Tuesday, August 28, 2012

segregated classes and other nonsense

The beautiful thing about the internet is that people can post whatever they want. So, it's brimming with crazy ideas.  Visit any forum, blog, or Facebook group, and you see people posting their opinions. Some have thought-provoking posts; some have funny posts; some have smart and rational posts; some have political posts; some have religious posts; some have well-researched posts; some have super awesome jiu jistu posts; some have dumb posts; some have deliberately offensive posts; some have posts that just don't make any sense.

There is a lot of good information online, but there is an equal amount of nonsense. So, we have to pick and choose what we get worked up about. This week, someone posted on Sherdog that Ronda Rousey would have won UFC 1. This is an example of someone having a crazy idea. My instructor, a die-hard Royce Gracie brown belt, was rightfully miffed.  But, he acknowledged, it was probably posted by some 15-year-old, typing in his parents' basement. In other words, someone not worth the space in his head that it would take to get upset. If Royce and Ronda were to get  into an octagon together, my instructor knows that Royce would emerge the victor. So who cares what some nit wit thinks?

Recently, there was a discussion on the Facebook page of one of my favorite bloggers, Jiu Jiu, about whether men and women should roll together. Like most serious lady-grapplers, she didn't see how this issue should even be up for debate - of course  men and women should roll with each other. Women are such a minority in jiu jtisu that to segregate the sexes would mean to seriously limit training opportunities for women.  But a couple of guys, who never rolled a day in their lives and didn't know a lick about jiu jitsu, posted their own crazy ideas. But I took them with a grain of salt. Who cares? Fools like those do not deserve any space in my head. They don't even train! Maybe they actually believe the sexist things they say or maybe they are just trying to pick a fight (with women who could absolutely choke them, mind you. Not a great plan). It's easy not to let guys like those get to me, though, because there's no question they have no idea what they are talking about. They are not worth the space in my head that it would take to get upset.

But what do you do when someone who outranks you, someone who unquestionably knows more jiu jitsu than you do, holds the same beliefs? Beliefs that limit your own opportunities to train?

I went out of town a couple of times this summer. And being a complete BJJ addict, I find it very hard to go more than a couple of days without training. So when I travel, I usually find a local BJJ gym and go train there.  

My husband and I showed up at a gym and, as we often do, partnered up to drill together. There were no other women in the school, except one, who was brand-spanking-this-is-my-1st-week- new. The instructor, a Brazilian black belt who spoke better Portuguese than English, pulled me away from my husband to partner with the new girl. This was cool by me. I want women to feel comfortable doing jiu jitsu, and if that means drilling with another female at first, I'm happy to be that person. At my home gym, I often choose to drill with one of the few other women because a) I like them and think they are good training partners and b) all things being equal, sometimes it's nice to work with another lady.

When it came time to roll, the new girl and I were still partnered together. Again, I was happy to roll with her for a round. This was her first week, so I gave her plenty of space and encouragement. There was no point in me smashing her. This was my time to be an ambassador to the sport. Plenty of guys were nice to me when I was brand new and I was happy to return the jiu jitsu karma.

The gym had formed into 2 lines. After the  first roll was over, the instructor told line 1 to move down 1 person, "except the girls." We were expected to stay together.  This happened after every single round - everyone moved onto a new person, except for the 2 of us. And I grew increasingly frustrated. I had to stay with the same brand new person  every single round. Not because we were the same rank; not because we were the same size; not because we were the same level of athleticism; simply because we both were female.

Not only were my partner and I not a good match for each other's skill level, but we weren't a good physical match either.The new girl was petite, while I am a former swimmer, jacked up on crossfit. In other words, I had at least 30 lbs of muscle on her. But, since she was smaller than me and brand new, I was trying very hard to "roll nice," at the expense of my own chance to get a workout. I was getting antsy.

The next time the instructor said "switch," I inconspicuously moved down one person, just like everyone else. But he caught me and said, "no, girls stay together." Then he added, "This is the last round." In other words, this was my last chance to work up any kind of a sweat, but I was only allowed to workout with the new girl.

Reaching a breaking point, I summoned the courage to ask "Can I roll with one of the guys, just once?" The instructor reluctantly obliged. It turned out other people in the class wanted to train with me too, and some stayed after class to do so. I finally got in a BJJ workout, but only after the instructor had left.

This experience bothered me a lot more than the deluded rantings of some guys on Facebook ever will. This was not some idiot who knows nothing about our art. This was a black belt, a class instructor, someone who teaches sound techniques, and someone whose skill level I absolutely aspire to. Someone who was good enough to take up space in my head.


  1. A perfect post for me to read today. I just tried out another school after dealing with segregation and discrimination during the 5 months I've been training (with a Brazilian black belt). I really like the girls I train with, but it's a bit ridiculous to often be paired up with someone much tinier me on a regular basis. I've left without breaking a sweat so many times, but the instructor has made it clear that the girls need to stay together - so unless no other girls show up for class, I'm stuck. Extremely frustrating.

    Luckily, I've found another school that doesn't live in the dark ages, and I will be training there soon. Not only that, but the white belts get to train and learn from higher belts as well - something else that I had very, very little of at my old school.

    I love jiu jitsu, and I'm so glad to have found a better fit for me!

  2. Lizzie, I'm so glad that you found a school that's a good fit for you! It sounds like a much better place.