This page is a collection of my thoughts, ramblings, and opinions (as if you don’t get enough of that by reading my blog) on women and jiu-jitsu. This page is mostly talking about women, and so is more intended for non-women. Comments are welcomed and may find their way in to my opinion. 😉

And yes, I am female, I’m over 30, and I still refer to myself as a “girl.” I’ve heard that some other chicks (yes, I say that, too) don’t like it, but “woman” reminds me of my mom and sounds too responsible to be doing something as nuts as rolling around on the floor with sweaty guys. So.

More for Women

I have a page to list resources — blogs, webpages, interviews, etc. — for women in BJJ. Check it out here: Women Resources.

I also have a page on Training as Women. This page is addressed to women and the issues we face on the mat.

Table of Contents:

How come women don’t like BJJ?

The question on the Sherdog forums was “How come women don’t like BJJ?” Basically the guy was saying that because he didn’t see a lot of girls training BJJ that girls must not like BJJ. Which, I think, is making a judgment and so isn’t really the right question. Those of us who do it love it, and when you have a base of girls training, more will join.

It’s not that girls don’t like BJJ; we do, once we start it. We like it just as much as you guys do. We feel strong and capable, and we aren’t limited by our size or strength. But there’s that tricky step of getting a girl in to a class, getting her past any preconceptions she may have, and making sure she feels comfortable in class. So the question becomes “Why aren’t more women training BJJ?” or “How can we convince more women to train BJJ?”

(Besides, we could ask why so many guys don’t show up to class when invited or come to a class or two and then leave. Why don’t all guys do BJJ, either? I don’t know the statistics on how many guys start and then quit because they “didn’t like it” for some reason, but I think it might be quite high. We have about 1 new guy a week who comes for a few days and then leaves or switches to the Krav Maga or kickboxing class. And I’m curious what their reasons might be. Everyone always wants to know why girls start or stop BJJ; what about the guys? Why do guys start BJJ? Why do guys quit BJJ?)

There are lots of good answers in that thread about the intimate contact level, sweat, and other things that would throw off most girls from most sports, not just jiu-jitsu specifically. I think some of those answers may answer why guys don’t do it, either. And all these answers are coming from people who already regularly do jiu-jitsu, so we’re mostly just speculating. Would be interesting to talk to those people who don’t stick with it. Some of my answers may repeat what was said in that and other threads, but here they are:

  • Some girls won’t do any sports or physical activity and have no special prejudice against BJJ. They just aren’t going to get their hair messed up or cut their nails or get sweaty for any reason beyond a jog on the treadmill in an air-conditioned gym. (Reminds me of guys like my little brother who only lift to get big and look good. Actually doing something functional with those muscles is out of the question.) The most these girls might do is a self-defense class, and BJJ is great for that, but they’re not actually interested in continuing any sport as a hobby.
  • Some girls don’t want to get bruised up and will stop after their first bruise. I know during my first few months, the backs of my arms and legs were black and blue. I got nervous looks from strangers. I didn’t care (I was actually rather proud of each one), but many girls will not appreciate having bruises all over their skin.
  • There’s also the “You do what with those guys? Your face goes where?!” response. That’s how my mom and most of my female friends react. One of my friends, on seeing one of my jiu-jitsu books, flipped through it and started making jokes about “I’ve been in this position, and I’ve done that, and that, and — hey, I should try this one!” For some women — and guys, too, I’m sure — the first response to seeing jiu-jitsu is based on sex, and they may not be able to get past that. (Could be one reason why some guys don’t want to train, that being in certain positions with a guy is just too much to handle.)
  • Related to the previous, she may think that since the class is mostly male that she’ll get hit on, groped, etc. (And from reading some of the male responses on Sherdog, she should probably count on at least one jerk per school.) She can ignore the guys in the gym by keeping her headphones on and pretending she doesn’t hear him, but it’s hard to ignore him when he’s sitting on top of her.
  • Sweat and smell, particularly someone else’s sweat and smell, all over you, all over the mats, all-pervasive. Heck, I do BJJ, and I still find that repulsive, especially the smelly guys who don’t seem to wash themselves or their gear. Absolutely gross. I could see that being a definite turn-off for a lot of people.
  • She may think that BJJ looks too hard or too intense, or that the conditioning looks too hard. A girl who visited our academy for kickboxing said that BJJ looked “intimidating.”
  • They may associate BJJ with MMA and don’t want to do MMA. My mom refers to my BJJ as “fighting,” though I tell her that it isn’t. I’ve tried explaining BJJ without referencing MMA, but it usually gets introduced to the conversation. Even if a school doesn’t offer MMA classes, women may think that the guys who would be involved in BJJ (intertwined with MMA in their minds) are not people they’d want to work out with (tattoo-covered, motorcycle-riding meatheads, thugs, & “tough guys”). And they may assume that there are no other women doing it (because what other woman would want to hang around those kind of guys?), and they don’t want to be the only one.
  • Closely associated with the previous point, they may think BJJ is a striking art. This came up at a recent Women’s Open Mat; one of the girls said she’d tried to get her friends to come out, but they all thought BJJ involved punching, and they didn’t want to get hit.
  • The guys at the school she visits may give off a creepy, macho, or otherwise off-putting vibe. No one wants to train with the creepy guy who just stares at the girls.
  • The overall vibe of the school may not work for her. We had a girl say that the atmosphere at our school was “not welcoming” (of course, she said this as the guys are including me in everything outside of class, so I think the problem was more her than the guys). I don’t know what her personal vision of what a jiu-jitsu school should look like was, but our school apparently didn’t match. However, it has fit me quite well. Different strokes…
  • She may assume she needs to be in a particular kind of shape in order to start BJJ — some baseline of cardio, lifting, etc. One of those “I don’t want to start until I’m in shape” people. Lots of guys use this excuse, too.
  • Even if a girl is interested in doing BJJ — or even anything new — she may first be trying to find someone she knows who will go with her. And there may not be a friend who will go, at which point she’ll drop the idea and go along with a friend to something else, like cardio kickboxing. (I’ve recently met a few guys who use this reason, too.) I tried to find a friend when I started, but no one was interested. One of the hardest things I ever did was walk in the first day of class all by myself. I didn’t know anyone.

Ultimately, though, I think the answer for most girls is that they don’t start or stick with jiu-jitsu because there aren’t other girls doing it. Seeing other girls doing it will assure them that girls can do it. Not just because it’s hard to be the only girl (though it sometimes is), but also because we girls like a supporting community when we do something. That community can be other girls, if you’re fortunate enough to have multiple girls training, but if not, the guys on the team have to fill that role (no group nail-painting, we promise).

That’s taken me a while to realize even for myself, as I didn’t have a large coherent group of female friends growing up, just different friends who didn’t even know each other. I never really got the girl “group dynamic” thing, like why all the girls have to go to the bathroom at the same time. (I still don’t really get it.) But I know it’s there. It’s something about knowing that the people around us are going with us, are helping us, aren’t laughing at us, and will be there if something goes wrong.

She’s That Kind of Girl

Not every guy trains BJJ or kickboxing or boxing. Or wants to fight MMA, or play football, or shoot guns. Not that it isn’t great for everyone, but not every guy is going to like it, so why should every girl? Certain people will prefer certain activities. What kind of girl might like BJJ?

Perhaps: if she’s mentally tough and/or stubborn (I plead stubborn); if she doesn’t like to be told she can’t do it or won’t like it and so has to prove you wrong; if she grew up a tomboy or always wished she had been; if she’s played contact sports throughout her life; if she’s done other martial arts previously and is aware that her style has no ground game; if she does want to fight MMA one day; if she wants to learn groundwork for self-defense and beyond; if she likes to train hard — then maybe she’ll stick. A lot of those apply to guys, as well.

And again, having girls already training is huge for most women. It’s like a signal that says, “Hey, this is a good place to train. See, this other girl has been here for a while.” Which leaves us in a delightful Catch-22: the best way to get more girls to train is to have more girls training.

Beyond just who the girl is, there’s the guys she’ll be working with — if they can find that balance of treating her like a part of the team as well as a girl; if they can be her friend without hitting on her; if they can include her in the social side of the team — then maybe she’ll stick. Seems to me that it’s harder on the guys’ side: the girl is who she is, and BJJ will bring out parts of that, but the guys on the team have to be part of the process of keeping the girls coming back.

There have been guys who have come through my school that, if the whole team were composed of guys like them, I wouldn’t have stayed. Something about them — some vibe, some creepiness factor, some something — that I just didn’t want to be around. Thankfully, my guys aren’t like that, and they don’t tolerate it in other guys, either.

What a Girl Wants

We want to feel that we’re safe in what we’re doing and that someone is keeping an eye on us and our partners. We don’t want to feel as if we’re everyone’s grappling dummy, but we also don’t want everyone to treat us with kid gloves. We want to be included, none of this “boys vs. girls” stuff, and yet we want you to remember that we are girls and we are different from boys. (Yes, we do want it all; why do you ask?) And we want to have friends.

Safety is important to us. While it’s nice if you beat down a guy after he spazzed and hurt us, we’re still injured and now very wary of that guy. When possible, pair females with more experience guys and/or guys who will check their ego and will actually work with her rather than just mash her down.

Let us know that if we’re having a problem with a specific guy that we can talk to you about it. We don’t want to be tattle-tales, but sometimes we can’t fix the problem ourselves, and sometimes ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. We need to know we have support when we have a problem.

(Also, this thread.)

I’m not saying to cater just to a single female in class or to constantly ask “Are you okay?” or to roll lightly and slowly with her and always let her “win.” But I am saying that you should choke out the creepy guy who stares at her, keep muscle sharks (and creepy guys) from slamming her around just because they finally have someone to “beat,” and let her know that she can speak up if she’s having a problem with something or someone. And don’t be the creepy guy. Most girls who do start a jiu-jitsu class want to learn, not get hit on.

We don’t want to be coddled and “given” submissions and passes, but we do need training partners who will roll at a pace we can handle and not just mash us. Be technically hard on us while being strength/weight easy. My training partners frequently roll at a lesser intensity with me than with each other, hard enough that I’m working my butt off but not so hard that I’m overwhelmed, but they do not play sloppy jiu-jitsu to give me things to take advantage of. They also let me finish the transition, sweep, or submission without trying too hard to escape, provided I have every single detail spot-on perfect with appropriate pressure. If I mess it up badly, they escape. If I don’t recognize what was there, they move on.

For nearly two years, I’ve been the only girl on my team. On days when I think I’ll never come back because I’m so angry, upset, or frustrated, I come back anyway because of my guys. They’re my friends. They’re superamazing and awesome. From the beginning, they’ve worked with me and included me and made me feel as if this was a place I wanted to be and these were people I wanted to be around. They look out for me in class, they make me do crazy things after class, and they make me eat more than I should. I’m still a girl, but I’m also part of the team.

So if your school is having a hard time attracting or retaining women, don’t immediately blame it all on the women not being able to handle it or not liking BJJ — check out the team dynamic. You may be giving off a vibe that turns women off. (That might also be impacting your dating life, too… Oops, now I’m meddling!…)

Marketing to Women

(See thread here, too.)

As for how you might get more women to train, first, keep the women you have. Ask them what else, if anything, they’d like to see. Not in terms of making things “easier” or ignoring what the guys want (heck, ask them, too — improvement is a good thing), but there may be something obvious you’ve missed. Encourage them and help them to network with other female BJJers and to do tournaments against other girls. Rolling with girls is different than rolling with guys, and while you guys get to experience that in every class that you roll with us, we don’t get to until we find other girls.

Host or send your women off to a Women’s Open Mat every once in a while. Rolling with other girls is different than rolling with guys. Often I can’t tell if I even know anything around just the guys, but one Women’s Open Mat and already I can see that I’m normal, I’m not an idiot, and I’ve actually learned some jiu-jitsu. Women need to see how they compare to other women, and not just at tournament time. We need to know that there are other women out there; we need to interact with these women and realize that they’re just like us and aren’t all Amazons and prodigies. (And we need to know that female blue belts and purple belts exist!)

Second, have a self-defense seminar. You may find the 1 or 2 women from the bunch who actually are interested in going further. I started BJJ after a self-defense seminar. While working the ground techniques — and launching several larger guys — I realized that this was fun and I wanted to try more of it.

Third, ask women who don’t train BJJ what concerns they have about starting to train or what reasons they wouldn’t train. (If your school also has fitness kickboxing, yoga, or other classes with an abundance of females, ask them what they think of the BJJ classes and students.) Asking non-BJJers is important because those of us who are doing it and staying with it are the exception in the population. Consider having a free introductory class (or entire week of classes, separate from the regular class) to show them the basics and acclimate them to class. Works great for guys, too. Maybe offer group rates or discounts for referring their friends.

Other thoughts:

Check out your facility. Is it relatively clean? Is there semi-private changing space? Is it in a non-seedy location? How the place looks is going to be a factor in whether a woman can see herself training there. It doesn’t need to look like Martha Stewart trains there, but the bathrooms should probably look like they’re cleaned regularly.

Check out your team dynamic. If women are coming in but leaving soon after, it may not be a case of not wanting to do BJJ, but it may be that there’s something or someone on your team that’s turning them off.

As for a women’s only class, I don’t know if those help; I’ve never had one. I would think, though, that being able to work with people at your own weight and strength level would be a good thing. And women shouldn’t feel as if they’re limited to the women’s only class; they should be welcomed in with the big boys, too. And they shouldn’t feel as if their class is easier (less conditioning, less drilling, less advanced technique, whatever); the only difference should be the gender, not curriculum. Women’s Open Mats, on the other hand, where you encourage women from anywhere to show up, are definitely a great idea.

How to Train with Women

New guys: This is mostly in response to an experience I recently had in class, and is especially aimed a new guys. If you’re the new guy to a school, and there’s a girl on the mats, here are a few tips:

  • We are not necessarily the lowest-ranked or least-skilled grappler in the class, so kindly stop assuming that we are. (Related: until you find out otherwise, do not assume that it is my first day.) There is not “girl jitsu” and “boy jitsu”; I didn’t earn my rank in an inferior style, I earned it every day in this class with these same guys. Jokes about “oh, I’m scared, I bet you can kick my butt” are old and no longer funny. Also, please stop being surprised when I sweep you and otherwise know what I’m doing.
  • Notice that we were here first. That means that right now, the guys in the school are our friends, not yours. Despite the gender difference that seems glaring to you, you are the outsider, not us. My guys side with me over you because I’ve worked my butt off alongside them for months.
  • You already know the guys in the school are sizing you up. That includes your behavior towards us. A roomful of those protective, white-knight instincts you guys are so proud of are currently bristling in your direction, bub, and if you go Captain Caveman on me, you’re asking for a world of hurt.
  • If you get paired with a girl to roll or drill, it is not an insult to you or your “manhood.” (If anything, we’re more insulted that we got stuck with the punk idiot spazzy new guy.) It’s probably to keep you safe and/or to let you work with someone controlled and experienced, and to let you see up close that this stuff we’re showing you does actually work even when done by someone smaller and weaker.
  • If you say, “I don’t want to lose to a girl,” prepare to get your limbs ripped off or to get choked out. And if not by us, then by one of our friends. Once again, you’re the outsider, not us.
  • When you do “lose to a girl,” remember that no one saw. No one noticed. And frankly, no one cares. (And if you don’t tell your friends, they’ll never know!) Maybe the instructors saw, but they don’t care — you’re the new guy; you’re supposed to “lose.” She’s more experienced; she’s supposed to win. (And anyway, there’s no “winning” or “losing” in practice. It’s freaking practice!) Besides which, the fact that a smaller, physically weaker girl can dominate you on the mat is simply proof that jiu-jitsu works.
  • After you “lose to a girl,” don’t think that going harder, smashing more, throwing in little punches and elbows, etc. is going to help you. It won’t. And you’ll just draw attention — negative attention — to yourself. The next guy you roll with is going to tear you into little pieces.

For more experienced guys: I suggest using your rolls with a girl as a way to work your technique. Your strength will easily beat us, and you should know this. We cannot power out of techniques. Techniques, when applied correctly, will work. You don’t need to bring your “A” game unless you’re working on a particular sticky part of it. Your “A” game will beat me every time; you know this and I know this. And while I’m flattered that you feel you need your “A” game when you roll with me, at the same time that means that I will get very little work beyond defense (and I really get plenty of that with everyone else).

(See here and here for a quick list of dos and don’ts and the following discussion. My favorite bits from Drseuss219 are below (and I think they say it better than I do):

“…we don’t want the guys to go technically easy…”

1. Don’t muscle stuff on the girls that would never work on the guys.
2. It’s ok to win.
3. It’s ok to lose – don’t spazz out just because a girl is catching submissions or positions on you.
4. Mind your weight <— Come on…don't hurt your teammates. If you have 100lbs on your partner, don't put it all on their ribs. Just use enough to pin them when appropriate.
5. Girls are intuitive. If your mind starts straying we'll know, but if you're honest, we will know that too. Just focus on bjj and your grips will be fine.
6. Listen to your partner. If you are not sure about your intensity, ask them.

Also, two replies to this thread: Jen Flannery and this guy.)

“Technically easy” — loose, sloppy jiu-jitsu that leaves gaping holes for us to “exploit” for transitions, submissions, and escapes. It implies that we don’t know how to do these for real and that we need help to do it right. (It also trains us in bad habits and bad jiu-jitsu, especially if we don’t realize you’re patronizing us.) Instead, make us mind our details and our timing. Also, make us tap if you really have it — don’t always move on or let us escape, because otherwise we get conditioned to submissions not being finished (and/or we think we know how to escape, when we really don’t) and then we injure ourselves by not tapping in time when someone really has it. We don’t always need to “win” in class, and we don’t leave in tears because we tapped; sometimes, we really do need to “lose” to learn.

Try new things. I’m great for practicing technique on because I can’t muscle you around, so technique you do will work, but I also have enough technical knowledge myself to make sure you do your part correctly. If I actually manage to threaten something, practice your technique for escapes and defenses. Start with a lower intensity; as I increase pressure on you, you can increase pressure back. Don’t just lay there like a wet blanket and let me do anything I want; give me resistance and pressure, but try not to smother me and hold me down just because you can. That doesn’t do either of us any good. Maybe limit yourself, if we’re not challenging enough on our own: e.g., don’t use your hands or only work your weaker side. If I get you in a bad spot, work your escapes. (Heck, let me get you in a bad spot. You get to work escapes & defense, I get to glimpse a dominant position.) This has the added bonus for me of letting me work against technique, too, and then I can tell when I’ve made a mistake because you capitalize on it. And if you are letting me practice finishing a submission, please make sure I really have it right before you tap. Tapping when I get kind of sort of near it doesn’t help me learn how it should really be done.

On Not Training with Women: If you have a valid reason for not training with a woman, please let the instructor and even the woman know before starting to train. That way, everyone knows that you two can’t be paired up, and the class can run smoothly. The only valid reasons I know of are religious restrictions and homicidally jealous wives/girlfriends. Not wanting to lose to a girl is not a valid reason.

There is a man in my school whose wife will not let him train with women. (He’s in his 40s, I think, and his wife is much younger.) He told me, he told the instructors, and there are no problems. We can talk, and he keeps an eye on the younger guys rolling with me; they spazz on me, he goes after them.

On Girls & Tournaments

This is an answer to slideyfoot’s comment below that pointed out a thread on whether women should be allowed to enter men’s divisions. It was originally a comment, but it got big and I think I might expand on it later.

I think a couple of good points can be pulled from the thread:

  1. there need to be more women competing so women have someone in their own division to compete against
  2. women probably need to be more proactive *before* a tournament to ensure that women will be there to compete against (in skill & weight classes)
  3. it makes more sense (or, rather, is preferred by the competitors) to put a women in with guys of her own weight than with much larger girls

Especially on that last, personally, I think I’m finding that a huge WEIGHT difference is more difficult to overcome that a huge STRENGTH difference. I can move around when they’re strong, but if they’re bigger, I just get sat on and can’t move them off.

I think my opinion is that, if there’s an available women’s division — that is, a normal, as-advertised actual class based on skill level and weight brackets, not like the 100-lb difference cited in that thread (I like Penny’s description that it’s like having a whole other person out there!) — women should enter it and not have the option of entering the men’s. I know some of the complaints were that you might have only 1 or 2 matches if there aren’t a lot of girls there, but even if there were a large field and you lost your first match (even with both gi and nogi), you’d still only have 2 matches.

Another reason is because I don’t want a girl to give herself the excuse that, “Well, of course I lost; he was a guy.” Compete to find your weaknesses, and being a girl isn’t one of them.

Also, despite what my posts about choking out guys’ egos might imply, I do feel badly for the male egos. Getting tapped by a girl in class is one thing; losing in front of a crowd is another. And not all guys get to roll or train with girls regularly, so it’s a whole new, unfamiliar, and possibly uncomfortable experience for them. (“Is it okay to put my hand here? How hard should I go? I’ve never been this close to a real girl…” etc.) And maybe a little unfair — I’ve seen stories of guys who think they should ‘go easy’ on a girl the first time only to have her quickly kick their butt. (But in a tournament, who wants to be the jerk who crushes a girl?) Guys who regularly train with/around girls would already have that worked out and will know to bring it on.

But if there’s not a women’s division, let the women in with the guys their size. Seems more fair. And jiu-jitsu is supposed to favor the smaller and less strong, anyway. All the talk of greater risk of injuries, etc., is just trying to make excuses.

83 thoughts on “Women

  1. Thanks for the link, Slidey. I put up a blurb about *not* training with women. And thanks for letting me know about Christina’s blog; I keep everything in Google Reader and don’t check the links themselves so much.

  2. @ Slideyfoot: When I was a fairly new white belt, I went to an in-house tournament at my school. There were no whitebelts within 20 pounds of my weight so the organizer said, “We can put you with blue belt women who are about your weight or white belt guys who are 25+ pounds bigger than you”. I chose the heavier white belt guys because the blue belt girls had waaaay better technique than me.

    Having said that, I think women who want to compete in the men’s division should be able to. There are women at my belt and weight level at my school who are better than me, and I think they could be very competitive in the men’s division.

  3. @dolph: Absolutely: the example I always cite is Penny Thomas, who entered a tournament in Hawaii where there weren’t enough women for her to compete against. So instead, she convinced the organiser to let her enter the men’s brown belt division, then justified his decision by fighting her way to second place.

  4. I really like your posts. I am a woman in BJJ, started about 5 months ago. I train at an awesome gym that has 2 female instructors (a black belt and a purple) along with all the male instructors. There are about 4 women who train as well. So a pretty good environment.

    At my school is the unwritten rule that if 2 girls show up they have to train together. Only thing is, I am big (5’9″ about 160) so sometimes there is a huge weight difference. I prefer to roll with the guys. Especially since local tournaments would put me in the highest weight class with no upper limit.

    1. Our gym has a limited number of girls, and a couple of new ones at that. I’m prepping for competition season and it is so difficult trying to train with girls who are lighter than me working on fundamentals (I’m about the same height and weight as you) and do prefer to go with the guys even if it means I have to work harder. The unwritten rule is overrated right? =P

  5. (Geez, my bad — I thought I’d responded to this weeks ago!)

    @Laura: Wow, female instructors — that’s awesome.

    Is that rule just for drilling or for rolling, too? At my school, if another girl shows up, I’ll drill with her and roll at least once; but all other rolls are with the guys.

  6. I have never rolled with a girl but would feel awkward being in such intimate positions. I wear a groin cup because I don’t like the intimate positions with guys either.

  7. @Leslie: yep 2 female instructors but soon only 1 the black belt is going to sail to the carribean with her husband (also a black belt).

    Mostly just happens with the drilling. But in the last month I’ve been the only girl in class so I’ve been able to drill and roll with whoever will roll with me. None of the guys have turned me down yet, and some of the blue belts seem to like squishing me.

  8. Okay I am joining this blog My name is Ruby and I have been training BJJ for a little over a year now in Costa Rica My husband is a purple belt instructor. I hopefully will be getting my blue belt in April??? Let me tell you in a land of “Macho” latino guys. I have really had to work hard!!! I LOVE BJJ!! My 3 1/2 year old daughter also trains. I AM ONE PROUD WOMAN, MOTHER, WIFE AND BJJ PRACTITIONER!!

  9. LOVE THE WEBSITE…………I am the only girl as well. Nice really to know that other women do exist out there that LOVE JIU JITSU!!! I am lucky enough t have a great “family” at my gym as well.

  10. I’ve been training for a year and a half 4 times a week and I sometimes get discouraged because my instructor doesn’t understand me when I choose to wait it out or not try if someone is crushing me (I figure why waste my energy when I have other people to roll with and it will only hurt my game). I’m the only girl and when given the opportunity to just flow and practice technique with reasonable pressure, I can really handle myself well. Every so often, I get paired with some meat head or tool bag who thinks it’s cool to use all his strength on me. I hate it because I feel I don’t deserve my blue belt because I will never be stronger than these guys despite how good my technique is. My instructor seems to think that BJJ has nothing to do with strength, but I just don’t see it. I’m not a quitter, but today I feel like quitting. I love BJJ but feel I’ll just never deserve my belts because I’ll never be as strong as they are. Any advice would be awesome!

    1. This sounds very similar to my situation. The crushing bit is just annoying because you’re there to train, not hook up. Meat heads and tools are the worst of them. The ones who muscle every position make you feel helpless… it sucks. I recently started dating someone in the gym (NEVER intended on that to happen, it just happened) and he has 40 pounds on me but understands how to handle his weight and drill with me so I actually started improving significantly because of that.

  11. @bjjgirl: Lol, are you sure you’re not me? Because that still sounds exactly like my life on the mats right now.

    Have you gotten to work with any girls your size recently? Is there a women’s class or women’s open mat — or even a tournament — around that you can go to? I find that that it helps my brain a whole lot to work with a roomful of people my own size and strength. (And most women’s classes & open mats are non-affiliate, since there are still so few women in many schools.)

    When I do roll with the douchebags — especially any I feel are going to hurt me — I usually just play a defensive and positional game. If they get a position and just hold and squeeze, then I do the quiet little bird method: set up my escape & their next transition and then almost go limp. Basically, give them an obvious path away from the muscling, and stop offering resistance and stop struggling. They usually either let go to see what’s going on or they see the open transition and move. In either case, though, I’m ready to escape and get back to a neutral position.

    Also with those guys, I’m working on not letting them get grips and settled. Still not very good at it, but the idea is to keep turning towards them and to keep them moving until they make a mistake that I’m able to capitalize on. (They makes lots of mistakes, but many I can’t do anything about as they’ll just jerk out of it.)

    I think strength is an important component of BJJ. However, it shouldn’t be the foundation or the first ingredient in a technique. The details such as weight placement, leverage, and timing are far more important, and they make the technique work with a minimum of strength. All too often, though, guys will get by on large doses of strength, speed, and explosiveness to compensate for weak technique.

  12. Leslie, this is such a great resource. I find myself revisiting this page again and again. I’m personally committed to building the female participation in my school. Thanks for this wealth of resources!

  13. So glad I came across this site today. It has validated everything I’ve felt about my BJJ journey and is great wealth of information. I’ve been training for 7 months now and I can officially say I was hooked even before I went to my first class. I sat and watched my kids train BJJ for almost a year, and yes one of them is a girl, so I’m one proud Mama! I had been doing cardio kickboxing and trying to get in shape and lose weight when one of our ladies started a Women’s class. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. The next step was crossing over to the regular Adult class with all the guys. In hindsight, nothing to worry about at all, the dynamic at our gym is absolutely terrific (not to say that I don’t encounter jerks, but those guys don’t usually stick around for more than a few classes before they quit). I didn’t have any brothers growing up, but now I feel like I have a whole gym full of brothers who help me, train with me and encourage me every chance they get. Plus I have an absolutely amazing group of women to train with, have fun with and share jiu jitsu with. My instructors have helped me set goals and develop a BJJ Blueprint to ensure that I reach my goals (Blue Belt by the end of 2011). It doesn’t really get any better than that.

    Thank you for a great website!! I will definitely be making frequent visits to check out new stuff.

  14. @Jen: Thanks!

    @Debra: I’m so glad it could help. Also, check out the “Women in BJJ” in the sidebar — lots of links to other women out there. There’s a whole lot of us! 🙂

  15. Hi Leslie,
    I’m glad I came across your blog. I’ve been training BJJ for 7 weeks now and love it. My trainer who is also a woman paved our way at our gym. When she started there were no women and now there are about 4 of us. I was looking for support since I’m 47 and starting out. I’ve learned a lot from many of the guys, they are very nice at my gym, but finding other older women in BJJ would be helpful. My initial hesitation was more my age then gender. I have never let either hold me back, but was intimidating. I will say that letting women know how empowering BJJ can be would probably bring more women into the sport. My first day, my heart was in my throat and I repeatedly got tapped within seconds. Now, it’s taking them longer to tap me and I almost past someone’s guard the other day! I’d like to receive updates on your blog.Thanks for being out there!

    1. Hi, Marilyn, I am another “older lady” training (hint – older than you are!), and also only woman in the class, it’s not easy getting over either obstacle (being a female and also an older one – who wants to pwn their mum, you know? or taking mum pwning them seriously? 8-D) but am setting all that aside and giving it a go and doing it in a spirit of fun. So far lots of aches/bruises but I’m motivated. The guys are being REALLY nice about it, trying to teach me helpful things, great sensei set the tone I think and was very inclusive and helped me negotiate some hangups about sticking out so much for being different. Hang in there – I am half afraid I will be more likely to break a bone or something, but no more likely than a couple of the older guys, I think, and I think I am more flexible and sneaky than they are, so.. 🙂 Like they say, the more women join, the more women will join! Even grannies like us who are probably really silly to be doing this but what the heck, good on yer for giving it a go… XD.

  16. I am a fit “woman” (sorry) doing running boxing, pilates, rock climbing and I am training every day. A couple of weeks ago I decided to start BJJ from the scratch. went to the first gym offering BJJ. I started with enthusiasm but early it put me off. Without learning any techniques, they throw me doing wrestling most of the class with men twice three time bigger than me without going easy on me. How could I defend myself fight back if I have no clue about what was going on?? after 3 classes I ended up with bleeding fingers, could not walk for a day, bruises everywhere, not being able to sit being in pain when breathing, and I am not talking to you about the neck. I thought it hard to cope mentally with such pain…I am not discouraged tho I’ll just change of gym I try to learn this great martial art.

    1. Hi Emily,

      I started about 2.5 months ago. It’s hard, go on line and learn some defensive. Once you have a good defense, it will start coming together. I rolled with all guys yesterday. I rolled with a 17 yr old boy who is 40lbs heavier than me, started before I did, but he could not submit me. I’m 47. Keep your nails short! Train with weights on the days you don’t do BJJ to keep up strength and do cardio for endurance. Good luck!

  17. Thank you for your advice Marilyn and support, I am starting at a new gym on Monday, I can’t wait!

    1. Emily: Ugh, I’m sorry you had that experience. Hopefully this new gym will be more welcoming for new students.

      You should be able to ask the instructor if you can just watch during the rolling portion of class for the first few nights. He shouldn’t have a problem with that. Or perhaps he’ll have an upper belt work with you on some basic movements and concepts. I only watched my first night, and then worked with an instructor on a basic guard break and pass for the next two nights before I started rolling live (and then with upper belts who went easy on me and let me play around with this whole new concept).

      Good luck on Monday!

  18. I just wanted to say it was great reading your website. In my twenties I did Jiu Jitsu for 2 years. I loved it! Yes, my classes were all guys as well. My instructor was great and so were most of the guys. You are absolutely right when you say just getting on the mat for the first time is the biggest hurdle! I was super determined and how did you put it…maybe a little stubborn as well. In my first week a guy cracked my elbow in 6 places. I didn’t cry or throw a fit. I finished my training that night…then cried in the car, lol, and went to the emergency room. I refused to give up and showed up to every class in a sling until it healed. Eventually I got married and started a family…which meant no more Jiu Jitsu…three pregnancies later I am ready t o go back, now in my mid thirties… I finally worked up the courage to look at a Jiu Jitsu gym near by. I wished I lived closer to my old professor as I would feel more comfortable…But I am starting again next week. I am so nervous, of course my stubborness won’t let me quit now that I have enrolled. But I am definitely at my heaviest weight and the worst shape of my life..I squeezed three pregnancies within 5 years and pretty much little to no exercise.

    But I am ready for all the bruises, aches, and knee pain! I absolutely love Jiu Jitsu and nothing compares to the skills you learn, the workout you get, and the confidence it builds! I am also hoping to have a close “familial” relationship with the people at the gym like I did before!

    Here is to getting on the mat for the second, first time!

    Thanks again:)

  19. Hi!

    I absolutely love this. I primarily practice judo, but I take BJJ as well, so I can relate to so much of this. I look forward to reading more, as you are a really great writer!

  20. I love reading the website. I am the only girl in my class not to mention the youngest. My guys take care of me like I’m one of the family. I did have a foriegn exchange student that was from Germany but she had left about a month ago. I have been training in BJJ for about a year and four months and I’ve absolutely loved it from the start. It doesn’t make much a differnece to me weather I roll with a guy or a girl but I have two purple belt instructors and they don’t seem to care that I’m a girl. I bieleve they are right it doesn’t matter the gender. I felt I’ve belonged in this sport since day one and I had found the sport I was looking for. No other sport had seemed to suit me. By the way I’m fourteen, 5’9″ and 150 pounds. Love to see that other girls out there love this sport as much as me.

  21. Interesting views and sorry to hera about soem peoples’ less than positive experiences.

    Here’s 2cents worth from me.
    Regarding the arguments I hear about athletic comparsions between the genders it amazes me how academic feminists and male chauvinist pigs are as stupid as each other. The two are designed differently. I can benchpress 150kg, my wife can do 35kg, a chauvinist pig would say I’m superior, an academic feminist would say its due to dociological reasons that I can bnech press more.

    As it happens my 150kg bench pressing chest can’t feed or comfort our baby so is a lot less useful to us as a family (and to society).

  22. AWESOME!!!!!!! Thank you for this, really, thank you. Great info, great research, great perspective. I want to print it all out and put it on the wall at the gym.

  23. This is a totally fascinating read. I have long been interested in pursuing something like jiu jitsu. I’m a woman in a male-dominated field (law enforcement) and I’d love the confidence I’d get from being able to do something like this, and to do it well. I think the biggest barrier for me is just that I’m terrified of being the only girl in class. And of course, there’s the whole “I’d like to be in better shape before I start” thing. Any tips on getting over the “only girl in the room” jitters?

    1. @reddishpurple, I posted a few weeks back about my jitters and returning to te mat and being the only girl. I am in law enforcement as well. All I can say is just do it!! Once you go to your first class and get the jitters out you will be fine:) it has been almost 7 weeks I have been back now and it has been awesome!! Just do it!! Just go:) keep us posted!!!

    2. I think BJJ would be great for a female in law enforcement. Not just for the actual techniques, but also for the chance to blow off some steam in a positive way 😉

      I think, too, that if you find the right school, that after the first day or two you probably won’t even notice that you’re the only girl. Most guys in most schools are awesome and welcoming and won’t make you feel like an outsider just for being a different gender. (And you may even find a school that already has a female training.)

      You could also take along a friend, either female or male, to check it out with you. That may help with those first few days of awkwardness.

      Good luck!

  24. It’s been a great few months back, I have actually started cross training into the MMA which is cool…We got a new guy in our Jiu Jitsu class who is one of those guys who has never done Jiu Jitsu before, is likely almost 100 pounds heavier then I am, and is definitely stronger then me. Well, at the end of class when we get to spar with each other, we were paired with each other the first round, I obviously have more experience then him and so I dominated him for the 5 minutes, although I didn’t submit him, it apparently frustrated him enough to sit out for the next 15 minutes (3 rounds). I of course continued to spar, which is very tiring…well the final round he paired with me again…well rested this time, and proceeded to muscle me. He did a move we learned in MMA where you trap both arms so you could technically then “ground an pound” the person(mind you we were in Jiu Jitsu class this day) and his elbow I guess “accidentally” went into my eye, then when I went into his guard he grabbed my Gi and instead of trying to submit me or something, he proceeded to grind both fists as hard as he could into my jaw….I am to stubborn to stop. So today I went to my first day of classes, with a black eye, and bruised up jaw, and a horrible bruise on my inner arm that was barely covered by my shirt.

    Why is that some men have SUCH an issue rolling with a women. I am not training to be a cage fighter and I obviously have more skill then you and you are stronger but….Why don’t they want to learn from me? Everyone has to start somewhere? It’s not a normale situation that occurs, most guys that I train with are secure in their manhood and are very helpful but it happens….It just makes me really want to kick this guys butt!!

  25. Hi XD,
    So glad to hear that you are doing BJJ. I think it’s something all women should at least try. It’s great for the body and mind. It’s been 6 months now and I have competed in 2 competitions. Won 1 match and still loving it. Good luck to you. So glad Leslie writes about her daily experience. Good Luck and enjoy! Marilyn

  26. This is great! I had felt alone. I have been watching my son for a year and then my husband for the past couple months. Really wanting to try, but only seeing a few women out there at competitions. I was scared of the big guys in the Adult class. I finally went last Thursday to the kids class. I asked the instructors if I could start there. It is a better size match for me. My twelve year old son helped me and even drilled with me. It was awkward at first. But halfway thru the class we both loosened up and really had fun. I can’t wait to learn more and get back on the mats to practice.

  27. Early days but…
    I have found that with some guys, I end up just submitting them and “hanging out there” – and some guys will just grind their teeth rather than tap out. I find it hard to be nasty and pressure further, forcing a tap and thus creating ill will/injuring them. I just wink+smile when I clearly have made my point that I “could if I wanted to”, and reset, tell them what move of theirs I was most impressed by, stay friendly. Ill will not generated, point made, no one sees them tapping to a girl, all good. I myself know what I could have done, and in a situation where it mattered for someone to see me tapping someone out, I could go all the way. But it’s not usually necessary, methinks. That’s my strategy of the moment, anyway.

  28. I have been doing BJJ for about a year now, and I think I like it. I am 41, and while healthy, never into sports. I took it at the prompting of a colleague who cringed at my assertion that any male threat could be fended off by “punching in the throat”. Much to his credit, he started doing very basic techniques with me (he is HUGE; I am tiny), and perhaps he doesn’t understand how that did a lot to make the contact and all the other M/F things about BJJ less intimidating. He would also describe his studio to me, things/attitudes to expect, behavior, etc. When I did start attending a studio near me, lo and behold, it was all true. My studio has mostly colored belts, mostly men, so I get my pick b/c everybody is better than me! I say this as a girl-ly girl who likes make-up and nails. I agree to wash my hair first (hair gel) and face (make-up) and they agree to pick up any stray nails that pop off! Anyway, I appreciate the camraderie (my sparring partner tells me I am the only person he has ever heard refer to BJJ as “the class I go to because they have my money!”.) I have found them to be perfect gentlemen, and those who aren’t I don’t know about and don’t care after I leave class. I don’t run into many women who understand it, and those that do probably already do it. Guys who know seem fascinated (don’t do it) or respectful (do roll), but as a rule, I don’t bring it up in conversation. As far as I am concerned, it is graceful and beautiful, but from the outside, it looks like 2 turtles doing the “nasty dance.” It has made me a lot more confident about my personal safety and ability to defend myself (Run first, but if you have to stay, make them sorry you did), and with the exception of some very strange eating habits I never had (really two whoppers is OK—this won’t be here after class), the bruises, mat burns, strains, etc have become kind of welcome friends. Lastly, I don’t think most people have an appreciation for how intimidating any physical contact can be. I now think nothing of shoving someone who tries to harm me; I have a much better idea of what I am physically (in)capable of and that is a valuable tool for women. It is the ULTIMATE HIDDEN GIFT.

    PS. It also fuels a whole lot of fantasies about people who annoy me (they are only fantasies in my head, but they bring a small mysterious smile to my face).

    No, I’m certain, I do like it, and I even miss it when I don’t do it. I swear every class that I am not going, and (mostly) every class, there I am, waiting for the high that comes after I finish. Its addictive, its useful, its powerful, its good!

    1. Lol, I have those same fantasies about people who annoy me. 😛

      Used to do the same when I trained tae kwon do. I went to a job fair once and was really nervous, so my dad told me to size everyone up and decide if I could beat them in a fight. Worked well for a few hours, but then my fists started getting twitchy and my brain started wanting to actually start fights! Oops.

  29. Forgot to add, much to my studio’s credit, our instructor does not distinguish b/t men/women, except for ultra newbies. He usually asks that lower/higher belts train together. He will give admonition to go easy unless you request otherwise (he usually instructs everyone to go easy on white belts “except her (me)–she’s just going to tell you to keep going or she won’t get it)”, but he, like all studio masters I suppose, has an eagle eye on everthing that goes on in his studio. Even some of the die-hards that frankly used to scare me (at first glance anyway) are alright with me now. In a class of about 20-30 on average, there are usually 1-3 women consistenly, and I’ve been the only a few times. I used to joke about using my hair-day (don’t go hard b/c I’m the only girl today), but even then, they just kind of laughed and said yeah right. I think that the comfort zone is definenitely set by the instructor, and his assistants, and in our studio, they work very hard to make everyone comfortable without sacrificing competition. No one feels like their belt wasn’t earned or no longer needs defending.

  30. Hmmm, I’ve read a lot of commentary from women here that I find both useful and true, but sometimes unrealistic and perhaps even a little fantastic. But before I get there, let me preface and clarify. I’ve been doing submission wrestling for a long time now. I started as a Greco/Roman wrestler in high school, moved into the Japanese form (Judoka) during my college years, and ultimately settled into BJJ as a byproduct of being an active-duty soldier. Summarily, I love it. I find the physical toil addicting and intoxicating, the camaraderie and unassuming mutual respect, refreshing (as compared to many fighting disciplines), and the life tools I have gained to be invaluable. I’ve also used BJJ in real life – on some would-be muggers, and I even took down and arm-barred an enemy in Afghanistan when I was on patrol.

    Further, of all the martial arts disciplines I have seen in both a theoretical and real life setting, BJJ is by far the most useful to women. In fact, I think some of the women’s self defense classes I have seen do more harm than good. As BJJ stresses position, deliberate thought/action, and leverage in lieu of size, speed, and strength, it is that much more practical for women. I am thrilled when women come to our studio to learn to fight; women seem to thrive on the power and self confidence BJJ gives them, sometimes more so than men. It makes me feel good to know that the women who stick with it refuse to be victims and have the goods to back up that self belief. I readily encourage women to do BJJ at every opportunity. Now let’s get back to my initial point.

    I find some of the commentary here to be a little troublesome in terms of attitude. No martial arts discipline defies the laws of physics, and just as we laugh at the movies where a small Chinese gentleman in flowing robes can leap several stories and do other feats that no Olympic gymnast would dare attempt, we must also be aware of our own physical limitations. Women, by and large, are smaller and weaker; this is not social commentary, this is simple physiology. Any woman who thinks she can best a man 60 pounds heavier and 6 inches taller without getting hurt will be in for the surprise of her life if she were ever attacked. BJJ would give you incredibly good chances at surviving and even fending off such an attacker, but you would get hurt. Please don’t think otherwise. Further, caution is the better part of valor, and If you are ever attacked, RUN LIKE HELL! If at all possible, talk your way out of a physical confrontation, or simply hand over what any thief wants. Your ability to slap on a rear naked choke won’t help your knife or gunshot would.

    Moreover, men who roll with women need to give them a realistic look at what they are facing. It goes without saying you shouldn’t inflict unnecessary pain, but if you always let women win because you are not putting in any effort, you are doing a disservice to those women. Bottom line, standing at 6’4” and weighing 275 pounds, few women are going to be able to pin me down and affect a paint brush on either of my arms, so I don’t let them. Help women go after the “money” moves when you roll with them, and yes, tap them out when they make mistakes. If the Army ever taught me anything, it would be that realistic training is the most useful.

    Ladies, enjoy your artistry, revel in your abilities, vow not to be a victim, beat up on the boys when you are able, let that swagger affect your walk a little, and keep rolling. Just please understand that the studio is not real life and take appropriate caution.

    1. It is entirely possible for somebody to make up for a 60lbs difference in weight. I agree it isn’t easy, but nevertheless, you can overcome a large weight difference if there is an equally large difference in skill. Caio Terra has managed to win absolute titles, despite being tiny (like this). Now he is of course a guy, meaning that he is probably stronger than an average woman of the same size, but nevertheless, he is going up against some huge weight discrepancies.

      I also would agree that martial arts and self defence are not the same thing, as much as school websites would like to pretend they are. BJJ will help, in that it provides you with an efficient delivery system, confidence and fitness, but it doesn’t help you with de-escalation, understanding difference environments, legal ramifications, verbal posturing etc.

      I think it’s worth emphasising that pretty much everything you say about women is just as applicable to small men, like me. So I don’t think there is any need to make a distinction. Shama wrote a good post on the topic recently.

    2. I agree with you – when training with self defense in mind. Yes, women need a large dose of reality in self-defense training, often in the form in a 6’4″, 275-lb guy who shakes off their submissions and whom they can’t sweep. They need to know that, by the time a confrontation becomes physical, the chances of fighting their way out are very, very slim (and without being hurt in the process, practically non-existent), no matter what their training is.

      However, I rarely even think about using my BJJ for self defense. I don’t even train it for MMA. I train BJJ for fun, for sport, for the “art” side of the martial art. (Fencing, I think, might be a good analogy – while fencers could use their art for self defense if they needed to, it is foremost a sport.) I think of BJJ more as a physical game that I’m playing, where the tangle of bodies is the field. My end goals are to learn how to move my own body around and to face other females (of roughly my own size) in competition. I know my BJJ training isn’t real life, and I want to keep it that way.

      Yes, I do get frustrated and I complain, in the context of training sport jiu-jitsu at the academy, when a new guy comes in and I can’t play the game against him. Especially, too, if even small white belt boys seem to have little trouble playing jiu-jitsu with the same guy. I have more experience than he does at this, I think, so I ought to be able to do something. I’ve swept and submitted bigger guys, so I should have no problems. I have unrealistic expectations, perhaps, in that I essentially ignore size, weight, strength, & previous training and am solely considering this in terms of amount of jiu-jitsu knowledge. But then, as you say, he’s bigger, stronger, more athletic, and not at all interested in playing nice with the little girl (who might tap him and thus humiliate him in front of everyone). He isn’t yet thinking of it as a game or a sport; he’s thinking of it as a fight. Once these guys settle in and start learning actual BJJ techniques, they generally begin to “play” the game more, and there will be a period of time when I sometimes feel “even” with them as they struggle to remember & execute the techniques. (And then they discover how to bring all those attributes back in to play plus have good jiu-jitsu, and then it’s all over for me, lol.)

      And yes, women who are really in BJJ to train do not want or need wet blankets for partners. The guy who obviously dives through a sweep to “help” her out or goes limp when she attempts a submission – they aren’t helping. Neither, though, is the guy who strong-arms out of everything or pins her under side control for a whole round. I feel that rolling rounds should be mutually beneficial; perhaps not equally so, but enough that both partners come away having learned something useful. (Something besides “Sitting on small people makes them tap” or “Avoid 250lb+ guys on ribs.”) Again, I train to compete against females my own size; I want that realism, not “street” realism. The paintbrush that doesn’t work on you or in a self-defense situation will work on another woman my own size, so I still need to practice it.

      I think it comes down to what your goals are in taking up training and what context you’re using your BJJ in.

  31. I just thought of something about women’s injuries in BJJ. I sort of wonder that maybe men are not necessarily always comfortable with the body contact either, and end up wrenching us around by the arms a lot more (than they would a guy) in order to keep us at more of a distance from them. It’s safer to grab our arms than to end up in a closer position which might feel embarrassing (in their minds, to “either of us”). I have had a way-disproportional amount of arm injuries as opposed to other sorts.

    1. Hm, maybe. But it seems there’s also a higher proportion of arm-related submissions, especially that you learn early (including the “I have the arm, so I’ll just pull and twist on it until something happens”). I think most of my arm injuries have come at the end of a submission, when a less experienced guy was so excited to finish (or worried that I would escape) that he cranked it.

  32. wow! I absolutely LOVE this blog. It definitely helps to know that there are also loner women out there who walk into and RULE men-dominating BJJ schools. 🙂 I’m a white belt and have been training at my BJJ school for about a year now, 3-4 times a week. I decided to stick with my school because: 1) I absolutely fell in love with the art after the first class, 2) A few select guys that I rolled with (and continually roll with) basically did all the things that you described above (being a challenge to the girl but not crushing her….unless she asks for it, of course, like I do to the guys in my class, respecting the girl and not hitting on her, supporting and being a “friend base” for the girl), 3) My instructor was/is very understanding about women (he coaches/trains MMA women also) and holds a large chunk of my “friend base.” There were only 2 women in the BJJ class when I started who only came once a month or less so it’s pretty safe to say that there were practically no women at the school who were serious about BJJ. However, due to the reasons above as well as that stubborn streak to prove everyone wrong that you talk about, I dove head first into BJJ….and I did prove everyone wrong! =D I’ve competed with several boys because of the lack of girls and I did lose but only by meager advantage points(the guys who competed with me would get frustrated and angry anyway that they were a few points away from losing to a girl haha!). Also, several pricks would boast in front of the other BJJ guys about how I wouldn’t be a challenge to them (even though my BJJ guy friends would warn them that I would be a challenge) and get their ass kicked in the process by me! ha! However, I don’t deny that I have been crushed and beaten by the 200+ pound guys but have not lost hope in beating them because I have seen guys my size beat them(I’m 140lbs.). I do realize that BJJ isn’t all about “beating people” but the act does bring forth a ton of confidence and self-assurance.
    So, as a final note to all girls, just go out there and do BJJ! It’s fun, gives you confidence, and gives you access to all the hot guys who are training! JUST KIDDING ;P

  33. Thank you for posting this blog! I am thinking about trying BJJ and this has been really helpful! Just a question about being a really small (adult) woman…in your experience, is it normal/accepted for smaller women to roll with teenage boys due to size/weight considerations? (in class, I’m not referring to competitions.) I can’t find ANY classes with other women, so I assume I’d get paired up with the kids a lot. Is this weird? I don’t want to be the creepy lady that makes all the kids/parents uncomfortable! Any advice?

    1. Welcome!

      In my experience, yes, it is normal to pair students up by size, regardless of age or gender. I currently work with a 14-year-old boy in our gym a lot, and I’ve worked with several other teenage boys in the past.

      I have been nervous in the past when paired up with teenage boys on their first days because I also afraid of their parents being uncomfortable with it. But no one has ever said anything. The boys are often uncomfortable and nervous at first, but I’ve found that if I ignore that and just do jiu-jitsu, that things get smoother later, and eventually they seem to forget that there was ever anything weird.

  34. Fantastic set of articles.
    I fell in love with BJJ before I even went to my first class and my experience there has been everything I hoped for.
    I love hearing that so many others have had such similar experiences. The pride in my cuts and bruises, the sense of strength and power, the occasional beating… 🙂
    The only thing I don’t like is how slow I feel my progress is. Several of the guys have promised me that it only feels slow because everyone else is also progressing and therefore I can’t measure my own advances, but I still feel like a toddler out there sometimes.
    Gotta keep the faith though. Great job everyone!

  35. So glad that I came across this blog. I just turned 31 and have been training BJJ for 10 months. I train in a co-gender class but am the only female participant. At first I was really shy coming to class, not knowing anyone and being the least experienced student, (not to mention the only female), but I saw great value in the self defense aspects of BJJ and forced myself to keep going to class no matter how uncomfortable I felt. Over time, I got to know the guys better and developed skills and it began to feel like I was part of the dojo family and I looked forward to every class…the shyness was gone. But now, things have changed. I can’t be certain who, but what I can glean from information given to me is that there is a jealous and insecure spouse who has made an issue with me training with the guys. I have never acted in any way inappropriate or have felt any inappropriateness from any of the guys, but now the rules for female participation have changed. I now need to come to each class with my own training partner. I am not allowed to show up to class and ask one of the guys on the fly…I need to have it set up before coming to the dojo. This has seriously changed my training. Now I have one partner. I don’t get to cycle through with different body types/skill level, I am confined to just that one training partner at each class. If my partner is sick or injured, tough luck for me…I don’t get to train. It still feels like a family but now I feel like I’m the black sheep in it. It doesn’t feel fair. I take this sport just as serious as any of the guys but my training isn’t being offered the same respect. A little taste at being a woman in a man’s world.

    1. Oh, man. That’s just messed up, and is entirely unfair to you. (It’s also unfair to your partner, as they cannot train with anyone else, either.)

      I would talk to your instructor and tell him that this isn’t fair. That you want to learn jiu-jitsu, not pick up guys. That if he’ll just tell you who to avoid, you’ll avoid them.

      Also, I wrote a longer answer and posted it in the regular blog to ask for more feedback for you: What Would You do, #1?

    2. Tell your coach that you’re leaving if he doesn’t sort this out. You are paying to train there and if they won’t let you train, then you shouldn’t be paying. I don’t know where you live but I’m sure there are more welcoming gyms.

      By the way, it should go without saying but you are 100% NOT in the wrong here, always keep that in mind.

    3. That is crap. If you wanted to train w/one person, you wouldn’t be paying to train (with any/everyone.) You are, in effect, paying for someone (absent) else’s insecurity. The issue is w/the spouse and your classmate, not you. It is unfortunate that your instructor cannot see the difference. I say, take your money and run. You are not reneging on a contract, since your instructor is not abiding by it either. Its attitudes like this that keep BJJ in the gender-shadows, and frankly, your instructor ought to be taken to task for it. It the insecure spouse’s spouse has a problem, then they (spouse and mouse) should leave! Your instructor is not only doing you a disservice, but essentially boxing you in. In a moment of sarcasm, I might tell your instructor that unless your partner intends to assault or compete against you, to the exclusion of anyone else, training only w/that partner will do you little good, and says very little for his instruction. I feel for you, as I realize that this must be extremely frustrating, and frankly, you are nurturing doubts you have no right to. Have you asked the other guys in the class about how they feel about this? what happens when another tangential member decides they don;t like somehting about your class?

  36. Enjoyed your article,I have one very keen girl training at my cub in warrington,I welcome them however not many seem to want to try it,although we’re traditional ju jitsu we have a heavy influence from the bjj,thankyou for some new thoughts on the situation

  37. Well written, well thought out. Happened across your blog this morning when we were discussing Penny Thomas/Gazzy Parman- and how a lady Purple Belt last night tore up a male in No Gi- she wrecked him like a bad habit! Keep up the good work of spreading the love of BJJ-


  38. We recently started an all girls class on Friday nights at 6pm. This class gives women a chance to roll with other women only. Plus I am hoping it gets other girls interested in trying BJJ. Thank you for your support. By the way – I am located in Hanover Mass.

  39. What a great article! I just recently started Jiu Jitsu and since I have started, we now have a group of 3-6 girls that come regularly – sometimes we outnumber the boys! I thought the part about “your face goes where?!” was hysterical I laughed out loud. I can’t tell you how many dinner situations I have been in recently with friends who love to joke around with this and while it is funny, sometimes I get a little upset because like you said it has nothing to do with sex! I love this sport and hope to compete. And, I, am a woman not a girl, and I am 42. I can do this, I know I can!

  40. I got a kick out of all this. I am male, and am lucky to have a Gracie school in my tiny town. As such, beginners don’t really roll for months until they have built up a few basics. We have several females in the class. As one of the largest in the class, and very old and therefore perhaps disgusting I don’t go after them at pair-up time. I don’t go after the smaller guys either. I let the smaller people choose me if they want. We only have one guy who cannot refrain from using muscle, but he does that with me, too. It isn’t just little folks he does that to. Luckily he sucks and can be pretzled. As we are not a sport version, so waiting out an opponent is considered a wonderful idea.

  41. I tried my 2nd BJJ class ever on Friday and learned “shrimping” and I found it really difficult because of my wide hips. (The guys seemed to be able to just slide away)
    Do you find body shape becomes an issue when practicing?

    1. Body shape and relative size can be an issue sometimes, but that’s why BJJ is all about adapting: techniques can be modified or tweaked if there is some physical, unchangeable reason why it can’t be done.

      However, on shrimping, the point is to take something wide & horizontal — that is, hips — and turn it into something narrow & vertical so that it can fit through the space. When we teach shrimping to beginners, we often have someone stand over them, feet straddling at the person’s waist. If you try to pull your hips back while keeping them flat on the mat, you’ll hit the feet because your hips are wider than the space they’re trying to fit through. But if you lift and turn your hips vertical, now there’s tons of room to fit through, and you can drive your hips up next to your head.

  42. Some good information. But regarding people with an attitude, what do you do if it’s the woman who comes in with the attitude, the girl power type who is coming in specifically to learn how to beat up guys, who doesn’t want to “lose” to a guy and who starts going a little too far trying to avoid it?

  43. Ohhhh thank you for this! I am about to walk into my first bjj class on MONDAY and I’m going ALL by myself and I am SOOOO nervous. I already know this is something I want bad and I don’t want to quit, but I also realize there will be probably no other women there…. They don’t have many so they just throw them all together in one class…. Is there anything you would have loved to have known before you walked into your first class?

    1. Some days will suck. Some days you’ll want to quit on the spot. Some days will be sunshine & rainbows. But if you keep showing up, you will learn and you will get better, even if you can’t see it yourself.

  44. Thanks @leslie, I can’t stop thinking about how nervous I am…. I realize that I’m going to want to quit, but I’m giving to have to realize I don’t want to give in to that either!

  45. This was a really interesting read. It sort of covers some of the problems that I’m having in my club (traditional JJ not BJJ) at the moment. I’m having to train with someone who is technically shocking but who hurts with nearly every technique he does. I feel like I’m complaining all the time and no-one takes it seriously so I am at the point now of giving up. But after reading this, I realise it probably isn’t like this at other clubs so I think I’ll have a look around. I think if the trust isn’t there, for me as a girl and a mum, I find it quite hard to get over the nerves of new techniques or harsh techniques and it can end up being daunting and off-putting.

  46. Hi there. I just discovered your blog and I’m so thankful. I just started training about 4 months ago. I’m the only girl at the gym and can relate so well to so much on here. You be made me really envious of having girls at the gym. I can’t wait to read more…I should have been asleep hours ago!

    Much appreciation,

  47. Hi there. I just discovered your blog and I’m so thankful. I just started training about 4 months ago. I’m the only girl at the gym and can relate so well to so much on here. You made me really envious to have more girls at the gym. I can’t wait to read more…I should have been asleep hours ago!

    Much appreciation,

  48. One of your article has me wondering if I was to just tell a girl “You shouldn’t do BJJ because your a girl” if that would increase the chances of her showing up. A little reverse psychology. I know that’d work on me if I was a girl.

    1. Personally I think it would depend on the woman — some of us would see that as a challenge and go for it. I do have a friend who started BJJ for that very reason, after her husband said, “Oh, you won’t like it.”

  49. I just want to share my reasons after reading this as I only saw it mentioned men not wanting train with women. I’m a experienced mma fighter and I choose to train with men due to, I am far too strong for the women especially since if they never fought before and won’t return. I know I sound biased asshole but I know what I’m capable of and rather not train with other women for thier own personal safety. More than half have left, never returned because they couldn’t handle what they are informed and why. Due three have gotten hurt but not by me, luckily and for that reason as why I won’t partner with women. I grow fitter, faster and stronger when I partner with men. I fall asleep when partner with women. And they complain because I’m so much stronger and more experienced than they are. It is not just men have that problem which is understandable and I don’t know how many other women may have experienced what I have or may understand my reasons. I won’t partner with women due to I will hurt them even unintentionally.

  50. I have rolled with men and women. I am far from an MMA fighter but I am a blue belt (not amazing but not horrible). I think when rolling with a new student or a less trained person it’s important to gage as hard as you should roll. I think it’s a responsibility of a higher belt to help make the persons experience a good one in the beginning. Hardcore rolling Jiu Jitsu isn’t for everyone, but Jiu Jitsu can be enjoyable.

    The very first day I started Jiu Jitsu (many years ago), they put me to roll with a very fit blue belt and within a minute he fractured my elbow in 6 places (I found out the next morning at the ER). Did I stop rolling? Did I cry? no but to some that may have deterred them from ever going back. No one should have that happen to them in the beginning we have to roll hard with who we can roll hard with and encourage those and teach those who are a bit gentler.

    That’s just my opinion.

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