Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gender differences and impulse control - bursting into tears vs. kicking someone's ass

There is no crying in baseball...or jiu jitsu

For me, one of the more terrible and embarrassing aspects of being a female jiu jitsu player is my propensity for crying. Now, in the grand scheme of things, I am a pretty tough lady and don't cry all that often. In my 3+ years of training, I have cried maybe 6 times. This averages less than once every 6 months, which is really not all that frequently.

Crying shows weakness. I do not want to be seen as less tough or capable than the guys on the mats. This is one of the reasons why I hate to cry in public and will avoid it at all costs. If I find myself on the verge of tears, my mind tells me to flee flee flee. Find an excuse to get off the mats and into my own space as soon as possible. I don't like to cry in front of anyone, even those whom I am closest to. But there are certain times when I just can't help it. When this happens at jiu jitsu, I need to leave the area, ASAP.

Various things can turn on the water works - the sting of defeat, excitement over a major achievement, guilt over hurting someone, anger over getting needlessly smashed, or panic over a sudden lack of safety during a roll. 

The last time I became truly upset on the mats was when the latter happened. I found myself in an unsafe spot and tapped to get out of it - but with the excitement of the game we were playing, combined with a language barrier, my tap went unacknowledged and there was no release of my joint. I then verbally tapped and then yelped, but there still was no release. This put me into panic mode. I screamed loudly until my partner was pulled off of me, but by that time I had mentally lost it.

I walked away unhurt and uninjured but totally freaked out. One of the many reasons that I love jiu jitsu is that everything, in theory, is within my control. If a roll goes badly, all I have to do is tap and the pain/discomfort/danger stops. This incident violated this paradigm, making me panic to the point of uncontrolled sobbing.

All I wanted was to sink through the matted floor. I realized that I react differently to negative experiences on the mats than most of my male training partners do. When I get upset, I feel vulnerable and want to withdraw within myself. Many guys that I train with react in a way that is more socially accepted on the mats - ready to beat someone's ass. In this respect, I found myself wishing I could be more like them.

Until I actually did. Recently, in a split second burst of anger and lack of impulse control, I responded to poor mat behavior in a violent way. Instead of crying, instinct kicked in to kick the offending party's ass. Finally, I acted like one of the guys would. Only instead of feeling better about myself, I felt ashamed.

I don't think I will ever feel comfortable crying at jiu jitsu, but it seems I am not comfortable with the alternative either.

Crying is not exclusively for ladies


  1. What happened to you is scary! I would probably cry too. Though I would argue that crying shows humanness, not weakness. I think crying is a completely natural release, and while I would rather do it in the privacy of my own home, I am not ashamed of it. (That is, unless I reflect and see that my tears are a result of being too emotionally invested, having too much ego, or being too hard on myself.)

    I have gone the "I'm-angry-and-gonna-roll-to-kick-your-ass-route" before too. It didn't feel good to me either. Afterwards, I felt that the person got the better of me, mentally. I also knew I wasn't rolling intelligently because I was angry. The other thing is that I think rolling like that often escalates the situation, not diffuse it - which is usually the opposite of what I want to happen.

    Crying is certainly not ideal to me and neither is getting angry (which, for some "kick-your-ass" people I know, is definitely a motivating emotion). So yeah, it's tough. I guess the best we can do is try to be patient with ourselves and others?

  2. I am exactly the same way. I once hyperventilated and began crying after an exceptionally hard sparring session with my instructor in preparation for my black belt test in Karate. It was a combination of frustration, exhaustion, fear, self loathing, plus overheating and not taking full breaths with my mouth-guard on. I was so embarrassed for my instructor to have seen it, I wanted to melt into the mats. But, I also hoped/hope it was apparent to him that the crying was more from not being able to breathe, but really it was totally emotional for me...
    I have gotten to the point of angry retaliation in sparring and BJJ and I agree again. It only made me feel worse that I let someone get me to the point where I was not working intelligently to achieve my goal. As women, we are probably always over thinking stuff like this when it probably never crosses the other guys minds - ha!

  3. Not responding to the tap is very not cool, I hope the person was suspended/expelled. BJJ is all about being able to trust your partner. A violation of that trust is no small thing.

  4. I started doing some research about this topic. It's of great interest to me. I remember seeing that episode of Sex in the City where Samantha burst into tears in the elevator, not wanting anyone to see her cry. It makes me sad that our tears are shameful. BUT I also agree that ON the mats is not an appropriate place to cry. Elena Stowell's book basically said "It's okay to cry, just not on the mats."

    I'll post in a separate comment the transcript from that Sex in the City episode.

    One thing I learned in my research is that women's tears physically reduce testosterone in men. This could very well be why they look physically uncomfortable - because they have an actual physical response to it.

  5. "Emotional" is code for "l don't want to hire a woman."
    I cried once at the gallery. Once in ten years. From then on, it was, "Careful! Don't make Charlotte cry!"
    If a guy gets angry, he's a pistol. A woman, she's emotional.
    If I say, "That's not high enough", they say, "Don't make Charlotte cry."
    Does he think I'll get my period and ruin his empire?
    Some men are threatened by strong women. They have to make her just a woman again, hence, "You're too emotional."
    I'm going back in guns blazing, cool, calm, collected.
    I'm going to impress him so much, he'll beg me to take the job.
    Just don't cry.

  6. I remember that episode too, Julia! That transcript is sooo good. I really identify with it

  7. You girls are in a male-dominated environment in JJ. Don't buy the message that you have to be just like the guys to be bad ass. There is nothing more bad ass than a woman who can kick butt on the mats (or in the pool or on the racecourse) and pop out a baby a few months later. What I've learned from competing as a semi-serious athlete and becoming a mother is that women are the bomb. Our ability to cry and not react stupidly in the face of danger is our strength, not our weakness. The shame and the crying are part and parcel of that strength. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise.

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