Those of us who love jiu jitsu know it can be a life-changing activity, one that teaches a variety of life lessons. We learn how to survive, how to put in the hard work to get better, and how to embrace the grind. We have all had a unique jiu jitsu journey with similar themes. One especially important theme is body image.
Many of us become conscious about our bodies from a young age and lose confidence in it. That can impact our physical, mental, emotional, and social health. While this is true for men as well, one thing separates women from men in the BJJ community: being women. In a male-dominated combat sport, many of us jiu jitsu ladies have limited options for training with other women. Men and women are biologically different.
While being a woman in jiu jitsu may create many challenges due to the lack of training partners who are like us, the challenges themselves also build our confidence up, bring us together into a close community, put us in touch with ourselves, and transform our minds and bodies. Women in the jiu jitsu community have many stories to share about how this sport has had a positive impact on them.
“Jiu Jitsu has definitely made me aware of what my body can and can’t do. It has given me the chance to really get to know my body- the pros and cons. With this sport I have put my body in weird, but cool positions I never thought I could do, and it’s been super exciting to learn more every day. It has given me the opportunity to really get in depth with how my body works and pushes me.” – Biby M. For some like Biby jiu jitsu has helped them become more aware of their bodies, while for others it helped them overcome struggles with eating disorders.
“When I was 12 years old, I was wearing baggy t-shirts and starving myself because a relative told me I was getting chubby, and I thought my crush would like me more if I was skinnier. For the next ten years I struggled with a spectrum of eating disorders. In my experience, eating disorders are about separating the body as far as possible from the mind. Jiujitsu does not allow for the separation of mind and body. …I don’t think confidence really comes from accomplishments or medals or being the greatest or a top-ranking athlete. It comes from knowing yourself. That’s the real gift of jiu jitsu. …Everyone who starts it will eventually do things they never knew their bodies could do.” – Beatrice J.
For myself, grappling helped me develop confidence from the start. When I began wrestling at the age of sixteen I was also becoming more conscious of my body, and I was lucky to never deal with excessive body image struggles because of it. At first I felt worried about whether I would be seen as being “too masculine” and wondered if my weight would be attractive to others. Then, after weighing myself daily and embracing the grind I stopped caring about the number on the scale and being the only girl in the room taught me that I could handle any obstacle in my way and that other’s opinions on my body didn’t matter. Once I started jiu jitsu in college I had already developed a mostly healthy relationship with my body, and as the years of training and learning to beat people up have passed. I have gained confidence in, appreciation for, and immense comfort with my body. Grappling, but especially jiu jitsu, has helped me connect to myself and feel like a complete person, and it’s not just me. From the quick rooster weights to the powerful heavy weights, every woman in jiu jitsu has a unique body and an individual experience with it. Many women who struggle with their body image learn to develop a positive one through jiu jitsu.
The human body is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t always feel like it. Yet the days in the gym or on the mats when we struggle to get better, to love ourselves, and to feel confident and comfortable, are the struggles that will connect us to ourselves. The magic of jiu jitsu isn’t in any one technique, tournament, or victory. The magic of jiu jitsu is in how it makes us connect to ourselves and changes us from the inside out. Through embracing jiu jitsu we learn to embrace ourselves.
Fleur Wayman is a Purple Belt at Kaizen MMA where she coaches beginner and women’s classes.
Fleur is also a manual therapist and is pursuing a Doctorate of Physical Therapy so she can be a rehabilitation and movement coach for combat athletes.