Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lady Grapplers

I am happy to report that there has been a steady influx of female jiu jitsu players on my team (we are now up to 5!).  This is pretty huge, since a lot of women have no female training partners at all.

For my first year training, I was the only girl on my team. And for a while, I was pretty desperate to find others. I constantly invited my girlfriends to come give it a try (and one actually did! Way to step up, Gretchen!).  But for the most part they looked at me funny, especially after my poor attempts to explain what jiu jitsu actually was. To most of them, it just didn't sound fun.

As with most sports, there is a history of bias against women in jiu jitsu. Watch this short Kyra Gracie documentary and you'll see what I mean:

Of course, I think this is absolutely ridiculous. Jiu jitsu is based in self defense, and its entire premise is that  by using technique, practitioners can overcome bigger, stronger attackers. Sounds perfect for women right? (And on a side note, guard attacks are basically rape defense...think about it. Also perfect for women).

Luckily, things have come a long way and the sport is becoming quite inclusive. Women aren't limited so much by lack of opportunities as much as by having too few female competitors. Unfortunately, as I hinted earlier, many women don't know what jiu jitsu is. And since there aren't that many female jiu jitsu role models, it's just not something that we think to try. I was no different. I had never heard of jiu jitsu  and would not have taken it up if my friend had not invited me to try some free classes. So a lot of women end up training mostly with guys, which has its pluses and minuses.

I certainly would not trade the fellas on my team for all the clean-smelling, female training partners in the world. Rolling with them makes me strong. I've learned all about "that's what she said." And I also know that I have dozens of brothers who would have my back if I ever needed it. However, it is really nice to finally have other women to roll with and I hope to find more - so I started a NC women's jiu jitsu Facebook group. (If you live in NC or a neighboring state and are not on the group, friend me and I will add you). This way we can figure out who will be at tournaments (it sucks to show up and have no one to roll with) and also coordinate women's open mats.

Some guys have asked facetiously if they could join the group or attend a women's open mat. Sorry, fellas. We are not trying to "discriminate against men," but I think there are some very legitimate reasons why it's good for women to have the opportunity to train with each other:

1) When we train with guys, we spend a disproportionate amount of time on the defensive and don't get to work our attacks or top game as much. Yes, all beginners will rightfully spend more time defending than attacking (you have to be the nail for a long time before you get to be the hammer). But for women, who a) typically are not as strong as their male training  partners and b) are not as likely to have a wrestling background, this period lasts a lot longer.

Before I joined my current team, I trained at a place where I rolled mostly with male 17 and 18 year-old high school wrestlers, most of whom weighed about 10 pounds less than me. We were all brand-spanking new and didn't know a lick of jiu jitsu. But I was on the defensive close to 100% of the time. Their technique was no better than mine, they were no bigger than me, but they were stronger and more explosive than I was. Rolling there helped me develop survival skills, but after months of training, I had zero experience passing a guard or doing anything on top. Now, I'm 5'8, built like a swimmer, and am basically strong as shit for a girl. So I know many females have it worse than I did. Within any skill level, guys will always have the attacking advantage, since they, on a whole, are stronger. 

2) We complete against women in tournaments. For self defense moves, yes, we certainly need to apply our techniques against men of all sizes and strengths. But for competition style jiu jitsu, we want to know what will work against other women. And if we never have the chance to roll against women, we aren't going to know what will work for us in competition.

3) Sometimes we have to deal with crap that only other female grapplers can identify with. My personal favorite is the "I don't want to tap to a girl" effect. I feel my blood pressure rising at the mere mention of this subject. Of course, there are lots of great male training partners out there who check their ego at the door and just want to learn and help their partners learn. And then there are those who tell you that they would go to sleep, let their joints pop, or let you eat their children before they would tap to a female. I have been told more than once "That was tight. I would have tapped to anyone else, but didn't want to tap to a girl."

The biggest culprits for the "don't tap to a girl" effect are brand new folks who are tired of being the nail. They identify the female in the room as the one person they should be able to take - then they attack like a velociraptor.  It's good for beginners to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel - that women CAN survive against crazy muscle heads - it just takes time. And sometimes we just need to vent to each other about these stories...and discuss solutions for mat hair...and speculate who might be rolling in unnecessarily large cups. See, we really do need jiu jitsu girlfriends!

In other news, I went with two of my VERY BEST male training partners, Jeff and Lucky, to attend a fusion seminar with Robson Moura and Gustavo Dantes.

The subject was de la Riva guard and the seminar was full of a lot of really great information. I understood what was presented and thought, "hey, maybe this is the next step in my guard game!" Well, not so much. While I can replicate these moves drilling, I'm a long way off from being able to pull them off while rolling. According to my instructor, after closed guard comes half guard, then butterfly guard, then fancy guards like de la Riva. I'm been spending a lot of time in half guard lately, both on top and on bottom, so I think that's where my game is developing right now. But, I'm glad I went to the seminar, because I know the next time I see this information it will be that much easier to grasp. That's the nature of jiu jitsu.


  1. Can you post the link to the FB group so we can share it?

  2. Which facebook group do you mean, Triin? The NC jiu jitsu ladies group?

  3. Yes, the NC bjj ladies ' group. I know quite a few ladies in your state, I don't mind spreading the info and perhaps you can all connect.