It sucks to be you
There are certain universal truths that I’ve had to accept as a woman who trains jiu-jitsu. One being that whenever the instructions of a move include “put your hands on your partner’s chest”, there will be a moment of awkwardness as my partner tries to figure out where to put his hands. Another being that I have to remember to be super careful when I’m doing cut passes while rolling with the guys. These are not particularly annoying things and I’ve accepted them as part of training.
One of the things I’ve had to acknowledge and accept though still bugs me and probably always will. That thing (sorry to get all technical with the terminology) is the fact that no matter how much I train, no matter how good I get, I will never be able to be as physically strong as the guys I train with. It’s just not possible. It’s not a matter of giving up, it’s just simple biology.
Now some of you might be thinking “oh great, another girl who is going to complain about strength”. To you I’d say, shut up and stop reading my blog! No wait, I kid, I kid…come back! The reason that you hear a lot of women, and smaller guys for that matter, talk about strength a lot is because it is not something that is ever going to go away. Knowing that I am smaller and weaker than the guys I train with affects each and every roll I have with them.
When I am rolling with the bigger, stronger guys at the gym, I often find myself not even attempting submissions. Knowing that much of the time they are likely going to be able to use their strength to escape the submission, I tend to focus on sweeps and position instead of submission. This is particularly true during no-gi weeks when I can’t even rely on grips.
It also changes what kinds of sweeps and escapes I will go for when rolling. There are just times when I doubt my ability to execute a move while I have the weight of someone who is 50-80 pounds bigger than me on top of me. And of course any time you roll as the smaller, weaker person you have to think about your personal safety first before you think about BJJ as you are much more likely to get hurt than your bigger, stronger opponent.
This is not always a bad thing. If I ever had to use BJJ for self-defense the chances are that I would be fighting a stronger guy who outweighs me so training like this is great preparation for real world applications of jiu-jitsu. But at times like this, when I am trying to prepare for tournaments, I sometimes find it really frustrating. The game I would play against a girl my size is different than the game I play with a bigger guy and so sometimes I worry that training with the boys isn’t always the best way to get ready for competition.
I also find that being weaker makes it harder for me to understand when I get submitted because of bad technique or lack of strength. There are times when I know that someone used brute force to get a submission, for example when someone lays on top of me, holds me down and spends a few minutes digging my arm out from where I’ve safely tucked it in to lock it and get the submission (this is a personal pet peeve of mine). But I also want to be careful not to blame strength every time I get submitted as I know sometimes it was a failure on my part.
I am also aware that there are women who will be stronger than me and thus this is not a problem isolated to rolling with men. All things being equal, strength is often the determining factor. The problem is that I will never have the strength the guys have so it makes it difficult for me to gauge sometimes what would and would not work with an opponent of my size and strength.
But besides the affect it has on tournament prep, there are times when being the weakest person is just humiliating. When a guy who is new to rolling manages to get me in a weird position and get the tap on a move I know would not work on 90% of the gym, I can’t help but feel embarrassed. I get caught in positions that most of my training partners would not and sometimes it just sucks.
One time during open mat a few months ago, I was rolling with a newer guy who is very big and strong. Somewhere in a scramble he went for a triangle but did not manage to capture my arm and ended up just trapping my head between his thighs and using his strength to pin me to the floor. Since the triangle didn’t work and he wasn’t sure how to transition he just started squeezing my head with his thighs. He was so strong I couldn’t get his legs off of me but it was not something I wanted to tap to. He continued to squeeze for a bit and I finally looked up at him from my precarious position near his groin and said something along the lines of “um…you know this isn’t actually a submission right?” to which he replied that he did but inexplicably kept squeezing my head until the round ended shortly after.
I know that a lot of the humiliation and embarrassment comes from me. In my head when the new guys catch me in something because I am not strong enough to escape it, I picture them bragging to everyone about how they beat a blue belt when they have barely started rolling. I know that anyone can get caught by anyone on any given day but I sometimes feel like I am the low-hanging fruit for the new guys. This is just something I have to get over or I’ll continue to feel frustrated. But I think there will always be times when I get caught in something stupid and want to stand up, stomp my feet and scream NO FAIR.
I also know that even though I will not ever be able to match the strength of my male training partners, I can learn to deal with it. I handle strength now so much better than I used to. When I first started training and I would roll with a big, strong guy, my way of handling it was to curl up in the fetal position under said big, strong guy and pray for a quick round. I am now focusing on using their strength to get position when they over-commit their weight and I have to believe that as I keep training, more submissions will come. Someday I will not be the one who gets caught with her head being squeezed between a white belt’s legs.
So what is the point of all this rambling? I guess part of it comes from the fact that while I am preparing for my upcoming tournaments (NY Open next week and then probably Grappler’s Quest the week after), I am feeling the frustration of lack of similar training partners.
Admittedly, some of it comes from my ongoing quest to make people understand that it is sometimes really difficult to train when you are the weakest person in the gym. I was teasing one of my training partners a few weeks ago and telling him he wished that he was as strong as I was. I jokingly said “it’s easy to come to the gym and train when you are the biggest and strongest, try coming when you are smaller and weaker than everyone else”.
As I reflected on the exchange later I started to think I was at least partly right (of course I always think I’m right). I also realized that probably the big guys would never truly understand what it is like for me to train, just like I am sure they face training challenges I cannot understand. Being out-muscled is the cross I will always have to bear when I train. So I guess I just wanted to share some of my thought on why sometimes it sucks to be me.
Note: I am very sorry for the long delay in posts and for the fact that I have not kept up with anyone else’s blog in the last couple of weeks. I am on a very code heavy project at work right now so have had very little down time. Add to that the fact that I accidentally wiped out a whole chunk of code last week that I had to recreate on my own time over the weekend (the title of this post is what my boss said to me when I told him about the missing code and my plan to replace it) and hopefully you can understand the delay. I will do my best to catch up and keep up from now on though!