books that my boyfriend has strewn about the house.

  41. Aparna says:

    @Elissa: I know the feeling exactly. I’m likewise a white belt, rather small (5’4″, 110 lb), and one of the few other girls in my class is maybe 5’5″, but 160-170. And, as my coach says, “short-bus strong”. She used to be a weightlifter. It seems like girls sometimes don’t get that just because they’re girls, doesn’t mean they can’t still out-weigh or massively out-muscle us smaller gals. You did good to stay calm, although considering the cracking spine, you might want to either try to stick with partners closer to your own size, or talk to her about how you felt like you were about to get injured, and until you improve your game if she could maybe back down on the strength just a little. Also, talk to your coach about it. After my little incident, my coaches were a lot more protective of me and only pair me up with experienced partners who are reasonably close to my size. Yes, you want to get tough, but don’t want to pop a rib in the process.

  42. Elissa says:

    haha. yes, I have also been facing “short bus strong.” The woman I usually fight now is 60-70 pounds heavier than I, and hardly taller. She is in law enforcement. I usually tap out to her from crushing weight on top of me. Even when she’s in my guard, she just stacks me and pushes all of her weight and strength on top of me, so close that I am constantly focused on creating the littlest bit of space and not getting squished. I’ve been starting to work on my open guard to see if I can find an attack or a way out. The more experienced guys usually tell me, “just do this.”… like it’s so easy, and meanwhile I’m starting to get frustrated under this girl every time. my boyfriend tells me that practicing not getting squished is still practice. that’s why my first fight training blog is called, “Pancakes Are Only For Breakfast.” http://bjjfighttraining.blogspot.com/2010/07/day-1.html

  43. leslie says:

    @Elissa: I’m so sorry, I think I zoned out there for a while and didn’t see your comment before. I have issues…

    I’m with Aparna — just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean she can’t hurt you, especially if she’s a wild white belt who outweighs and outstrengths you. Boys at least usually recognize that we’re smaller & weaker (though they still don’t want to lose to a girl). I’d talk to her about it.

    As for the crushing weight when she’s on top or in your guard, you should make it your goal to get on top of her. Armdrags, open guard passes, sweeps — keep her off of you! Don’t let her settle in. When you’re on your back, get your knees between the two of you. If she stacks you in guard, try releasing your guard and turning like you would for an armbar (and there are armbars there, too) to relieve the pressure.

    Lol, yes, my guys constantly say things like “Do this, it’s easy.” Pfft. Then I start to worry that maybe I’m broken because it’s not easy for me. *le sigh*

  44. Dev says:

    I just wanted to tell you that I – as a 180-lb male – reread this page every couple months. I recommend it for every single female that shows remote interest in jiu jitsu – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cut and pasted the link into emails.

    You’re awesome, Leslie. Keep it up.

  45. Leigh-Anna says:

    On Talking To Your Instructor: I’ve found that my relationship with my instructors is pertinent to my success and my continued enjoyment of the sport. A good instructor, whether male or female, will be there for you. Both of my instructors are male and I couldn’t have a better experience with them. They are open with me and allow me to be open with them as well. It’s a special relationship built and cultivated over, literally, sweat, blood, tears and, in my case, sushi. I’ve had problems with some of the males I train with being disrespectful, also. I think because female practitioners are so very few (I’m one of only two females at my gym), male coaches and instructors are unaware of our plight. They simply don’t understand. When I approached my coach about the issues I was facing his words to me were “I didn’t know it was like that.” Being the only female can be highly unnerving and an emotional experience and it isn’t one the men experience. Often times, us ladies are left to ourselves to attempt to work through or training issues and it’s quite discouraging. I consider myself very lucky, I have two coaches who are there for me for training and life outsider of bjj, that has made the difference for me. Without their continual support in ALL aspects of my life, I’m sad to say I believe I would have quit by now. Instructors should be conscious of the needs of both their make AND female students.

    I apologize for the length of this post. I’m no writer but this issue is very close to my heart, so I had to comment. I hope it made sense!

  46. Ashley says:

    I’m a little late in the game, but I recently started blogging and thoroughly exploring the BJJ blogosphere. slideyfoot pointed me to this post as I recently reflected on aggression. We share a similar sentiment on the word “aggression”!

    Reading all of these viewpoints that reflect on things that I have been struggling with makes me wish that I was blogging from the get-go!

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  47. leslie says:

    (Okay, I zoned out again on comments…)

    @Dev: Thanks. :)

    @Leigh-Anna: My coach has also said, “I didn’t know,” when I mention issues. I guess they won’t know if we don’t tell them! :P Thanks for commenting.

    @Ashley: Nah, the game keeps going — it’s never too late to join in. Thanks for stopping by, and welcome to blogging. :D

  48. Brenda says:

    Ahhh..thank you so much. I’ve been practicing BJJ for all of 4 months now. It is tremendously addictive. I’m fortunate to attend classes at a place that works to recruit women. In class I usually only get to work with women once and a while (work-at-home-mom) and you are so right. Those are the few times I actually feel like I’ve learned something. I still have a long way to go, but like you it’s a hobby I won’t give up. I’m older so nothing gives me more joy than surviving rounds with someone most literally half my age whether male or female.
    The only thing you missed or maybe I scanned past it was the gentlmen. The men that give you no challenge because the have nearly a foot on you plus 100lbs. It is by no means a fair match, but when you are the only one in class with me at 9am…please roll even if it isn’t full strength…I need some resistance.
    Thank you again for putting this out there. At least I know taking offense might actually be in my future.

  49. Misty says:

    I am so glad that I stumbled across this page. I recently had my first teary eyed melt down in class, and all I could do was think, “oh god, I can’t be that girl at the gym…” It is nice to know I am not the only one. That class was a tough class for me, and my last roll was a guy weighed *at least* 200 more pounds (and he was a total jerk about crushing me). I actually skipped my next class because I did not want to cry again. Thank you for letting me know I am not alone.

  50. Doesn't matter says:

    Oh man. I could not agree with this more. The other night me and my ex (who trains at the same dojo) were grappling on our free time, and whenever I start to gain the upper hand, or get him into a bad position, he completely loses it and gets really aggressive/out of control and ends up hurting me. It’s even worse when we’re in class because he doesn’t want to be shown up. But, the other night I really lost it on him. He couldn’t maintain a good grip on me and I kept slipping out of everything he was putting me into, and he got more and more visibly frustrated until he finally just snapped, took my arm, got ready to put me into an armbar, but ALSO grabbed my free hand – and then shot back and nearly tore my arm off. I yelped, obviously, and got angry and immediately asked him what the hell he was thinking. We quickly got over this and I warned him not to do it again because had he gone any faster/further back, he actually would have injured me and put me out of training until my arm healed. I couldn’t even tap because he was still holding my free hand at the time. When I told him this, he simply said “so tap with your foot”… But, let’s be fucking real here. When someone goes that fast, and that hard, with so much strength, you don’t have time to tap and even if I tapped with my foot he may not have even felt it or thought anything of it. I also had another instance where I was grappling with a man who was at least 250 pounds. I’m a mere 115, and I’m only 5’2″. I went to put him into a triangle, and the same frustration and panic showed on his face and all of the sudden he stacks me up, and drops/slams his entire body weight into me. I felt my neck crack and my neck still doesn’t feel right. Go figure, both were white belts. The unfortunate part is that my Sigung doesn’t believe it’s fair, or nice, to be picky with partners. If you’re asked to fight someone, you either fight or you pack your shit and go. So whenever I have to grapple with these types, I always get really frustrated and angry because I know that one of these days I will end up getting severely hurt because of it. Reading this article gave me some good advice though. And you’re totally right, do your best to defend and don’t become more aggressive because the more aggressive you become, the more aggressive they’ll be. And do not, I repeat, doooooooo not antagonize them before fighting, this just gives them all the more to prove and makes them feel threatened.

    • Aparna says:

      Hey there…have you talked to your instructor privately about your situation specifically, or is that just his general rule? Considering your size, he may be willing to make an exception. If not, are there any other gyms in your area? You really need to train in a place where you feel safe and not risk injury because someone else’s feelings might get hurt.

    • Deeanna Daniels says:

      @Doesn’t matter, I’m right there with you. My husband & I started bjj together about 5 months ago. We both love it, but he is 100+ lbs heavier than I am and extremely stronger than I am as well (of course). He doesn’t get that it is a lot different if he smashes me versus another guy smashing me. We have to go home together & he has to hear me whine & I don’t want to be a whiny girl. But, damn it hurts & I hate being hurt & out of commission due to him trying to be stronger than me or because he wants to make sure he’s getting his techniques down correctly. I think I am going to just talk to the instructor and see how it goes. I love this blog & all who have responded to it. I feel that I am not alone now. Thanks to all who put their comments on here.

    • leslie says:

      As great (as I hear) it is for couples to train together, if he’s that much bigger than you *and* you’re both white belts, it would probably be better for both of you to train with other people the majority of the time. I always try to drill and even to roll with guys who are as close to my size as I can get. (Sure, that’s still up to 60lbs, but it’s “close”.) Honestly, it’s not just for you; it’s better for him, too. We have a guy nicknamed “Monster” who is nearly a foot taller and 100 lbs heavier. He’s a nice guy and he really focuses on technique over strength, but we do not make a good training pair because both of us have to modify too much. He worries so much about not hurting me that he doesn’t get to really work on what he needs to because he’s very aware of the size difference.

  51. Suri says:

    Hey there, I really appreciate your thoughts. I was so excited to read everything that I go through and the thought of “not being the only one” out there, is just great. I’m from Malaysia and I am the only girl rolling with all white-belt boys. I get injured every time I roll with them! I almost cried on the mat, when my coach said, “She’s okay, she’s a tough girl and she’s my protege”. In my head, I was like, “WTF!” and felt the pressure to just take it all in and not to ever cry again because I don’t want to show that I am weak. Since then, I try to roll more calmly and really drill my techniques so that I will get injured less. I love BJJ and I respect everyone *especially all the girls* who love training it as well!

    • Brenda says:

      Wow, reading this makes me so thankful for the coaches where I train in Maryland. They never say, “Take it easy because she’s a woman.” Instead they tell the men to focus on technique not strength. They have even been informed that shluld theygo to muscle me down I will get a great workout, but they won’t. Unless the men are new, they are great to train with due to the diligence of our coaches.

  52. Rod says:

    Hi, my wife wants to start training bjj but has breast implants and is concerned about possible injury/rupture. Do any of you know women with implants who train and what protection she could wear, or does she even need to wear chest protection? Thanks.

  53. Vanessa says:

    Good article. I’ve been training almost 4 years now and have gone through all of that. Eventually you learn to adapt & relax no matter the situation. My live saver was actually Solo Riberio “Jiu-jitsu University”. The book is divided by belt levels. The survival section was a life saver. Once I got those rid bits down I had the confidence to go on the attack because I knew how to easily protect myself.

    Aggressive isn’t the best word I think, but controlling the pace would be better. I tend to try to gas with speed the strong guys or stall the speedy guys to stop their momentum. This helps to throw off their game.

    Another ancient secret is patience. Staying cool, calm, & collected will keep you focused & sensitive to movements. Plus you won’t panic which leads to giving up limbs or positions in ways that can cause injuries. Guys will get frustrated and go for anything available like a scavanging hyena. I know attacking feels like they panic but attacking with a plan makes them defensive.

    Attacking with a plan is repping several combinations. For example armbar to triangle to omoplata. So they have to constantly defend and play catch up. Everyone knows the same moves but not always in the same order of attack. Plus I misdirection works great. I usually attack the neck to get at a limb or attack the limbs to get the neck. Lapels are also your best friend. I use them as an anchor for open guards especially inverted, for tying up an arm or leg, or choking. Tying guys up helps even out the strength issue. Once they lose an arm they are one less arm stronger to muscle me with.

    Once you start moving up the ranks they guys don’t stop being cavemen but you get better at dealing with them. You’ll even notice that you make them nervous and uncomfortable. Trust me, when the tables turn, you know your jits is going places eventhough you still get frustrated and don’t feel like it.

    I know I’ve written a lot but I figured I should share my experience since you had the courage to put it out there. I remember feeling like this and still do sometimes and feel like “is it just me?” I sure wish I knew then what I know now and maybe had some guidance or knew of other girls in my spot. So I hope some is this helps.

  54. Rosi says:

    Really nice blog, and totally on point. I seem to spend a lot of time explaining this stuff – “no, it’s not just you!”. :)

  55. [...] I can highly recommend Leslie’s numerous excellent articles on her BJJ Grrl site, especially this. That is technically directed towards women, but much of it applies to small guys too, as we also [...]

  56. airistar says:

    I am a white belt in BJJ who started only a few months ago, and a few of these issues really hit home (e.g. like feeling frustrated when you can’t tap anyone out and feeling overpowered). Crying on the mat, getting a bad partner vibe, and feeling an overall serious sense of ‘I’m a girl so I will never be able to do what these guys can do…’ are things that I have rarely ever done or felt.

    Maybe I’m lucky, or maybe I just refuse to get locked into that sense of inferiority. Learning BJJ techniques and grappling with others takes most of my energy and focus, so I tend to get into a serious, unemotional daze while training in the dojo.

    My main mission for myself is to learn BJJ and avoid injuries. I have the mindset of ‘I am here to learn how to grapple, and it is irrelevant to me whether my partner is a child or an elder; a man or a woman. It is irrelevant whom I fight, I will still do my best to protect myself and tap them out. And it is irrelevant to my training that I am a woman.’ To me, I’m learning how to defend myself on the ground, and I just happen to be an 18 year old female who stands at 5’5″ and weighs 116 lbs.

    It helps that my school, (Triad Martial Arts founded by Johnny Lee Smith if anyone’s wondering) like many, has an attitude of ‘If someone has a desire to learn, they can and will through consistency and hard work.’ And it also helps that my adult class has around 4 to 5 girls in it at any one time, and even more enrolled in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But even if I was the only female in the class, I still refuse to think of myself as inferior.

    With all that tl;dr being said, I love your blog and I love the issues that you raise. Maybe I’m just fortunate or in the minority with not see some of these issues as a white belt. But what you say makes a lot of sense to me.

    I would also love to hear any advice you can give to me as a white belt. Your blog makes me want to start up my own BJJ blog about my own experiences and journey to better myself. So I thank you for that.

    • leslie says:

      The more blogs, the merrier. I’m firmly of the opinion that the more voices there are, the more clear the whole picture can become.

      As a white belt, I think your first job is to see as much of jiu-jitsu as you can. Not in a technique-collector sort of way (that comes at blue belt, where you want 203,878 ways to pass the guard from standing), but in an overview-of-the-world sort of way. Rolling with a wide variety of upper belts is a great way to do this, as they will often use smaller, newer partners to play around and they will generally all have very different games.

      Then your second job is to learn how to defend against all of this in an active way — not just fetal position, stiff, don’t-touch-me defense, but a defense that recognizes, deflects, and recomposes. Again, upper belts are great because they often will let things work if you’re doing it correctly, instead of clamping down and insisting on their own way.

      Finally, show up consistently. Ask questions if you have them. Drill more than roll, but do both as much as possible.

  57. airistar says:

    Thanks so much for the advice! I do try to seek out the upper belts as much as possible. It really helps a lot when they can offer good explanations as to what they did or what I did wrong and what I can do better. I made my blog at http://airistarbjj.wordpress.com/ and I love for you to see it! I love getting all sorts of opinions and advice from people, especially with far more experience than me.

    Thanks for doing what you do!

  58. Adi3000 says:

    So much in here is really good that I felt I should try to add a few thoughts because I’m a man and so my perspective might offer something else:

    Men also experience being ‘too weak’. I’m 12 stone and quite athletic so you’d probably look at me and wonder what I’m complaining about but I will regularly be thrown around by men much stronger and much more aggressive than me. I guess what I’m saying is don’t think that you are alone in having difficulty with strength. There is always a bigger guy than you on the mat. Belts put a target on our backs as well. We share these problems.

    Some of the big guys spazzing out are a danger to us men as well. And they often won’t show any of the sympathy they show for a women, one broke my ankle a year ago because there was no way I was putting him on his back. My best advice here is to turn and quite obviously allow them side control. Stay relaxed and don’t try to escape for 10 seconds. I find this calms many of them down and allows you to start working technique.

    Ego is a problem for men. Try to help us with it: ‘why don’t we spar with each of us moving on from a position every few seconds?’ – ‘I want to experiment with getting the armbar from the mount can you help?’ – ‘I don’t get much experience at attacking bigger guys, can we work some situations?’.

    Rolling with women presents its challenges for men too. We want to be very careful not to be too aggressive but at the same time don’t want you to think we are taking the mickey. I try not to use more strength than you can use but I have to keep reminding myself not to cheat. We are also very mindful of accidentally touching you where we shouldn’t. Having said this some of my best rolls are with women. So with experienced women I try to roll with you like you are a man, if I touch something I shouldn’t I treat it like I would with a man. Move on, we’re play fighting. The exception to this is if you are a beginner, here I will do everything I can to avoid anything that would be seen as inappropriate and combine this with apologising for anything that would be unacceptable on a dance floor but at the same time not making a big deal of it to try to help you get used to the idea that in bjj you will have someone between your legs.

    If you cry we understand it. A girl cried the other day in our class because she was swept and landed on her head. She was embarrassed about it. She didn’t need to be. Heck if any of the guys had been swept onto their head it would only have been their 20 years of society telling them that they weren’t allowed to cry which would have stopped a flood of tears. We might not know what to do but we do understand.

    If you want to avoid one/some of the guys tell one of the guys you trust. They will look out for you and make sure they are there to be your partner and will be a little less worried about moving the other guy out of the way. We probably already know who the guys are, they are the ones who kneel on our heads when we’re sparring.

    We know that many of the drills and exercise as well as sparring is harder for you. We know how hard it is when we spar with the monster who outweighs us by 100 lbs. We think it’s awesome that you deal with this all the time.

    You will spend so much of your time surviving against bigger and stronger opponents that when you come across someone you can beat you will probably be so excited that you will spend all your time on the top and attacking. Remember this is the same mistake that all those bigger and stronger men have been making with you. They should have been also allowing you to attack and practice their defence. If you don’t practice that escape on people you can make it work against it will take you much longer to make it work against the brutes.

    I don’t like ‘aggressive’ either. This, to me, is precisely what I am learning to avoid. John Danaher has something which I think is interesting here. He says jiu-jitsu might mean gentle art but this is a literal translation. When he delves into the language he comes to a translation which is closer to ‘overcome strength through applying your strength in a more effective way’. So I think he’s saying you need to use your strength in jiu-jitsu but spend it in the best way possible. I think this is great advice. I like to follow Ryron Gracie and John Danaher and people who are very interested in which techniques balance energy with reward. Other bjj practitioners may be very good but they have often developed techniques that work for them because they are explosive and powerful. We don’t all have that luxury. I like your word of intent. Ryron Gracie may just be lying there, but everything he does is done for a reason.

    Anyway, sorry for gatecrashing. Girls in bjj are amazing, thanks for bringing so much to our art.

  59. Jen W says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! – as a girl who has been rolling for over a year in a school with mostly men I was feeling a bit ‘alone’ – BJJ can be an intimidating sport, but it is so addictive :-) I love everything you have written, it was like reading everything I have been thinking/concerned about/wondering about over the last year all in one place!

    I am really lucky to have a supportive and aware Sensei – he encourages and drives me to develop my game without pushing me into ‘uncomfortable’ situations. At our school the guys generally will let the girls pick their partners to roll with so I am never forced to roll with anyone that gives me the ‘no’ feeling. I think it is a good practice – especially because he knows that I will push myself and never avoid someone because they are challenging… but only if they are a safety concern. This is especially good for new girls joining or visiting who are uncomfortable with the close contact – it allows them to pick the guys that have been given ‘the green light’ by other girls until they feel comfortable enough to roll with everyone.

    • leslie says:

      Glad it could help!

      That is important — that the women who train communicate with each other about who the good training partners are, and who to avoid. Other guys have sometimes told me that someone is fine to roll with, but then I find that the guy rolls completely differently with me — and then another woman will echo my experience.

  60. Shelly says:

    I agree with pretty much everything on here. I started bjj a little over 3 months ago and all I have to say is I’m completely frustrated. My coach thinks I’m not aggressive enough, and the boys completely crush me. Some how I’m never bridging hard enough I’m not using enough technique all and all I want to give up on a daily basis but I’m not going to. It’s nice to see someone feels the same frustration. I wish more male trainers read this. A lot of women don’t want to be treated like a girl they want to be equal but in reality in bjj we are not the same as men and those men weigh 100 pounds more than us and are experienced.

    • leslie says:

      There have been — and still are — many, many times where I’m not “enough”, even though I feel I’ve given everything. And if myEverything =/= goodEnough, well, that’s just depressing, isn’t it? I wish there were some way to bottle how I feel and let the people experience it from my perspective.

      But something I do now instead: I look at what I’m trying to accomplish and ask if I’m doing it in the most efficient way for me. Bridge & roll escape from mount? Rarely works against bigger guys; they have too much frame and base. Instead, Emily Kwok’s incremental escape, brilliant for small people:

      Breaking guard against big people? Traditional “hands on hips & brace” gets me nowhere. Knee up the middle instead (also, because they’re generally holding me down and I can’t posture up for anything):

      I won’t say it gets easier. But you get better.

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