How Girls in Gis Helped Me On The Long Road to Black Belt

I remember the day I decided that I wasn’t going to quit Jiu-Jitsu. A week earlier, black belt Kristine Felts had visited my academy and after one of the most challenging rolls of my life, we stopped to talk in the parking lot. I was a purple belt at the time and expressed to her my frustration at being the only girl who consistently trained.

“Well, you just have to go train with other women,” she said, like she could just snap her fingers and produce a room full of female training partners.

“How?” I questioned. “I can’t just magically find other women to train with!” I exclaimed. She laughed and gave me a knowing smile.  She understood.

During my time on the mats, I’ve had professors tell the male students to “take it easy on the only girl”. I also endured having to tolerate bawdy jokes in order to be accepted into the boys’ club. After venting to her,  Kristine insisted that I ride from Dallas to Houston with her to attend a Girls in Gis event, so I could experience what it was like to be part of an empowered BJJ sisterhood.

Walking into the academy in Houston, I never dreamed of so many women on the mat, much less seeing so many black and brown belts. During my first Girls in Gis event, I saw women supporting first-timers while doing shrimp drills. I saw women commiserating over the lack of female changing areas and the discomfort of some burly dude shutting down their techniques using pure strength. I observed fearless young girls wearing oversized gi pants rolled up at the ankles giggling during the warm ups.  Most importantly, I witnessed lifelong friendships being formed, a support system being discovered, and women lifting each other up rather than viewing others as competition. 

That night during the long drive home, I reflected on what I had experienced. Not only was I not going to quit Jiu Jitsu, but I was going to make it my mission to create a welcoming, encouraging culture for women and girls on the mat in any way I could.  Soon after, I began attending every event in Texas and even some in Oklahoma and Louisiana. Eventually, I became an ambassador for the organization. 

Now, five years later, I have a black belt tied around my waist.  Would I be here without my involvement in Girls in Gis?  I like to think that I would have worked through that frustration at the purple belt level, but I don’t know. BJJ is hard, but the road seems a little less bumpy when there is a support system of mat sisters surrounding you during those difficult matches and days when it is easy to talk yourself out of showing up. It is important in a male dominated sport to see other women training, achieving, and progressing. That, in turn, will lead to more women on mats because we are truly better together. Strength in solidarity.


About the Author:

Jill Sandoval

Guest Writer

Jill fell in love with martial arts after joining the judo club in college. After a 10 year hiatus from judo, Jill was tired of being out of shape and signed up her and her husband at a local BJJ academy. The mental aspect of the Jiu Jitsu game appealed to her inner nerd.  Having been to only girl in her judo club and the only consistently training girl through purple belt at her BJJ academy, Jill was excited to discover Girls in Gis.

“I believe that my involvement with Girls in Gis ignited my passion for Jiu Jitsu. It is empowering to belong to a fabulous community of strong women all across the country. Girls in Gis has allowed me to meet tons of new people, make lifelong friends, learn great techniques and travel all over the place doing what I love to do…Jiu Jitsu!”

Jill is a black belt under Orlando Waugh.  She and her husband earned their black belts the same day after 10 years on the mats. Off the mats, she has been a special education teacher since 2002.

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