The danger of getting attached

I’ve been talking a lot with a friend of mine recently about something that happened at her gym. She has recently switched gyms and started training at my former weekend school and has fallen in love with BJJ all over again. She always loved it and trained regularly but now she’s found a gym that’s a better fit for her. I am extremely happy about her switching gyms as well because we are part of the same team now and can train together. Her old gym used to be affiliated with a certain large organization which recently disbanded amidst a ton of scandal (I won’t name names) and they did not allow training outside of said large organization.

When she moved gyms there was also a surprising spike in new female membership. At the beginning of the year there were only two women at the gym, one who has a hectic schedule and does not get to train that often and me who only trained there on the weekends. First my friend joined and then three new girls shortly after her. We tripled the girls in a matter of weeks!

For those of you who are not familiar with what happens to an experienced woman at the gym when a new woman joins, let me explain. I have discussed before that when there are two women training, it is just assumed by everyone that they will drill with each other. It does not matter if one is more experienced or they are nowhere near the same size, they are both chicks and therefore expected to train together.

So as an experienced female grappler, when you see a new woman come in, you know your destiny in class for the foreseeable future. I will admit that sometimes this is frustrating. Sometimes you might want to drill a move with resistance or to roll hard but you are drilling with someone who requires more time and patience to get through class. I realize that both men and women have this experience and that we have all been the new, confused person in class who couldn’t figure out how everyone was locking up a figure 4 for the triangle. It is just that when the new person is a woman, if there is another woman who trains, she is going to spend the majority of her time with the new person in contrast to a new man who has multiple training partners to choose from.

But I really can’t complain too much about this. As women we are particularly invested in keeping the new girls in class. Many women are lucky to have even one other woman at their gym so when a new girl shows up, the excitement over a potential training partner is big. We are willing to invest our time and our training in this new person in the hopes that they will be a good training partner for us in the future.

When I first started at my weekend school, I would be paired with the other woman who trained there every time we were in class together. She has almost 3 years more experience than me and I would often feel bad that she was spending her training time with my spazzy, white-belt self. I said something about it to her one day and she told me that we always want to help our training partners no matter what but that particularly we want to help the women. She told me that she’d help me however she could and that one day I would hopefully be able to pay it forward. I remember this often and always try to be a mentor to the new women who start at our gym.

So back to the present. My friend found herself in the position of being the mentor to all the new girls at the gym because she is there more than any of the others (especially me since I had to stop training there). This was the first time she had been in this position as she trained with higher belts at her old gym. The girls all bonded quickly and would not only hang out in class but also regularly text, Facebook message and plan fun nights out.

Just a couple of weeks ago I asked her how it was going with the girls at the gym and I tried to gently warn her that there was a possibility they might not stick with it. Since I was part of the gym when they started, I am still in the loop somewhat and I was recognizing the signs of someone who was losing interest in training. I have seen many people come and go at my gym and sometimes you just know when someone is not going to stick with it.

Well not surprisingly she texted me Monday and told me that the girl had just informed her that she was quitting. My friend was really upset about it because she felt she had invested a lot of time to help her and now it had gone to waste. I completely understood her frustration. I have been there. Not only are you losing a potential training partner but you’ve just invested weeks, maybe months of your own training time trying to help this person out and it was all for nothing. I also think that as people who are absolutely obsessed with jiu-jitsu it’s just hard for us to understand why anyone would quit anyway…it’s the best thing in the world!

Is it a waste of our time trying to help the new girls if we don’t know if they’re going to stick with it? I can honestly say that I don’t regret any of the time I’ve spent with the new girls at my gym. I would encourage her, and any other woman, to keep doing the same thing. It’s always going to stink when someone you tried to help decides that BJJ is not for them and leaves. You are always going to be sad to lose a potential training partner and friend. But they are not always going to quit BJJ. Every now and then someone will stick with it and you will know that you were a large part of that.

So women, keep helping those new girls out. BJJ is hard for anyone who is new but particularly for women and having you there is going to be a big help for them. Hopefully you will get the privilege of seeing some of them stick with it and then pay it forward with other new girls. And I am not leaving you out here guys. If there is a new girl at the school, drill with her every now and then. It’s good for everyone to have a variety of drilling partners and friendliness from some of the guys might help her feel more comfortable. We all have some BJJ kindness to pay forward.

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5 responses to “The danger of getting attached”

  1. Jon says :

    It kind of saddens me a little hearing about that “chicks train with chicks” expectation. I’ve never understood it. I absolutely love training with the women at my academy. For the most part (and I’m not saying anything new) they’ve had to compensate for the size/strength difference since the beginning and up around the high-level blue/purple belt their technique is like Teflon. It’s just smooth. There’s one girl in particular that’s literally half my size who takes me to school on a weekly basis every Saturday. I have no problem with this, and actually seek it out, as I always learn something.

    There’s been a ton of stuff posted recently on various blogs and message boards about training with women, how to keep women training, etc (Julia’s blog has some outstanding stuff on the subjects). I’ve been thinking of adding my two cents to the discussion, but I’ve never experienced some of the things these people are talking about. If I see or hear sexism and/or disrespect I squash it (I’m supposed to be the adult). I don’t know. I have nothing but a positive point of reference to work from and I don’t think the negative side of the discussion has run its course.

    Anyway, this is a great post. I’d be very interested in any other thoughts you have about the subject.

    • camamyd says :

      I think a lot of this happens when there is a new girl because pretty much everyone agrees that it is probably easier for her to go with a girl at first so it’s a little less awkward. Also I really think it is important for any woman to have the opportunity to train with other women so I am happy to put some time in helping a new girl get acclimated to class but eventually it benefits us both to work with varying partners.

      Also some of my favorite training partners are guys, considering that most of the time I train at my gym I am the only girl there (we have other women but they are not in the advance class yet), I don’t really have a choice in the matter anyway. As you mentioned, I have heard many guys say they like rolling with the girls because they are much more technical. I am glad to hear that you are getting the most out of rolling with the girls at your school, every girl who trains appreciates the guys like you at the gym!

  2. Sarah S. says :

    The “women with women” expectation is really frustrating for me sometimes. In a lot of ways, its cool – I can figure out what’s different with women. (Tell me – can you get a head and arm choke on a woman? None of the women in my gym can get choked that way – we’ll feel the crank, but not the choke – anatomy differences?) There are only a few women at my school, but I am a lot smaller than the other women I train with I often struggle to get techniques right, because I’m just not strong enough. It is embarrassing for my female training partners, and I’m embarrassed because I make them feel large and embarrassed because I feel ineffectual. Meanwhile there are men who are much closer to my weight. It often takes repeated failed attempts at a throw or roll before one of us asks to trade partners with the men, so we’re more evenly matched. Whenever there are other females there, we kind of look at each other, shrug, and pair up, because we know its expected. Its not so much that we MIND – its just that it doesn’t make sense.

    But I love training with new women. I’m new myself, and so (a) new women make me realize that I’ve actually learned things and (b) it makes me understand how important building a positive environment is. I want them to stick around. I understand they really might not. But more than that, I want them to have positive experiences from class. I want them to be excited. I don’t want them intimidated or scared. I want them to realize that we ALL suck when we start. And so I make the effort to roll with any new women we get. (Which, unfortunately, is rare.)

    • camamyd says :

      I had the opposite problem as you when I first started in that I was about 30-40 pounds bigger than the only other girl who was training at the time. She had that fear we all have when we start of being crushed (probably even worse for her cause she’s tiny) and she couldn’t stand when I put all my weight on her so I developed some really crappy training habits (like not putting my weight on anyone…that’s apparently important in BJJ) that I had to overcome. I would also often have to ask a guy to try a move while drilling so I didn’t crush her. I very often felt frustrated that she was my only drilling partner because it made no sense given our size differences plus I think everyone should work with different partners. The guys had access to 10 or more potential drilling partners every night and I always had one option.

      As you said though, I love training with other girls (particularly those really hardcore girls) so I will do what I can to make them enjoy BJJ and want to keep training. Interesting point you bring up about the head and arm choke though. That’s currently my favorite sub to go for because I rock some wicked shoulder pressure and it flows nicely from that. I mostly train with guys and have had success with it but I will have to make it a point to try it when rolling with girls. I teach a women’s class on Saturdays and drilled the head and arm choke with them one weekend and we were all able to get it but drilling and rolling are quite different.

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