Thoughts

Women and Community in Jiu Jitsu

Community and the jiu jitsu lifestyle are discussed a lot.  But does this community extend to women in jiu jitsu?

In my experience – yes.  Meeting another woman who does jiu jitsu is like making an instant friend.  Even though I have been a part of my new school for less than a year (and have only been able to train for six of those months) I feel like I have a bunch of friends there – men and women.

Times I haven’t felt welcome

There have only been two times I’ve felt unwelcome because of my gender.  The first was my first time training.  No one really wanted to partner with the teenage girl on her first class except for the teenage boy who would eventually become my husband.  In the moment between my coach telling everyone to partner up and Evan walking over to me I felt unwelcome.

The second time I felt less welcome for being a woman was when I visited another gym.  I was still recovering from my surgery so I wasn’t training but I watched my husband and our friend train.  I asked how many women typically train and I was told that many train – and was told about the women’s only class.  When I pressed further and inquired how many women train in the regular classes the two upper belt guys I was asking seemed to think it was strange I would want to come to a regular class.

Starting is the hardest part

I think the first few months of training might be the most difficult for women to feel part of the community.  Not many people stick with jiu jitsu for very long and the learning curve is steeper for women.  Women are taught to be gentle, delicate, and peaceful.  Then in jiu jitsu you’re suddenly in possibly uncomfortable positions and told to be firm, insistent, and tough.

There’s also the fact that as a brand new white belt you’re probably going to be put with brand new white belts.  New white belts aren’t very good at rolling yet and on top of that they’re especially not good with rolling with women.   But once people realize a) that you’re going to sick around and b) that the best way to roll with women is to roll with them like everyone else things feel less awkward.

To help get through the first few months, I would recommend finding (or making!) a friend who will train with you.  Whether its another friend you bring with you or someone you meet at the gym its easier to feel welcome and excited to train when you know there is someone you want to train with.  But also know that you’re not going to ever go to a class and just not have a partner – don’t be afraid to ask someone to pair up with you, and know that even if you don’t ask your coach will still find you someone to work with!  And even if someone doesn’t seem excited to train with you know that you’re not inconveniencing them.  I learn a lot from working with people of all ranks.  Sometimes teaching someone a technique is the best way to learn it yourself.

Mentoring

As a woman in jiu jitsu, I really want more women to do jiu jitsu too.  I try to help the new women and work with them as much as possible.  I’ve seen other women who have been training for a while do this too.  Higher ranked women have gone out of their way to mentor me and help me develop my game.  And I have my jiu jitsu big sister (no relation) who I text when I feel discouraged or feel like I’m never going to get better at jiu jitsu.

Instant New Friends

I was at a bar on New Year’s Eve and found out the woman at the table next to me was a brown belt!  I was so excited and she came over to my table and we talked for 30 minutes.  Because our community is so small all of the other women I’ve met who train jiu jitsu are very excited to talk about it.  And it seems we all know each other.  I told my friend about my chance encounter and she knew exactly who I was talking about and they had even rolled together.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I feel like none of my regular training partners treat me differently because I am a woman.  They’re still happy to talk to me about jiu jitsu, trade techniques, and train with me.  Most of the schools I have visited have treated me like part of their team while I’m training there.  I think there are unique difficulties to training as a woman but the jiu jitsu community for the most part welcomes women.  I know there are schools and instructors out there who do not provide a safe or welcoming atmosphere for women but I don’t think that’s a reflection of the jiu jitsu community overall.  If you’ve found a school that isn’t welcoming you look for another, the problem isn’t you – its the school’s.

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