Saturday, February 23, 2013

So why DO so many women quit jiu jitsu?

Keith Owen stirred up quite a bit of controversy with his blog post Can Women Really Handle Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?  ::Insert obligatory female jiu jitsu blogger's response to Keith Owen's post here::

Yes, jiu jitsu women are pissed and are firing back. And they should. I'm not going to comment on how ridiculous and offensive Owen's post was, because it's already been done many times over, and much more eloquently than I could. 

My own first reaction to reading his post was what a sexist douche. But my next thought was what if he's right? Don't get me wrong, I want to choke out Mr. Owen as much as anyone else does. But I  would be lying if I said I wasn't frequently disappointed by how quickly some women give up on the martial art I love so much. It was not so long ago that I got fed up with training with women too, because it bothered me too much when my favorite training partners up and quit. They put in their time, I become emotionally invested in their success, then BOOM, they were gone.

But here's the thing - MEN quit jiu jitsu all the time too. My instructor has a very large stack of waivers signed by people who have dropped in to try a class. Out of that stack, a small minority enroll in the school. And a very small percentage of those stick around to get their blue belts. And numbers dwindle further from there. The number of people who begin training jiu jiutsu who ever make it to their purple belts is pretty small. It is only those who do who are considered to be in it for the long haul.

Are women more likely to quit jiu jitsu than men are? Maybe. I don't really know. But it's unfair to generalize from the small sample size of any one particular school. And since women are such a minority in jiu jitsu, we tend to stand out more and it is more noticeable when we leave.

So any discussion about why women quit jiu jitsu needs to start with why people quit jiu jitsu. So why do so many folks, male and female, quit something that's so awesome?

They're just not that into it
Anyone who tries jiu jitsu and trains for a period of time probably likes jiu jistu. Why else would you do it? But there are plenty of activities that I have tried, liked, and ultimately not stuck with because I just wasn't that into it. It has nothing to do with not being tough enough as Owen implied. If something isn't your passion, you're not going to dedicate yourself to it, plain and simple.

Jiu jitsu is expensive
I'm not saying that it's not worth it, but jiu jitsu costs a lot of money. Not everyone can afford monthly dues, not to mention equipment and tournaments.

Other priorities get in the way
Some people have to work long hours at work or school. Other people have kids whom, I am told, are quite time consuming to raise. When parents have to choose between taking their kids to soccer practice or training jiu jitsu, mat time tends to lose out.

Injuries are inevitable and they suck
Sometimes injuries require a long break from jiu jitsu, which causes people to fizzle out. People might give up because the risk of re-injury isn't worth it to them.

They get fed up with being the nail
It takes some time to get good at jiu jitsu. No one is particularly good at it when they begin, because it is counter-intuitive. When you are brand new, you get tapped all the time. For some, this period is frustrating enough to make them lose interest.

They have issues with jiu jitsu as a contact sport
Some people over-react to getting accidentally hit, kicked, scratched, pinched, eye poked, and kneed in the crotch. Yes, these things suck but they come with the territory. In my experience, guys are just as likely as women to be annoying over-reactors. I tend to avoid rolling with these folks. 

They have issues with jiu jitsu as an intimate sport 
Some women don't like rolling around with sweaty men; some men don't like rolling around with sweaty men either. Guys often give homophobic reasons for not wanting to do jiu jitsu and there is no denying that it is an intimate sport. For example, the other day, I asked how I could avoid getting guillotined in a particular spot. I was told that my head was too high and that I needed to get closer to my partner's crotch. So I made the necessary adjustments to my technique. Diehards will do what they need to do to improve their game, but not everyone is comfortable getting that close.

Some people are introduced to jiu jitsu through their significant others and quit after they break up
Ok, this sounds lame, but it happens. This category probably intersects with the "not that into it" category, because these folks are in it for their partners (at lease at first) and not for pure interest in the sport.

There you have it. When women quit jiu jitsu, there is a strong probability that it has nothing to do with them being female. Chances are, we quit for the same reasons guys do, not because we are not tough enough for the sport.

Certainly, there are other factors that are unique to women. But again, none of these factors imply a general lack of toughness.

Women get pregnant
It's not really fair to pick on us for this. Sometimes, a couple decides that it wants to start a family. However, it is only women who have the option of getting pregnant. Newsflash to Owens: men don't have uteruses. It would be cool if they did, but they don't. For women, getting pregnant means they will likely miss some rolling time, for safety reasons. Again, it is certainly not that we are not tough enough for jiu jistu. Truth be told, there is a lot that horrifies me about pregnancy, child birth, and babies, but time off the mats is #1 on that list.
I know a very tough female who was back competing in tournaments only months after her baby was born. But Owen listed this as a reason that some women quit, so I wanted to address it.

Jiu jitsu can be socially isolating for some women
Before I began training jiu jitsu, I was a competitive swimmer and had plenty of girlfriends whom I saw at practice almost every day. Now, my spare time is occupied by jiu jitsu and I have come to a point in my life where most of my friends are dudes. Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't trade my training partners for all the gal pals in the world.  But not all women feel comfortable socially as the only woman in the group, as they often are in the sport.

Creepy things happen more often than you think
Creepers exist everywhere and the mats are no exception. I have some training partners that I trust unconditionally, because I have spent a lot of time with them and know that they care about my well-being. But new women don't know whom to trust and they don't have enough seniority to know that someone has their back. Something creepy happened to me before I started at my current school and it was months before I told anyone. As the new person and the lowest on the totem pole, it can be hard to speak out when someone is out of line. If you are not yet vested in the sport, quitting is easier than saying,"dude, fuck off."

To me, asking if women are really tough enough to handle jiu jitsu is like asking if men are tough enough to handle ballet. Both arts are physically and mentally demanding. But the difference in gender ratios of the participants should not imply a lack of toughness on the minority's part.

The one thing I liked about Owen's post was the last paragraph, which I agree with 100%:

"If you are a women and  you get a purple belt or above in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu then I want you to know that you are a very special and awesome person because you have the intestinal fortitude to be able to stick with something that’s difficult for many stronger men let alone a women. Some will ask, "Why a Purple Belt?"  because no one gets a purple belt without being able to tap others out.  This means tapping men...So...Go tap some men. Remember ladies it ain't easy but stick with it.  Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is made for you!"

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The end of an era...passing Ryan's guard

It’s the end of an era, my friends. On January 18th, I accomplished one of my lifetime jiu jitsu goals, something I set out to do from my early days as a white belt. I finally passed Ryan's guard, thereby earning the right to spray tan him.

This may seem like an unusual consequence for guard passing, but I will explain. See, when I began training jiu jitsu, Ryan was an advanced student and was in charge of teaching the beginner class. I was not someone who picked up jiu jitsu easily at first. I was not naturally graceful or coordinated, but I was strong and quick, which led to me spazzing quite a bit. Teaching me was a source of frustration for Ryan, which he did not always hide well. I got frustrated too. I could not insult Ryan's jiu jitsu, which was quite good, so instead I made fun of Ryan for being as pale as an albino. One day I may have politely suggested to Ryan that he leave me alone and take his pasty, white ass to get spray tanned instead.

Ryan agreed to let me spray tan him…but I would have to pass his guard first. At that point, he may as well have been challenging me to pass Gui Mendes’ guard or maybe even the tooth fairy’s – impossible. But I kept trying because I had to. Ryan was so pale that it was starting to affect my eye sight.

He was always a good sport about letting me try, though. He always yielded guard when we rolled and usually let me back up after sweeping me – giving me ample opportunities to work on passing. A while back, I actually did pass his guard. When he was distracted, talking to another student, I jumped around him without actually engaging. It was a cheap, shameless victory. While technically I had accomplished my goal, I decided I did not want to win that way. I wanted to pass his guard legitimately. So I kept at it.

For the past few weeks, I've been training for a major tournament and have been drilling a lot of guard passing. My confidence has increased. My relative weakness, it seemed, was becoming a strength. Then, I finally had my day!

Thank you, Ryan, for teaching me good Gracie fundamentals, giving me impetus to develop my guard passing, and for taking your spray tan like a champ. Here are some pictures:



tramp stamp, by his girlfriend's request


photo by Jeff Shaw, dirty white belt


What do you guys think?