Not everyone has trouble training with their significant other and that’s wonderful. I’m genuinely happy for them. I am not one of them. I am one of those, that no matter who wins or loses the match, or who is drilling the move while the other is the dummy, there’s going to be at least some grumbling. For those who do have difficulty, this article is for you. It isn’t a solution, but a reflection on what I believe to be the underlying difficulty for me as a woman training with my male sexual or romantic partners. Maybe you can relate.
I believe in an ideal relationship; the power has to be equal between parties. Relationships are a give and take. There isn’t a scorecard, but generally partners are teammates in life. They’re sharing responsibilities or splitting them and are both equally invested and empowered to stay or leave. Ideally. Even in relationships that use Domination and Submission, the underlying power is equal because both parties agree to that structure.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is many great things but at its core, it’s a power struggle. You are trying to control another person. In a safe setting with understanding people, this works. But when the power is socially unequal … it can be problematic. I think this is why training with significant others can be so difficult.
When you train, you learn to accept that many times, your training partner will have control over you. I’ve come to terms with that. When it’s someone I’m involved with, that goes out the window.
I feel like our culture has this idea that women become the property of who they are involved with. They become less of an entity themselves and lose power. In my head, once I’m involved with someone, I feel like they hold a certain power over me. I don’t like it. Our male dominated society at times makes me feel secondary because I am a woman. I feel secondary due to how I’m made to question my place when I enter a relationship, and men generally won’t. This is because women are often portrayed as sexual conquests for men. BJJ culture is very machismo and stuck with some old-fashioned views. This paired with our political climate, I think many can understand these feelings and fears.
That’s why I can’t accept losing to my significant other. I do not want him to have that power over me. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is my time, my passion, my challenge. I don’t want him holding it over me. I don’t want him to feel smug. I don’t want to validate some childish primal feelings of manliness that equate to being more powerful than a woman. I hate it when I roll with a man and I can feel the little smirk on their face and see them thinking how cute it is this girl is trying to control them. The expected and accepted feeling that they are superior only due to being a man, and having that extra muscle mass makes me sick. I get over it though when it’s just a training partner. Better, I hope I sometimes teach them otherwise.
Most men will agree they hate losing to women. Many men feel emasculated losing to a woman in a sport that is supposedly for men. Yeah, some white belts get starry eyed when a girl beats them, but single women who train often are inundated with messages from men (many who don’t even train) telling them how as men, they can beat them whenever they want. That or they get the kink messages, the messages asking for the woman to beat them up, which can also feel belittling to their skill. I do feel for men who must struggle with accepting the switched roll of who has the physical power in the relationship. I’m just not going to accept the norm.
Often times this means losing a great, and the most available, training partner for me. It’s a cost. When I train with them, one of us always complains about the other going too hard, or one of us gets hurt. If I get hurt I get angry, and if I hurt them I feel terrible and it ruins my training. I can’t fight anymore.
I don’t want to have a power struggle with my boyfriend. Nor does he. I want us to support and push each other, and never feel forced by the other to relent any of the power we ourselves have. As Girls in Gis says, Strength in Solidarity. For us that means keeping it off the mats.
About the Author:
Ketra Bartek AKA the Cuddly Killer is a brown belt based out of Austin Texas. She loves to aggressively cuddle for fun and competition. Her favorite way to relax after training is snuggling her dogs while finding cute pet videos to inundate her friends.