Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is growing in popularity, and for good reason. The self-defense, health benefits, and friendships formed on the mats— the list of benefits could go on and on! While this sport has been male-dominated for quite some time, women are finding their ways to the mats in larger numbers than ever. (YES!) Much like beginning any new adventure, it’s helpful to have some insight about what to expect. Jiu Jitsu is a culture all its own, with lots of unspoken expectations that can take a while to pick up on. While every gym has its own specific culture and vibe, here’s a little list of things you might encounter as a female grappler.
The only female in the room.
Most women who have been training for a little while can probably think back to a time when they showed up for class and realized that they were the only female in the room. This may not be a big deal for you, or it may make you feel incredibly uncomfortable, especially if you are just beginning and don’t know your potential training partners well. A good coach or professor will be anticipating this and think of someone to partner you up with. Whatever your feelings are about this situation, if you are paying to learn this sport, you should be able to chat with a coach about it. On the other side of this, perhaps you are annoyed at the prospect of only ever being partnered with another female. This should also be a concern that you can bring to your coach. Many women find that they progress just fine with only having male partners to train with. Always be respectful and know that you (or anyone you train with) should be able to turn down a roll if they feel uncomfortable about it.
The Insecure male with ego.
While insecurity comes in every gender, the mere fact that there are more males training means that the odds of you encountering someone like this are higher. While we all want to win, there are some men that can take this to a dangerous place. This is the guy that realizes your technique is getting the best of him and kicks it into high gear with the spazzing and use of strength that is not proportionate to yours. He just can’t handle losing to a woman. (*eye roll). Odds are, if he’s doing this to you, he’s doing it to other women in the gym. This is when you let the “Mat Enforcer” or coach at your gym know what’s up and let humility commence. On a personal note, I will say that 95% of the men I’ve trained with have been great training partners.
There’s nothing quite like finding huge clumps of hair on the mats after a good roll. Some women braid it. Some under-cut it. Some put a million elastic bands in it. Some cover it up. Whatever your hair situation, it’s good to figure out what works for you so you don’t end up getting it grabbed and pulled over and over. The amazingly resourceful women in this sport have come up with all sorts of ways to protect hair and there are many videos and tutorials floating around the internet on how to do this.
The quest to find the perfect gi.
Ah, the great gi conundrum. “This top fits perfect, but I can’t move in these pants.” It seems there is always a conversation going about which companies are making the best gis for women. Every body (regardless of gender) is different, but it seems like female grapplers have to look a bit harder than our male counterparts for gis that address things like wider hips, powerful thighs and chest size. C-section mommas also have the added challenge of finding pants that don’t sit right on that scar. There are several brands out there offering more options, like the ability to order different sizes of gi tops and gi pants. Eventually, you’ll find your favorite gi. Keep looking!
If you end up wanting to compete, you may find that your divisions are much smaller. Sometimes, only one other woman may show up. As the sport grows, this will likely become less of an issue, but right now, you may compete against the same women over and over if you live in a smaller area. While you may want some variety in your competitions, this does give you the opportunity to meet and connect with other female grapplers in your area. Yay, solidarity!
This list cannot capture all the things that female grapplers run into on their journeys with this sport, but hopefully it helps other women see that some of these things are universal and it’s not weird if you are going through similar situations. What Jiu Jitsu quirks have you encountered?
Danielle is a blue belt at National Martial Arts in Norman, Oklahoma. She is a veteran, military spouse and social worker. Jiu Jitsu has brought her the best friendships. When she’s not training, you can find her spending time with her family. She hopes to one day start a non-profit program using BJJ to help people work through the effects of trauma.