At age 42 I found myself addicted to alcohol and I was ready to do whatever it took to get out of a disastrous downward spiral. My first step was seeking counseling. My therapist said that I needed to do something to help me get my strength back. My first thought was, “I’ll try martial arts.” I tried a kicking/striking martial art, but I didn’t enjoy it. Eventually, I found BJJ and signed up for a free trial week.
As I began exploring BJJ, I stopped numbing myself with alcohol, but I began to have flashbacks from a sexual assault I experienced almost 25 years ago. One day, my coach was teaching submissions from high mount. Immediately, my heart started racing as I saw him demonstrate on another student. This position was all too real to me. It echoed my assault, but I didn’t have the confidence to speak up and say I didn’t feel comfortable trying the drill. So, I did it and burst into tears. It was so scary! My coach was compassionate, but I don’t think he really understood why I reacted the way I did. Luckily there is also a female coach at our gym, and I confided in her.
For 25 years, I walked around with shame and guilt from what happened. I kept it a secret. I still felt it was my fault. Confiding in my female coach was the first step in my healing. Sharing made the shame and guilt less. I found my voice. I could start to talk about it as something that was done to me instead of thinking it defined me.
I kept going to class. Sometime as I drove to and from class I would be so overwhelmed with feelings that I would find myself shaking and crying in my car. A few times I couldn’t even get out of my car at all. But I came back. I wanted to get comfortable with the uncomfortable positions. I knew if I could conquer my fear, I could take my power back. Deep down I knew that learning BJJ would make me stronger. I also felt that if I quit my perpetrator would win. He would have my power.
With the help of my coaches, I have been able to, little by little, gain the strength and confidence that was taken from me so long ago. Sometimes I wonder about my reason to train. I still fear being attacked again. I don’t know how to move on and come to training from a different place. I’m sure, though, it will happen someday when I’m ready.
Sometimes when I am rolling with a man I practice and plan my next moves in my head as if I were being assaulted. And when I can escape a submission or, on rare occasions, actually get close to submitting my partner. I feel good and think that if I ever were assaulted again, the guy would be sorry he chose me!
I would tell any woman with a similar experience and who is considering BJJ to go for it. But, be cautious and kind to yourself. You know your limits. If you are not ready to try a drill today, then maybe tomorrow, or next week, or next month you will be. Speak up for yourself. Don’t roll with someone you feel uncomfortable with just because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. You can decide! Also, at my gym there is a strong sense of community, kindness, and safety. If you don’t feel these vibes at your gym find another place to roll. I can work through my trauma because of the immense trust I have in my coaches and training partners.
Just this weekend I found my voice and told someone that the last roll with them felt scary to me. They listened and I felt safe during the next roll. We even laughed and had fun. The next day I was even able to let myself be caught in high mount with them and take a deep breath and just be there for a moment before tapping. It may seem like baby steps, but I feel I have grown leaps and bounds. Sometimes I have setbacks and feel like I must start all over again, but I like to think of it as an upward spiral now.
Brandy K. is a two-stripe white belt and has been training Jiu Jitsu for eight months. She is a drummer and has been passionate about music for most of her life. Brandy also enjoys doing yoga, gardening, and spending time with her husband and three children.