Wednesday, March 21, 2012

women competing in men's divisions

This weekend, I went with several teammates to the Combat Club Submission Only Tournament. It was a bit of a drive for us, but one of the major draws of the tournament was the absolute super fight division. All competitors could enter this division - all sizes, shapes, and ranks - and the ultimate winner would get a sweet set of swords.

But, as with many tournaments, the women's turnout left something to be desired - there were 8 of us, in total. After our divisions were over, they told us there was not enough of us to run an absolute division.

I was disappointed. Two hours was a long way to drive for two, quick rolls. My teammates tried to convince me to enter into the men's division. If I asked, they argued, maybe I could at least be paired with someone my size. Still, I was extremely reluctant. I thought some more about it...I've gone against girls more than 100 lbs bigger than me without much hesitation. How much more dangerous or less fair could it be to go against a man my size?

I talked to one of the event organizers, but the matter was not up for discussion. "No," he told me. "The guys would not want this. It would look bad if they beat you, and it would look really bad if you beat them. It's a no win." Then he went on the loudspeaker and recruited people for the women's division. Some ladies from the hosting team, who weren't planning to compete at all, joined in. And I got what I really wanted in the first place - more women to compete with.

A similar situation happened to me once before. I went to a US Grappling event last year with no women besides myself entered in the no gi division. Again, I was very disappointed.  Here too, my teammates wanted me to go ask to compete with the men. "You do fine against us in practice," they argued. "You'll do fine against guys your size in a tournament, too." Truth be told, I really didn't want to find out if this was true. But my friends were persuasive and I didn't want to look like a wuss. I was caught between a rock and a steel cup. And then I remembered something...

I walked over to the registration table and asked if I could compete in the men's division - but I did so only because it is written in the published rules that "Women will not be permitted to compete in men’s divisions. Men will not be permitted to compete in women’s divisions." I knew for a fact they would tell me no and that is exactly what they did.

But I can't really blame them for it. The  more that I think about it, the more strongly I feel that men's and women's divisions be kept separate. This opinion is controversial, because jiu jitsu women tend to have a very admirable "women can do anything men can do" attitude. I respect and usually share this attitude. But I feel this way about tournaments for 2 reasons:

1) Mainly, because I have been an athlete all my life. I feel that protecting the women's division protects opportunities for women to excel in the sport of jiu jitsu. I'm one of those feminist, Title 9 supporting, hooray for female athletes!, types. I think it's important not only to provide opportunities for women to PARTICIPATE in sports, but to EXCEL in them as well. It's a slippery slope - will allowing  women to compete with men lead to expecting them to do so? More often than not, the women's turnout at tournaments is sub par. And sure, there are women like Hillary Williams,who are super awesome and who have done just fine in men's divisions. And certainly, if Kyra Gracie were to show up at a random, local tournament, I'd expect her to excel against black belt men  her size. I'm nowhere on par with these women, but I've flat out won my share of open water swimming races, beating all the women and  all the men as well. But I think it's important to note that these examples are the exceptions, rather than the norm. Based on current times, if men and women had to compete with each other in swimming, there would not be a single female on the US Olympic swim team. If they had to compete with each other in basketball, how many women would make it onto college basketball teams? Onto college soccer teams? I'd bet that answer would be zero, or close to it.

2) It could be a little dangerous. In the open water races that I have won, guys at the finish have often fought tooth and nail to avoid "getting chicked." Some are not shy about telling me so afterward. Some women are offended by this attitude, but I choose to be flattered instead. However..."fighting tooth and nail" is just an expression...we're not actually fighting in the water. There might be some body-checking, maybe an accidental kick or elbow, but there is no risk of getting your arm broken. Jiu jitsu, of course, is a different story. And a "win at any costs" attitude carries much different risks on the mats.

I am lucky to have great training relationships with most of my male training partners. What I mean is that we feel comfortable and safe rolling hard with each other. Because, at the end of the day, we are still teammates...we know how far is too far. In practice, we would never intentionally hurt each other in order to "win." First and foremost, we are there to learn and get better.

Yet, tournaments have a different set of rules. Protecting the safety of your opponent takes a backseat to winning the match. This could be dangerous for a woman competing in a men's division, if her opponent's main goal is "not to get chicked." My main goal in jiu jitsu is to still be rolling when I am 90, so this is not a game that I want to play.

So, ladies, PLEASE enter more tournaments! We have so much to learn by competing with each other. And that way, we can leave the boys out of it.


  1. Boy can I relate. The entire senior women's division at our tournament this weekend was Bushido, and I've yet to go to a tournament with more than three other women in my division. I desperately wish we could go in with the guys and just drop down a weight class--because the numbers just aren't out there. And judo is worse than BJJ.

    I've also heard what you said about the guys reactions. I have tremendously mixed feelings about that. Part of me says "yeah, I get that, makes sense." The other part says "what the &*%$ is wrong with this picture?" It should not be so humiliating for a guy to get beat by a girl, if she's flat out better than he is. Nor should he have to feel bad about winning, if he did it fairly. It shouldn't be a no-win. I get that in our society it is. But it pisses me off.

    I can see your point about the physical differences. Martial arts (and grappling in particular) has really driven that home to me. And I can see where it would be the beginning of a slippery slope. But dang, I would have loved to be able to go in with the guys this weekend instead of playing two women from my own dojo......

  2. this is sexist,smh. Man up and beat everyone

  3. As much as I respect your opinion, it pisses me off. Like, a lot. Almost as much as WWE changing the "Woman's" division into the "Diva's" division. I mean seriously, all it is now is women prancing around in stripper costumes, pretending to throw punches while pushing their boobs at any male specimen looking their way. What happened to fighters like Trish Stratus? Granted she did have her "Tits and Ass" moment, but in the end she earned respect. Anyways, that's not the point. The POINT is that you shouldn't CARE if your competing against against a women or a man. Men shouldn't CARE if their beaten by a girl, or beat a girl. They also shouldn't get offended if someone says "your such a girl", its not an insult to be a girl, but that's beside the point. If a man and a women have the same skill, and are in relatively the same weight class, then should it matter? It's plain fat SEXIST to prevent women from competing against men.

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