If you are a girl in a gi, a female who does jiu jitsu, you’re missing out if you haven’t already join the Women’s Grappling Network group on Facebook. It is a group for women who train grappling arts to share thoughts, promote open mats, share tournament info, and support each other.
One moderator of the group, Gillian Davis said, “It’s a place where women can discuss their experiences of being women in martial arts, specifically grappling. We also do our best to support our ladies hustling with businesses and side projects.”
The posts on the Women’s Grappling Network range from questions about hair, menstruation, training while pregnant to what’s the best gi for your body type.
“Other times it means discussing difficulty navigating a male dominated sport and finding your place there, your comfort there and your space there,” Davis said. “All of these topics are a valid part of the journey for women.”
Davis is not only one of the two moderators for the ever-growing group, but she is also a mom of two, a research scientist, and a black belt. She and her husband own Brazen Martial Arts in Windsor, New Jersey.
Being a black belt who started jiu jitsu in 2011 makes Davis a knowledgeable moderator in a jiu jitsu group. She has seen more and more women training jiu jitsu over the years, and she enjoys watching this community of women grow.
The Women’s Grappling Network has around 11,800 members. Mediating such a popular site takes up a lot of her time, “Especially when I’m moderating a heated conversation,” she said, “but my family understands it’s important for me to give back to the community, and it causes no strife.”
Davis’s martial arts journey initially commenced because she was a huge fan of MMA, and she struggled with losing weight.
“I felt like if I could find something fun and useful, it might be easier to do, and some amount of self defense as an adult female seemed like a logical thing that would cover all of these things (learning self defense plus and weight loss),” mentioned Davis.
And lose weight, she did. Davis wound up losing 65 pounds (a bit too quickly). She said she over trained, lifted, and ran while eating too little in the beginning.
“I think initially, when overweight folks like myself catch the bug, there is this big rush to do it all at once,” said Davis.
She said she took a step back and did a lot of research to where she would healthily maintain weight. She wanted something sustainable, and she became a vegetarian/mostly vegan in 2016, which helped her with weight management.
Davis has trained striking/MMA almost as long as she has trained jiu jitsu.
“I like striking because my balance is terrible and I find it harder than grappling. So it’s very challenging for me, whereas I feel like grappling came more easily for me,” she said. “I would say, on a good day, I’m a blue belt striker. For MMA in general, it just wasn’t for me. I had a bucket list of doing one pro fight, but it didn’t work out before I had my daughter and now I just don’t have the time to devote to training in order to do an MMA camp.”
As for jiu jitsu, Davis is still an avid competitor (except for the rather long hiatus due to COVID).
“I love that competing keeps me accountable to consistent training, good nutrition, and overall health and well-being due to having make weight, but also because I am pretty competitive and don’t like to be at a disadvantage that I could have prevented,” explained Davis.
She won double gold a Masters/Blue for No Gi Pans in 2014 and took home double gold at Masters/Purple No Gi Worlds in 2015. But Davis has competed in well over 100 tournament matches and she said the size and the stage or the name of the tournament doesn’t matter to her.
“I’ve had some crazy hard matches at local NAGA or Grappling Industries or Good Fights just as much as I’ve had challenges at IBJJF,” she stated.
Right now Davis works remotely from home in the morning and heads to the academy with her family in the late afternoon. She lifts three days a week and runs three days a week, on top of her regular jiu jitsu training. Her 3-year-old daughter takes kids class. After that, she hangs out with her daughter while her 18-year-old son helps her husband teach the older kids class and the adult class. Oftentimes, Davis and her son switch off attending the adult classes, taught by her husband, while the other one watches her daughter.
Speaking of her husband, Davis met him while training jiu jitsu. She said it’s actually pretty great being married to her coach and someone she owns the academy with.
“Our skill sets really complement each other on and off the mats, so we rarely butt heads. There were definitely tense moments during MMA amp when I would get frustrated, particularly when sparring kickboxing, because he has been doing martial arts for 30 years and he sometimes forgets that he should LET ME hit him at least once in a while,” Davis laughed.
Jiu jitsu has helped Davis cope with some of her anxiety and she said, “I like that it really forces me to deal with things that make me uncomfortable while also empowering me in those situations.”
She used to struggle with being on the bottom and getting crushed, but being able to tap gave her the power she needed to force herself into spending time there, in that bad position.
Jiu jitsu has been a blessing in Davis’s life and whether she knows it or not, she is a role model to other females. This bright PhD is not only intelligent, but her high level jiu jitsu skills make her a great coach, as well. And she also has the equal part rewarding and equal part exhausting job of regulating thousands of comments on Women’s Grappling Network.
“I just try to put out the energy I’d like to get back and look to surround myself with similar minded people,” Davis said.
She finds it very rewarding being able to give back to the community that has given her so much over the years, by being a moderator of Women’s Grappling Network.
“I do my best but my door is always open for folks to contact me with suggestions/concerns/complaints,” Davis explained. ‘We really try to mostly let the group chart its own path, only pruning occasionally to prevent it from heading in a direction we think would limit our ability to help the community.”
Mindy Yager is co-owner of Select Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Waco, TX, where she is a brown belt. She has a degree in journalism from Baylor University, where she also teaches self-defense courses in the Health, Human Performance and Recreation department. Mindy is a mom to two boys, Abram and Hawk, and is married to Lance Yager. You can follow her on Instagram @jiujitsumindy or on Facebook as Mindy Poehl Yager