Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is truly an amazing journey.  What is it like being a woman and training in a male dominated sport?  For me, it is challenging, frustrating at times, but also a lot of fun.  There are many reasons why I am an advocate for jiu-jitsu.  One reason is because I truly love the art and it is the one thing in my life that provides me a true “break.”  When I’m on the mat, nothing exists but jiu-jitsu.  Jiu-Jitsu is both physically and mentally challenging and even small accomplishments are rewarding.  My personal view of jiu-jitsu is that it is the same in many ways for women and men.  While there are not as many women practitioners of jiu-jitsu as there are men, women are beginning to take more of an interest in the art.  I have been training for several years and cannot imagine a life without jiu-jitsu.

One of the great things about jiu-jitsu is that the techniques will work regardless of size and strength, making it the perfect art for women to learn.  Grand Master Helio Gracie modified traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu techniques to accommodate his smaller physique and developed a system that enabled him to defend himself against larger and stronger opponents.  One of the biggest challenges women face is that they are smaller in size and physically weaker than their male counterparts.  Women who are primarily training with men (or larger women) will need to keep this in mind.  At 5’2 and115 lbs, I am the smallest person in our academy.   All of my training partners outweigh me by at least 40-50 lbsand are significantly stronger.  Constantly training with larger and stronger opponents presents its own set of unique challenges.

So, what do you do when you’re smaller than everyone else?  You have to be responsible for your own training and create a positive training experience for yourself.  You cannot walk into class and just expect your instructors and your male training partners to cater to what you need to improve.  Be assertive, ask questions, and watch out for your own safety.  Unless you are training with upper belts (advanced blue belts and above), many guys just have no idea how much stronger they are than their female counterparts.  Higher belts already know body control and have developed a certain sensitivity to their training partners.  Women beginning jiu-jitsu should seek out higher belts as training partners instead of fellow male white belts because higher belts will be better training partners.  Higher belts will be able to train with women and allow them to work technique without crushing them because they have body control which only comes with experience.  There is nothing to “prove” in class so train smart–look out for your safety first.  And as a shout-out to all the guys out there, training with women can improve your game!  By training with a smaller partner, you develop sensitivity and body control that you would not otherwise develop with a partner your same size or larger.

Another significant challenge women face is the lack of female training partners.  If the goal is simply learning jiu-jitsu then having only male training partners is not a big deal.  However, if one of the goals is competition, I am finding that it is incredibly important to train with other women.  Women move differently than men, have a different type of game, and it is overall just a different experience rolling with a woman versus a man.  If there are not many women in your academy, just finding other women to train with can be a challenge in itself.  There are women’s classes at certain academies, there are women’s only seminars, and there are several women’s jiu-jitsu forums that you can join.  While it may require some travel and expense, training with other women is incredibly important for competition and for improving your overall game.

I have trained at three different academies over the years and I also visit other schools as a drop-in during travel.  I have always found people throughout the Jiu-Jitsu community to be friendly and accommodating.  The best advice I have for women who are training is that you have to be outgoing as it relates to your training and you cannot be afraid to ask questions.  I ask questions all the time and I have always found that my instructors and training partners are more than willing to help me.  Perseverance is the name of the game in jiu-jitsu regardless of whether you’re male or female.  Being smaller and weaker and consistently feeling like you’re losing to a larger opponent can be frustrating at times.  For me, these challenges only make me even more determined to improve and learn.  Some of the best advice I received was from Professor Pedro Sauer who said “If you’re not tapping, you’re not learning.”  This statement has stuck with me throughout the years as a reminder that jiu-jitsu requires perseverance, and that you cannot look at being tapped as a negative but instead as a positive that provides the opportunity for growth.