Jiu Jitsu is hard for everyone. At times, women training Jiu Jitsu can feel additional struggles such as intimidation, frustration, or discouragement. I’m writing this article to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’m a tiny, 5’1″, 115 lb (155 cm / 52 kg) single mom who started Jiu Jitsu in my mid 30s. Most outsiders think I’m either too small, too old, or not strong enough to train, but that’s just not true.
I’ve achieved success in competitions and excelled at Jiu Jitsu. I try my best, never give up, don’t listen to haters, and keep looking for ways to improve every day. Here are three valuable lessons that I’ve learned from training Jiu Jitsu.
Technique Can Be Used To Combat Strength
Most Jiu Jitsu practitioners know the Helio Gracie quotation,
“Always assume that your opponent is going to be bigger, stronger, and faster than you so that you learn to rely on technique, timing, and leverage rather than brute strength.”
It’s 100% true.
As a small woman, I have gotten stuck in side control and mount more times than I could count. It was always tough as a white and even blue belt to combat the pressure of a much larger opponent (At 5’1″, everyone is bigger than me).
When we get into these situations, it can be disheartening. I remember being so frustrated laying there, pinned, having used all of my strength trying to get out of these positions to no avail.
But slowly, I started changing my mentality from “I can’t get out of this” to “there is a way.” I focused on technique instead of my circumstances. I drilled escapes over and over until I couldn’t drill anymore. Now, when I roll with a larger, much stronger opponent, I can quickly escape mount and side control.
I also found that I can use sweeps more effectively against heavier opponents by using their weight distribution against them. When they lean too much to one side, gravity carries their weight for me and the sweep is almost effortless.
With that said, there will always be those who can force a submission by overpowering you. It happens to both women and men. But that’s ok. That’s life. And really, who cares? If you focus on technique and drill your heart out, you’ll put yourself in a better place mentally and physically.
Just have patience and keep drilling. Don’t compare yourself to others. Focus on getting better every day.
Size Doesn’t Matter–Heart Does
Professional Boxer Joe Louis said,
“I can teach you every technique and trick I know, but I can never make you a fighter. That comes from inside, and it’s something no one else can ever give you.”
Mentality is everything. I whole-heartedly believe that. I learned that in competition and I remember the moment it came to me.
I competed in a local tournament at blue belt and moved up to the purple belt division since there was no one in my weight class in my division. My first match lasted a grueling hour. But in the middle of that match, I saw a switch in the mentality of my opponent.
She gave up, lost heart, and was doubting herself. She even talked to me about it during the fight. At that moment, I realized, “I can win this.”
I wasn’t better than her. I wasn’t more skilled. She was a whole belt level higher than me and had much more experience. But I wanted it more and the submission or win always goes to the person who wants it most. I won that match that day, not because I was better at Jiu Jitsu, but because I didn’t give up.
No matter who your opponent is or how you feel on the mats, put your heart into every roll. You’ll not only develop muscle memory but will build your mental strength, as well.
You May Be The Only Woman On The Mats–And That’s Ok
It may seem intimidating to be the only woman in class or even in your entire gym, but your teammates, men or women, are there to help you grow. Rolling with men can be a great experience and can help build your character, self-esteem, strength, and technique.
I always tell my opponents not to go easy on me. I don’t want someone rolling light with me just because I’m a woman. I want to challenge myself and see how much success I have when put to the test.
Rolling with men is always invaluable to my progress in Jiu Jitsu because I’m pushed to the limits of my abilities and forced to figure ways out of the most challenging situations.
Rolling with men will also give you an advantage in competition when you’re placed in a division with women of the same weight class. It’s like swinging a heavier bat before hitting a baseball or shadowboxing with hand weights.
Going from a heavy to a lighter opponent will make techniques feel almost effortless and help you flow through movements better.
In terms of the self-defense aspect of Jiu Jitsu, rolling with men will prepare you for any situation that may happen in life. God forbid someone attacks you one day, but if the situation arises you will already be used to fighting someone larger than you and will be prepared with techniques that genuinely work against heavier, stronger people.
Jiu Jitsu is a challenging sport, especially for women. Some say it’s the toughest sport out there. But as a woman in Jiu Jitsu, you can capitalize on certain aspects of your training.
You can work with heavier training partners to create an advantage for yourself on the mats by solidifying your technique and testing your limits. Show yourself what you’re made of. You might find out that you’re much stronger than you realized.
Kimberly is a Jiu Jitsu purple belt who also holds a black belt in Siljun Dobup Korean Sword Arts. When she’s not on the mats, she enjoys immersing herself in nature or a good book. She trains in New Jersey with her 9-year-old son.