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!"


  1. Ironically, Hillary was a blue belt when that photo was taken. I'm not sure if she won that match by points or by submission, but I'm quite sure she, and many other women, have subbed men before purple belt.

    Well-written post, thanks!


  2. Amen! Go Girls!

  3. That last picture might be the best picture ever.

  4. I quit jiu jitsu because it's not worth it for me. I think Owen is an idiot and reflects the low state of the art. I disagree with the final point: We're all potentially beautiful whether we quit or not. Nice post but let's cut the shit: Doing bjj makes no one special and toughness is a white belt virtue. Lovingness is the real point. Until that reigns, bjj is for dogs.

    1. BJJ is for dogs? If the sport isnt for you then dont knock it because you chose to quit. This sport is tough and not for the faint of heart.

    2. That facepalm was directed towards Michael.

    3. Dogs? Why are you speaking badly of the sport and dogs? You're weird man - were you even listening? Such a very well written piece And you missed it

    4. You quit, so of course your going to shit on it and say "it makes no one special". Let's really "cut the shit" pal, committing to anything through challenges, pain and adversity makes someone special.

  5. Hi Michael.
    In order to achieve a brown or even purple belt level in BJJ it requires firstly a deep love for the sport and the fruits it brings (in time). These fruits can not be realized on a white belt level. So maybe you are slightly out of your
    depth when you say that BJJ is for the dogs. BJJ requires and developes strength of will, spiritual endurance , self discipline, dedication, responsibiliy . It actively works on deminishing the Ego and creating a love for your fellow man . It invotes a sence of Brotherhood and it erodes the desire to inflict pain. In short it works on overcoming the human condition. There is a beauty in this art that many will never experience. You don't understand it yet and that's ok. I wish you well on your journey :)

  6. Very good article! I love Jiu-Jitsu, but have never made it past my white belt. Money was the issue when I was in college. Now I have 2 toddlers and a disc in my back that's been herniated twice. Needless to say, my Jiu-Jitsu days are likely over, which really sucks. I did other martial arts growing up and none of them compare to BJJ. Not being able to continue BJJ is depressing and only palpable since my main reason now is my children. Having said all that, I do plan on introducing my daughter and son to BJJ as soon as our local school will allow and perhaps I'll be able to get back into BJJ before I turn 40!

  7. I'm not sure I have quit BJJ, but I've quit my academy and have not been on the mat in over five weeks. I used to find grappling empowering - in addition to thrilling and challenging. Lately I've been dealing with "subtle" sexism at work. (By subtle, I mean completely obvious to me and challenging to deal with, but not necessarily obvious to my male peers - things like being the only woman in the room at a meeting, being the only woman AND the lowest ranking person in the room, being interrupted more often during discussion, having to prove myself before promotion more than my male predecessors did, over-praised for simple contributions, etc). Anyway, the work situation is stressful and I found going to BJJ was a second opportunity in my day to feel sidelined: almost always being the last person to pair off for drilling, almost always being the third wheel in an uneven numbered class, almost always having to drill with the only other woman -even if she and I had agreed to try to switch it up and faced outward during the pair-ups, or worse, being paired up by exclusion with the kid who somehow gets allowed to take the adult class. I kept making myself go because I love the sport and want to get better, but after three years of grappling and a year at the current academy, it sucked to be dealing with things most men don't have to deal with once they are no longer new. The breaking point for me was when a highly respected fighter started talking to me during a private session (not like that is even cool to either me or my instructor) and told me he and a few others had been making fun of me on facebook. I tried hard not to take this personally, but in fact it IS personal and I felt isolated. I have no idea who they were, what they were making fun of, or in what light this was done - presumably not vicious since the guys there are generally kind, but I felt that I was paying to experience things that were dragging me down rather than building me up. I will train again and hopefully soon, but until I finish dealing with the bullshit at work, I do not have extra psychological room for the non-physical challenges of training in a macho environment.

    1. You don't have to prove yourself to anyone. Belts are just a color. Go to learn and have fun?

  8. It's gross, seriously!

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  10. Yup I get my butt kicked by a tiny girl with a blue belt all the time.

    1. you want to fight with girl, i accept ur challenge

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