I ruin everything
I am about the easiest person in the universe to make feel guilty (I am also prone to gross exaggeration). This is not always a bad thing. It keeps me from doing jerky things sometimes. But it is often not a good thing either. There have been people in my life who knew how to play that guilt like a banjo to get their way. I also find myself worrying too much about making other people happy, so much so that my own happiness will take a back seat. So what does this have to do with BJJ? It turns out a lot.
As I have mentioned before, I regularly find myself in the position of being the only woman in training. Rational or not, warranted or not, I very often feel guilty about this. I feel guilty for the person who ends up drilling with me because I feel like I am sometimes the least desirable training partner. This is not to say the guys don’t like me or that they hate working with me or I am terrible to drill with but I know it is often tricky to work with a girl. There is usually a size gap and they worry about crushing me. Also, I think that sometimes the guys feel like they have to hold back a little to work with the girls and they don’t necessarily want to. Plus there is always the fear of awkward hand misplacement (btw guys as long as you don’t linger and/or squeeze, I really don’t care if you accidentally put your hands on my boobs).
So as a result I am just about always the last person standing when we partner up to drill. Inevitably I end up staring at my teammates watching them pair off and waiting for the one guy who is left to work with. Even worse though is when we have an odd number in class and then I end up standing there alone and having to pick a group to work in with. My coach told me that I should just ask one of the guys instead of waiting to be picked but I feel guilty (there it is again) because I feel like I am sticking them with a drilling partner they do not want.
On Saturday I was talking to one of the students after our women’s class and she told me she had been to a class during the week for the first time, which meant that she had worked with the boys for the first time. Typically I am there every day during the week but last week I got a nasty chest cold and missed a few days including the day she came in. She told me she was upset with herself that she didn’t roll at the end of class. We were talking about the reasons she didn’t roll and eventually she admitted that she felt kind of guilty about it because she is very small and she didn’t want to make the boys go easy with her.
I told her I understood (believe me I understand) but that it was something that we all had to get over in order to train. I told her that we all have the right to train and as women we might have to be a little more assertive about exercising that right. I said that anyone can get something out of working with anyone else and that her partners would just have to learn that. This is something I truly believe. When I am rolling with brand new people who are obviously a little intimidated to have made it to the advanced side of the mat, I use it as an opportunity to work on things that I wouldn’t normally try with more advanced opponents. I also really like to help the new people out (well any person!) so if they make an obvious mistake that I am able to capitalize on, I will tell them after what they did and hopefully it helps them out.
Yesterday I went to tournament training at the team HQ in Center City. I have been going for a couple of months now and there were only two times that I was not the only woman there and those were the first two weeks so it’s been a while since I was not the sole member of my gender at training. I have often felt even guiltier going to tournament training than I do going to regular training. This is training that is meant for everyone to go really hard and I know that often the guys won’t go their hardest with me because of concern of hurting me. I keep going though because I need to train like that if I’m going to compete and like I said, everyone has the right to train. But I sometimes can’t help but think I ruin the all boys club by showing up.
After a few rounds yesterday I was feeling kind of gassed (getting over a chest cold makes it hard to breathe, not being able to breath makes BJJ suck) so I took a break. I sat on the side and watched the next round. I watched the guy who I had just rolled with who had definitely not gone hard with me training like a maniac with another blue belt. I looked at all the guys going 100% with each other and a wave of guilt washed over me. I felt guilty that these guys were there to train hard and I was holding them back. I felt guilty that I couldn’t be as strong as them and I most likely never will be.
So when the round ended I just couldn’t bring myself to walk back on the mat and ask one of the guys to roll. I just sat there thinking that if someone asked me to roll I would but I was not going to make these guys who had come here to train hard roll with me. For three rounds I sat there watching the guys roll and feeling inadequate. I got one more roll in on the last round when a nice brown belt asked me to roll but again it turned more into a flow roll than a tournament type roll.
Afterwards I couldn’t help but reflect on what a hypocrite I was. One day I am telling a student to assert her right to train and that the boys will just have to deal with it and the next day I am sitting on the sidelines feeling weak and inferior. I think we all have moments like this, men included. We feel like we are not good enough to train with those around us and we don’t want to ruin training for other people. This is often hard for women because we cannot hide our perceived inferiority (inferiority from a BJJ standpoint, girls are better than boys in most other aspects).
So what am I going to do about this guilt I feel when training? Well I often tell people that the only solution to BJJ problems is more BJJ. I think that applies here. If I want to be able to make it worthwhile for these guys to train with me than I just have to keep getting better. I will most likely never be able to match even the new guys’ strength but I can get my technique to a point that I give everyone a hard time.
I also am going to have to remember my own sentiment that you can get something from any rolling partner. I believe this to be true for me so I have to accept that it’s true for everyone. Because we all do have the right to train and no one should feel guilty about their ability or their perceived lack thereof. I never want to see a woman sitting on the sidelines because she doesn’t think she is good enough to train with the guys so that is an example I will not be setting anymore. So I’ll see you on the mats next week boys, be ready.