As the sport of BJJ evolves, so do the people training it. Jiu Jitsu girls, in particular, have been a stalwart minority in the sport for quite a long time. However, that has been changing over the last few years, and for the better. The reasons why more women are showing up for training vary, (self-defense, fitness training, love for the sport) but the fact remains that women’s Jiu Jitsu is growing. Long may it continue!
The Best Advice For Jiu Jitsu Girls
Despite breaking into the sport, women in Jiu Jitsu still face several unique challenges that BJJ presents. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu can be a hard sport to navigate for anyone, but, if you’re the only woman in your academy or club, it can be discouraging.
With that in mind, here is some advice from Jiu Jitsu girls who train, for those just starting out.
Be cooperative not competitive
Perhaps the most repeated sentiment from women in Jiu Jitsu is that the other Jiu Jitsu girls who train at your academy are not your enemy.
Paola, a new blue belt, says that you should “never compete with your teammates while training. There are only so many females that train and we need to maintain the sisterhood.”
While being the only woman at the academy can be lonely, it can also make you feel unique. As a guy, I’ve never experienced this in the male-dominated world of BJJ, but I recall being the only male among an all-female staff at a barn that I worked at. I achieved somewhat of a “celebrity” status being the only guy. I did often wish I had another guy to pal around with, but when another one showed up, I found that I became oddly territorial of my space.
“It’s natural to feel a twinge of jealousy when that new girl walks in. Fight that shit!” Kaitlin, an experienced purple belt exclaims. “Carving out a space for Jiu Jitsu girls in a male-dominated sport is a group effort. Every advance you make is on the backs of the women before us and for the benefit of the women that will follow us.”
Wear Practical Gear
For guys, finding the right Jiu Jitsu gear is easy. Their search usually comes down to a few factors: affordability, style, and protecting…vital areas.
However, for Jiu Jitsu girls, there may be a few more considerations when choosing what gear to wear. Many agree that tank tops are a no go for no-gi training. While they might feel comfortable and freeing, you’ll be more exposed to mat burn.
Kaitlin added that if you train long enough, you will most likely fall victim to at least a few wardrobe malfunctions. Understand that it’s normal and no one is likely paying any attention.
Track your progress
Learning Jiu Jitsu can be a fun, but also daunting task. The amount of information you retain and the progress you make can easily boost or erode your confidence.
For that reason, Sarah, a blue belt, opts to keep a detailed journal tracking her progress. The journal is small enough to fit in her gym bag so she can refer to it at any time. The contents include promotion days, the techniques for the day along with detailed explanations, and what aspects she struggled with.
Sarah takes it a step further by also noting who she drills and rolls with. What worked against Valerie, that didn’t work on Grace? Check the journal. The information that is valuable will change from person to person.
However, being able to see your progress written down will keep you on the mat trying to fill up the rest of your book.
Develop Thick Skin
“You’re strong for a girl.” “Do you really think you can tap me?” These are just a few comments that have been directed at Cheyenne while she trained.
Even the most well-intentioned guys have been guilty of spouting off some patronizing variation of those remarks when attempting to welcome Jiu Jitsu girls into the academy.
Despite how constant those comments seem, Cheyenne suggests that women in Jiu Jitsu shouldn’t look for reasons to be offended.
“Gently explaining to those guys making the dumb comments why you don’t appreciate them will go much further than storming off the mat, or putting them on your blacklist.”
Know your gym and know your boundaries
Savannah is a white belt. She doesn’t always have the time to train, but she loves it when she can. She started training at her university’s student-run club.
While it was a different environment from a typical academy, Savannah still felt it was important to know her boundaries. As you start training, she suggests sitting down and writing out a few rules and boundaries that will make your experience with Jiu Jitsu comfortable.
“Would you prefer only Jiu Jitsu girls as your training partners? Are there only certain guys you’re ok with? If you are not comfortable with something, do you trust yourself to speak up? Jiu Jitsu is an intimate sport and not having this conversation with yourself first can hurt you in the long run.”
Embrace your limitations
As a mom of two, a practicing blue belt, and a wife that fends off play fights from her black belt husband at home, Rachel has a wide variety of Jiu Jitsu experiences.
She and others claim women in Jiu Jitsu, especially smaller ones, will have to “work twice as hard to accomplish the same things.”
Whether you’re attempting a takedown or finishing a submission, you may not be able to rely on strength the same way men can. But, it’s worth it, according to Rachel. That harder work will cultivate determination and greater emphasis on technique for Jiu Jitsu girls.
Guard your training
While it is important to avoid competing with the other women at your academy, you will have to compete against other women if you decide to participate in tournaments.
If you’re as serious about your competition training, as Kim is, you will have to be more discerning with your training partners and training methods. She suggests finding a regular training partner who is willing to let you practice techniques multiple times over.
“Women are givers by nature, but in this sport, sometimes you have to take to reach your potential. Don’t be afraid to tell your training partners what you need.”
Kim also offers additional advice for Jiu Jitsu girls on starting to compete and being successful in competition:
- Start early. Don’t wait until you “feel ready.”
- Train with people your size whenever possible.
- Respect your opponent. They are not your enemy.
BJJ is not an easy sport for anyone. But, women in Jiu Jitsu face a unique set of challenges in what is still a male-dominated sport. Despite the obstacles, many women form a community within Jiu Jitsu that is friendly and supportive. Getting advice from Jiu Jitsu girls is priceless, and following these tips will make any new grappling lady’s first foray into the sport more enjoyable.
Jeremy is brown belt and has a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, but he also enjoys creative writing. Originally from Connecticut, where he began his 11 years of Jiu Jitsu training.