This has been my life since I have started to get back to training. I am now done with physical therapy (not because my knee was 100% better but because the prescription was for 4 weeks and I did not go back and get another) and trying to smartly ease my way back into training. At first I wasn’t going every night and now I am going more nights than not but trying not to roll hard two days in a row. It’s been mostly going well but every now and then (like this past weekend) I push it too hard and my knee swells up and gets painful again. This is of course super annoying because all I want to do is get back to training like I was and each setback makes me wonder if that is even possible.
For some reason (advancing age? broken down body?) this injury seems to have taken more out of me than my others as well. I am having trouble picking up anything we drill and when I roll I feel weak, slow, gassed and ineffectual. I know that I just have to get used to training again but it’s hard not to feel frustrated by taking steps back.
I am no stranger to jiu-jitsu injuries. I have had a few rib injuries, concussions, popped elbows, my fair share of black eyes and more gi burns, scrapes and bruises than I can count. Mostly when I’ve been injured my focus has been on rehab and all I can think about is getting back on the mat. However with this injury I am experiencing a lot of anger for the first time.
Why am I so angry? Because this injury was 100% preventable. In the past when I’ve gotten hurt it’s been during tournaments or rolling where I go in knowing that I am accepting a lot of risk but this injury came about because an overzealous partner went too hard while drilling single legs. It’s really hard for me to admit that “out loud” because I feel like I am breaking one of the sacred, unspoken rules of jiu-jitsu in which we never blame our partner for an injury.
I think it’s important to state that I know that my partner did not intentionally injure my knee and although I am not overly happy with this drilling style, I don’t think any less of him as a person or hate him now (truthfully I don’t see him anymore as he’s gone back to school but if/when he comes back, I still won’t hate him). But the fact of the matter is that I was standing there offering no resistance and my partner shot in really hard on my knee and I got hurt and when I think about it, I get angry.
Besides the fact that I feel completely rusty, I find that I am shutting down and just concentrating on not getting hurt when I roll. This is a problem I had before and I definitely do not want to go back to that style of jiu-jitsu. I worked really hard to overcome this in the past and I feel like I’ve added a mental setback to the long list of physical setbacks I have to deal with. This is, I think, why I feel so angry about this injury. Because I feel like I’ve regressed and this would not have happened if my partner was a little more careful when drilling.
I also find that I am feeling overly anxious about who I roll with. My gym has a lot of big guys (to me at least, I guess it’s all perspective) and in the past I have not been afraid to roll with most of them. I have felt that my jiu-jitsu was to the point that I could deal with someone wanting to hulk smash me but now whenever I get approached by one of the big guys, in the back of my head all I am thinking is “don’t hurt me”. This is definitely not a good mental state to be in when starting a roll.
So this is where I’m at right now. I’m rusty, out of shape, angry and afraid of half the people at the gym. Sounds bleak right? I’m not going to lie, it is. But as much as my brain is feeling done with jiu-jitsu right now I know that this is nowhere near the end of my journey. Even now as I am driving to the gym making myself nuts overthinking everything (this is one of my more endearing qualities), I feel the surge of adrenaline and anticipation I get every time I go to train. There have been moments where I’ve had a good roll or something finally clicks and I remember the part of jiu-jitsu that is pure joy.
So the plan for now is to keep being smart about training but to keep pushing myself to go. Eventually my brain will remember what the rest of me has not forgotten and we’ll all love jiu-jitsu again. I also have to make peace with my anger because it is only getting in the way of me moving past this injury. As always the only solution to a jiu-jitsu problem is more jiu-jitsu!
A disclaimer: In this post I will be describing something that happened to a friend of mine and my take on the situation. I realize that not everyone will agree with my opinion. While I won’t apologize for it, your feedback and discussion are always welcome.
Loyalty and respect are themes that are pervasive in the martial arts and jiu-jitsu is certainly no exception. In fact it seems that the higher the belt, the more respect a person gets, whether earned or not. I’ve had some reason to examine what the notions of respect and loyalty in BJJ mean to me in the past few weeks.
Last summer I attended a 4-day jiu-jitsu event. I went with a teammate of mine who I managed to persuade to come with me because 1) she is awesome and 2) I was afraid of being the only woman there. As luck would have it, there was another woman signed up. The three of us lodged together and became fast friends. The event, although open to the public, was run by a prominent regional BJJ franchise. Most of the instructors and attendees (including my new friend) were members of this organization. This summer the event was scheduled to take place again and my new friend and I both signed up.
About a month and a half ago I was sitting in my gym waiting for BJJ to start and catching up on Facebook news. I saw the following post from my friend:
I immediately reached out to her to see if she was ok. She assured me that although she was a bit upset, she was going to be fine and keep training. After making sure she was ok my thoughts naturally turned to me (I am ridiculously self-centered) and I wondered if her no longer being associated with the organization was going to affect her going to the event. I asked her if she was still comfortable going and she said she was, that she still had a lot of friends that she was looking forward to seeing and it was going to be fine.
A few days later a mutual friend brought my attention to the following Facebook post from her ex-coach (clearly my sister has been right all these years and Facebook is indeed evil):
This post was very disturbing to me. Of course the first thing I felt was outrage and sympathy for my friend. I could only imagine what she was going through because of what seemed to me to be an angry, hurtful and juvenile attack on her character.
I next couldn’t help but think about how unprofessional and “un-BJJ” like the post was. I understand saying heated things out of anger, but surely a business owner who makes a living in a discipline that is centered on respect would realize this wasn’t a good way to represent himself to the community.
I figured that if he had still been too upset to realize this wasn’t the right thing to do, surely someone else in the organization would tell him. I expanded the status to see the comments, expecting at least some of them to be admonishing and was dismayed to see that not only had everyone else seemed to be happy to add to the mudslinging, the head of the organization, several coaches and some potential camp attendees had “liked” the status. In case you are wondering if maybe they didn’t realize who her ex-coach was talking about, he mentioned her by name in the comments.
As I sat there reading the nasty comments, my heart sank. I was upset for my friend and what she was going through but I was also upset as a woman who trains jiu-jitsu.
My friend and I are in very similar situations in that we are often the only woman on the mat during class. Even if you are a woman who gets to train with lots of other women, the overwhelming majority of people in the sport are men. There is a good chance that you are going to become friends with a lot of guys. I know that her close friendship with one training partner (who also left the gym to pursue MMA) had long been a source of speculation at her gym.
I have made many friends, both male and female, that I hope I will be talking to for the rest of my life through jiu-jitsu. I know I am not alone in this, jiu-jitsu has a way of bonding people. I know anytime a man and woman spend a lot of time together some people will start to speculate but because most of the people involved in jiu-jitsu are men, it is only natural that a woman who trains would become friends with men.
However as a woman who is surrounded by men while training you can’t help but worry about the perceptions of others sometimes. In a sport where many of the positions are suggestive (for examples read the comments under the recent Kyra pictures), it is natural to be concerned about what people think about the one lady rolling around on the floor with a bunch of men between her legs.
These concerns are largely unfounded but they are there for a lot of women who train. My hope would be that the leader of a gym would do all he could to dispel these misconceptions. Instead my friend’s coach not only chose to feed into them, but used them to bully and slander her.
A few days later she called to tell me that things had gotten worse. She was concerned for her safety and no longer felt comfortable going to the event. I told her that I understood and she said she was going to talk to the man organizing the event to try to get a refund of her deposit. I told her I was not very interested in attending anymore either and she said she was going to try to get my deposit back as well.
My friend spoke with the organizer and we found out that we were not going to get our deposits back. Although disappointed, I was not overly surprised. I accept his reasoning that he had already used the money setting up the event with only the slightest bit of skepticism and anger.
Obviously my friend was not going to go under any circumstances, especially since her ex-coach was likely to attend. I was left with the decision to either lose my deposit money, $325, or spend an additional $500-$600 on getting to the event by myself and paying the remainder of the tuition.
I didn’t like the idea of losing money but I couldn’t stop thinking about what her ex-coach had said and how others in the organization had reacted to it. I have often struggled with feeling like I don’t fit in when training. There is a certain testosterone-laced machismo that goes along with training a combat sport and as a woman, it’s easy to feel out of place and even isolated sometimes.
I know that much of this is in my head. Many of the people who train jiu-jitsu feel out of place sometimes whether it be because of their age, their size, their perceived lack of athletic ability, etc.
To me, her ex-coach’s statement felt like he was confirming the secret fear that so many women have felt when training, that we don’t belong there. He had rid the gym of the girl who comes in not to train but to cheat on her husband with the men at the gym. He only mentioned her by name in his status suggesting he was placing the blame for these alleged affairs squarely on her shoulders. It made me feel like my inner fear was true, the boys don’t want the girls to train. The support of the leaders of his team suggested that they agreed.
Even if you do not agree with my interpretation, I think it’s hard to argue that her ex-coach’s statement was anything but disrespectful. He used accusations spread about in a gym and posted them as if they were fact without any kind of proof. Even if he had believed his words to be truth, he showed a complete lack of respect for her family in posting them publicly.
In the end I made the only decision I could and skipped the event. I couldn’t go and pretend I was ok with the way my friend’s ex-coach had treated her and the team’s continued support of him. As the event came and went and I saw pictures posted online that included her ex-coach, I knew I had made the right decision.
I don’t know if the leaders of the organization addressed this situation with my friend’s ex-coach behind the scenes. It is my hope they did. I do know that no one has apologized to my friend for what he put her through and publicly they have done nothing but support him.
So I didn’t get to go away for vacation this summer. It wasn’t a complete loss though. This experience reminded me that respect and loyalty are not things we should give away blindly based on the color of a belt someone puts on or the team they train under, but rather they have to be earned.
Thanks to everyone for the well wishes over the last week. I went back to the orthopedist on Tuesday to get the results of the MRI and he said there were no significant tears but one of my ligaments on the outside of the knee is sprained. We are treating it conservatively with physical therapy and meds and hopefully in 2-3 weeks I should be good to go. It was about the best news I could have hoped for!
I had my first PT appointment last night. The therapist’s name is also Cynthia but luckily she goes by Cindy so we won’t get all confused. She did a workup and showed me where the injury was on my knee with a chart. Some ligament attached to the fibula with a fancy name I can’t remember and there also seems to be some irritation with the hamstring in the same area.
She also said my knee is moving too much and probably got hyper-extended. I had a flashback to a few weeks ago where, when drilling takedowns, my partner bent my knee back while going for a single leg. Which was also around the time my knee got much worse. Now it all makes sense. I knew standup was the devil. She gave me some stretches to do at home and we start actual therapy next week, yippee!
I have to admit that I was driving to work after the orthopedist appointment the other day I started wondering if just a sprain meant I could compete in No-Gi Pan Ams afterall. The doctor said that anything that is potentially jarring to the knee is definitely a no-no but he also said it might be better in 2-3 weeks. That would mean that it could be healed up just in time for Pan Ams.
I talked over my options with a training buddy and he definitely didn’t think competing was a good idea (he actually threatened to take my knee fully out of commission should I try). We talked a bit about what the motivation could be to compete when my knee was injured and I really didn’t know what to say.
I think a lot of the reason I wanted to compete was that I want to prove I’m tough. It’s jiu-jitsu, we don’t stop training for puny little sprains! I actually felt embarrassed when I told my coach what the diagnosis was. But in the end I realize that a sprain is an injury and I definitely don’t want to damage the ligament anymore so I am taking the doctor’s advice and refraining from jiu-jitsu until the knee starts feeling better.
So the next couple of weeks will be therapy, focusing on diet, doing some upper body and core work and tightening up my cheerleading game for the No-Gi Pan Ams.
I am also still working on a really long blog post that is taking me forever but I promise to post soon. My life has been quite hectic with work and running around to different doctors but hopefully it will settle soon.
A quick update on the knee. I went to the doctor on Tuesday and he said he doesn’t think it’s a ligament (phew) but it could be a torn meniscus. It also might just be a sprain which is what I’m hoping for. I got an MRI last night and will go over the results with the doctor on Tuesday morning.
This was my first time getting an MRI which really wasn’t so bad. I went in feet first so my head was outside and I didn’t feel claustrophobic. It was difficult after a while not to move but I did get to listen to the Grease soundtrack so that was a bonus.
They gave me a CD that has all the images from the MRI on it when I was done. I naturally looked at it today and saw lots of pictures of my knee that I had no idea how to read. I am thinking of posting them to Facebook and sharing them on the wall of every doctor I can find 🙂
In the meantime I am not allowed to train because the doctor says training with a torn meniscus could result in damage to the ligament which is apparently much harder to fix than a meniscus. I am going somewhat stir crazy but I have been researching exercises I can do that do not require the use of legs and figure now is a good time to work on upper body strength and abs. I’m also making sure to stick to a good diet since I can’t train.
I am so far remaining calm and trying to keep the “what ifs” out of my brain. I am doing a surprisingly good job of it (I think at least) but I am super anxious to get the results on Tuesday. I just want to know what I am facing so I can figure out the plan to kick its ass!
Sorry for the long delay between posts. I have actually been working hard on what’s turned into a very long post about some recent BJJ events in my life that I hope to post later in the week. I think for the first time in my life, I am understanding this thing they call “writer’s block” as I am struggling to find the right words for the situation. I was also off of work last week and traveling a bit and getting food poisoning so it’s been busy busy busy.
I did two very contradictory things in the past week that make little sense. The first is that I registered for the no-gi Pan Ams which take place in 24 days. The second is that I finally admitted to myself that my knee might be seriously injured and I made an appointment with an orthopedist which takes place today.
I’ve had nagging knee pain for a couple of months now but it hasn’t been bad enough that it kept me from training. When it started I gave up running (which I’d probably use any excuse to do anyway, not a big fan of the running) and started biking instead but it still wouldn’t go away. Twice I’ve taken close to a week off of everything to try to let the knee heal but the pain would not go away. I kept telling myself it was nothing and trying to push through but the last couple of weeks it’s been getting progressively worse. The knee took a lot of abuse after a particularly vigorous single leg a couple of weeks ago and it’s gotten to the point that I can’t walk without discomfort.
I am really nervous about what the doctor will find because I do not want any kind of lengthy time off right now, I’m too old for that! I am doing my best to stay optimistic but I fear I will become a mess if it’s bad news today. Oh well, hopefully in 6 hours or so I’ll have some news and I’ll know where to go from there. Wish me luck, I promise updates and the really long post soon!
Since the beginning of the women’s only class at my gym, I have been concerned about my ability to teach a class. As a blue belt with 1 year and 364 days of training (yup, tomorrow is my bjj-iversary), I didn’t know that I was qualified to teach anyone. However I felt really strongly that we should have a women’s only class and I would love to coach more when I grow up, so I was really excited to lead it when the program started.
Still with the rise and fall in attendance over time and the fact that if it weren’t for one very loyal, awesome student, there would be many weeks where I showed up to an empty gym, I can’t help but wonder if the class has had any effect.
Last weekend we hosted a women’s open mat (something we try to do once a month) where women from other gyms were invited to come train with us. We don’t typically drill much if at all in these and instead focus on rolling and positional sparring. We had a few people from other gyms come, me and my loyal women’s class student.
I was excited for the opportunity to roll with my student because I don’t really get an opportunity to do it much. We tend to focus mostly on drilling in the women’s class and if there are only a few students, I let them roll with each other and try to give them tips while watching. She’s been coming during the week for the regular classes as well but she is still in the beginner’s class so I don’t get to interact with her very much there.
So when the time came for us to roll I couldn’t wait to see how far she’d come since the last time we rolled (probably about 6 weeks ago at the last open mat). She had told me after the last time that she thought I was going too easy on her so I made sure to take it up a notch this time. I was really impressed with how she was handling herself. I started to think about how far she’d come and wondered how much of what she was doing she had learned from me.
And then it happened. The singular greatest moment in my brief teaching history. She got on top of me in half guard and what was the first thing she did? She jammed her shoulder right into my face. As I laid there with my head pinned to the floor by our smallest student, I couldn’t help but smile. If the only thing that comes out of the women’s class is that I taught one person how to use her shoulder to neutralize a bigger opponent, then it has all been worthwhile.
I am in a funk. In a junk-eating, training skipping, lazy-ass-being funk. I am not sure how I got into it, I am not sure what to do to get out of it but boy oh boy am I in a funk.
After training pretty intensely for the NY Open and Grappler’s Quest I decided to take a week off. I have never taken off from BJJ just for the sake of taking off and I wasn’t sure I could handle a full week of no BJJ but I found I enjoyed the break as did my very sore elbow.
When the next week started though I was excited to get back on the mat and back to training. However I found after a couple of days that I was feeling exhausted and didn’t have much of a drive to train. I kept going but it was more out of stubbornness and unwillingness to break with my schedule than desire to train.
Each week it’s been getting worse. This week I ended up not going to training twice which is very unlike me. I have never skipped training because I don’t want to go before. Yesterday I went back for the first time since Monday and was enjoying class until I rolled over my toe while we were drilling waiter sweeps and had to leave class early limping out.
I wish I could figure out what is causing the funk so I could figure out how to get out of it. I think though that’s it’s probably the culmination of a lot things coming together. There have been several events that have left me feeling somewhat disillusioned lately and I just constantly feel broken down and beaten up.
The annoying thing is that I want to want to train. I am completely miserable and angry because I just want to feel the same desire to train again. I am probably overthinking it (I have been known to do that) and that is just making it worse.
But I am not sure what the best way to get the drive back is. I am fond of saying the only answer to jiu-jitsu problems is more jiu-jitsu but I don’t know if that is the case here. If I keep making myself go am I eventually going to pull out of my funk or am I just going to keep resenting it more?
I am planning to compete at the end of September so I don’t really have an option to take a long break. I also feel that this is maybe one of those times that is going to define who I am as jiu-jitsuer. I don’t want to start skipping training just because it is really hard for me now. I need to push through this and come out the other side feeling better than I did before.
I have no doubt I will move past this eventually. As long as I am physically capable, I really don’t see anything keeping me from jiu-jitsu for too long. But I really hope I find my happy place again soon, I feel like Cindy Lou Who sadly singing “Where are you jiu-jitsu” every night (I am sure any sympathy you felt for me has now been negated by getting that song in your head).
Anyone who has some advice on how to find the love again, feel free to share, I could use it!
As someone who is not the strongest person in the gym, I sometimes find myself in the unfortunate position of being trapped by someone who is stronger than me. What I mean by trapped is that I am in a bad position (side mount, mount, back control, etc.) and the person is strong enough to keep me from escaping despite me trying every escape I know.
I hate when this happens for many reasons. It makes me feel like my jiu-jitsu is still pretty weak if I am so easily defeated by strength. It can also make me feel panicky. I, like most people I am sure, really am not comfortable with being held down against my will. This is usually also the point when I realize that my partner is willing to use whatever strength they have to win the roll and I stop thinking about jiu-jitsu and start thinking about safety.
So I hate when this happens but I know that it is probably always going to happen and that I just have to deal with it. As I’ve said before, that’s the price you pay when you are not the strongest person in the gym. And although it is not the most enjoyable thing in the world, I know that situations like this have helped me to gain a very solid defense game. It’s all about working with what you are given.
Sometimes when someone is using a good amount of strength against me and I feel that they’ve muscled something, I wonder afterwards if I should say something. I typically don’t. Some guys are very strong and much of their game plan is to use that strength so it’s not really fair of me to say something. I also never want to seem bitter (especially since I typically am) or like a sore loser by standing up and proclaiming loudly “NO FAIR” after every submission. And sometimes I’m not really sure if was all muscle or not and so I don’t want to accuse my training partners of something they didn’t do.
I was thinking about this last week after a particularly grueling roll with one of the newer guys. He is very tall and I am guessing at least 60 pounds bigger than me but I am pretty awful at guessing weight. He took my back at some point. Not to brag, but I am pretty good at escaping back control. Failing that I am very confident in my ability to defend submissions from the back (really it’s not bragging because the ability to defend came from getting my back taken about 5000 times).
So try as I might, I could not escape his back control. He also started going for chokes so I switched my focus from escaping to defending the chokes. I had my chin tucked and my head turned so I was feeling pretty confident he wasn’t going to finish me but he was so strong that I couldn’t break his grips either. I could hear him breathing very hard in my ear and my face felt the effort of him using all his strength to try to finish a gi choke because my gi was being pulled across my face. He twisted my head so far that my neck cracked. I thought about tapping but I was feeling really stubborn about tapping to a non-choke.
The roll ended and I was sitting on the bench afterwards silently fuming. I found the roll unpleasant for all the reasons I mentioned above. But I have to admit the thing that really gets me upset about these rolls is that I don’t like thinking they are walking away from the roll feeling they beat me. After I’ve had some time to calm down I realize I am being prideful and ridiculous and gain proper perspective on the situation but in those minutes following a roll like that, I know I am just angry.
So even though I had thought about saying something to him after the roll, I did not because I knew mentally I was in a very sore loser state of mind and I didn’t want to be a jerk. As I was reflecting on the situation later though, I realized I probably should have said something. Whenever I will bring up someone using strength it is because I think they are over relying on it or using it in place of good technique. If I feel like they’ve managed to get something on me that they wouldn’t be able to get on most of the guys in the gym then I think it is ok for me to say something because with most of the guys they are going to need to use technique and not strength.
This was clearly one of those times. My partner had a significant size and strength advantage on me and had me trapped in an awful position. When he went for the submission and it didn’t work, he didn’t try to figure out what was wrong with the technique or what I was doing to defend it, he applied more muscle. Thinking back on it now I wish I had calmly looked up at him and said “hey I am not sure if you noticed but I’m a lot smaller than you and you are using all your strength to finish this choke and it’s not working…do you think maybe your technique might be off?”.
I really don’t want to be whiny about strength all the time and I am still going to be very choosy about when I say something. But I also know that in a situation like this it is to the benefit of both of us to point it out. I know that my partner was not maliciously trying to use strength against me, he is fairly new and that’s what new guys do. If I can help him tighten up his technique in the future it will be helpful for him when he’s going against people stronger than me (everyone else in the gym) and it will be helpful for me because he will no longer feel the need to smoosh me.
I think I will always wonder whether it’s appropriate to point out someone using strength, particularly because it’s hard to be objective when I am feeling prickly after being dominated in a roll. But sometimes I think it’s OK to point out that more power is not always the answer.
I spent last week enjoying some gluttony and sloth and tried to focus on things that are not jiu-jitsu. Of course even when I am not training, jiu-jitsu is never far from my mind and I have so many friends through training that I can’t escape talking about it or thinking about it even if I want to (which I don’t).
A topic that has come up a lot lately is how to retain female training partners. This is a topic that has been on my mind pretty much since I have started training. As I have discussed before it’s always somewhat hard for women when a female training partner quits because we are very invested in them.
I have read many articles about how to attract women to jiu-jitsu and what you can do to keep them coming, Valerie Worthington recently wrote this article about it which created some good discussion both while she was writing it and then after it was published. While I do believe that there are things that can be done to make it more comfortable for a woman to start training jiu-jitsu, I have often wondered if there is anything that can be done to keep women training.
Even if a gym does everything right to attract a woman to train…they have changing facilities separate from/equal to the guys, the guys don’t flirt with her, no one smashes her the first time she takes a class, everyone is welcoming…is there anything that can be done to keep her training?
Inevitably no matter how awesome a gym is, every jiu-jitsu student is going to get smashed. If you are not one of the stronger or bigger members of your gym, this is particularly true. Most women are going to spend the first months (possibly years) working on defense and survival. I didn’t even think about getting submissions until I had been training for almost a year.
Even if you try to introduce a woman to rolling slowly and only let her roll with partners who will be kind and let her work instead of muscling, there is eventually a time period where she has to be released into the wild of rolling with everyone and she will get smashed.
This is when I believe it comes down to the individual and not the environment. Many people of every gender have quit jiu-jitsu after they started rolling because they realized that it is not for them. So again, even if the gym does everything to encourage women to train, there is nothing that can be done to change their desire to keep training if they don’t enjoy it.
This is something I’ve thought about a lot in my own gym. We have a lot of women who train Muay Thai and even more that take the kickboxing class but very few who train BJJ. I pushed hard for us to start a women’s BJJ class because I thought if we could create a less intimidating environment for the women to try jiu-jitsu, more would get into it. I know that if I were wondering what jiu-jitsu was about and I saw a mat full of 20 guys rolling around on the floor (ok there is also one crazy girl) I would maybe not think “I have to try that!”.
So we started a women’s class and I started to believe that my plan had worked. We got more women to try jiu-jitsu, there were times we had 6 or 7 women training in the women’s class. It was so exciting! As time progressed though, I noticed a pattern. They didn’t keep training.
I took this really hard for a while. I teach the women’s BJJ class and I felt like I was doing something wrong if they weren’t staying. As a blue belt, I definitely do not have the skills that our other coaches have. We only go over basics in the women’s class and I try to focus on things that I find work for me in rolling with the guys but I definitely cannot run the class like our black/brown belt coaches can.
I think I was operating under the assumption that all I had to do was get the women to try jiu-jitsu and they would fall in love with it just like I did. I guess I really couldn’t understand how someone could try it and not love it. But I know this is not true because most of the people who start jiu-jitsu don’t continue with it.
So in the time since we’ve started the class we have had maybe 10ish different girls come who were not training before we started the class. Of those 10ish there is only 1 that continues to come. There have been several occasions where the women’s class consisted of me and that one student, she even joked she might have to start paying me for privates (I consider the women’s class a labor of love but she occasionally makes me treats which is really the only payment I need).
This is a pattern that exists outside of the women’s class though. There are women who have started training in the regular classes and who also haven’t continued. In my gym we have beginners and advanced classes at the same time. Once you get a stripe you get to train with the advanced class. This is a format we adopted around May or June last year. At the time the format changed, there were two women who had just started and they eventually earned their stripe and made it to the advanced class. They have both since stopped training. In the year or so since those two women earned their stripes we’ve had exactly…wait for it…0 women come to the advanced side.
This realization came to me last week and I was somewhat astonished. Even though I know that most nights I am the only woman who trains in the advanced class (we have two other female blue belts but one trains during the day and the other works at the gym so doesn’t get to train with us that much as she has other duties during class), the fact that we haven’t had a woman train long enough to earn a stripe in a year seemed crazy to me.
So I started thinking about whether it’s something we are doing at the gym. Even though no gym is perfect, I think ours is pretty good. My coach has always been as encouraging and helpful to me and the other women as he is to the guys. Even though most of the students are men, there are some really great people to train with. I am in class 99.99% of the time so there is almost always a woman on the mat (plus I personally think if I had the chance to drill with me I’d work very hard for that stripe but I guess I am biased).
So assuming we are not doing something awful at the gym that is driving away women, why are they leaving? The only thing I can come up with is what I said above…jiu-jitsu is not for everyone. I think this is one of the reasons why a lot of the women who have trained for a while are very much obsessed with jiu-jitsu. You have to put up with a unique kind of hell to eagerly fight with a bunch of boys who are stronger than you. You either love it or hate it, there’s not a lot of room for middle ground.
I should also point out that I know that this phenomenon of people quitting jiu-jitsu is not exclusive to women. I don’t even attempt to learn people’s names until they are in the advanced class because I know many of them, male and female, will not train long enough to get a stripe. It just hits me harder when we lose girls because I want more female training partners (I am so self-centered sometimes).
So I’m going to try my best not to take it personally in the future when the women stop training and not to get too upset. I have been fortunate enough lately to get to train with women at other schools which has been awesome and has made my longing for more women at my own gym diminish. If anyone has any ideas on what we can do to get the girls to stay, I’d love to hear them. But I think a lot of it just comes down to the individual. It takes a special kind of crazy to train jiu-jitsu!
Sorry for the delay in updating you all about Grappler’s Quest. I promised myself a day of laying around doing nothing yesterday and I was really serious about making that happen. Anyway, on with the tournament breakdown!
I arrived at the arena around 12pm but was not surprised to see that they were running behind after witnessing the inefficiency of weigh-ins the day before. So after a couple of hours of waiting around they called my division and I went to the table to compete.
As I hinted about in my post Saturday, I was feeling very nervous about competing in the advanced division. 18 months is hardly what I’d consider “advanced” in BJJ and I was feeling very worried about who I was facing. After seeing some of the girls compete in gi, I realized that most of them in my division were purple, a couple of browns and even one black belt from another system (not following BJJ belts) who I’ve seen compete professionally in MMA as well. In contrast to most of my other competitions, I did not go first this time and was actually the only person who had a bye in the first round. I tried to watch some of the other matches but was trying not to feel nervous so I was going in and out with attention.
Finally it was my turn to go and I stepped on the mat. The girl jumped guard almost immediately (I suspected she would as I had seen her do it in her pervious match). She had a deep hook behind my head so I went to the ground and was ducking my head to clear it. I honestly can’t tell you what happened next or what I did wrong but the next thing I knew I was on my back and she had an arm bar locked on tight. I tried to turn into her and come up on my knees to escape it but she had it really tight and when I turned I heard (and felt) a pop so I tapped.
Well damn. That really sucked. I stood there at the end of the match holding my very sore elbow as they raised the other girl’s hand and couldn’t believe I had been almost immediately submitted again. I once again felt humiliated that my coach and my teammates and some friends who came to watch all saw me get submitted, probably inside of about 45 seconds this time.
I left the mat and told myself that I couldn’t focus on it because I might have another match (I did not) and I still had gi left. As the hours passed and I had time to reflect on my match, all I could conclude at the time was that I was probably outclassed. Whatever she did to transition to that arm bar was quite smooth (even talking with my coach later he wasn’t quite sure how she got it) and I got caught. My friend took video of it so I am anxious/apprehensive to see it so I can figure out what went wrong.
Before I go on to gi, I have to take a brief detour to complain about why it sometimes (often) stinks to compete as a woman. At first after I finished my match, I couldn’t help but think about the unfairness that I had to compete at advanced with just under two years of experience while the guys had an intermediate division at 18-36 months (I won’t even go into the lack of age divisions for women).
I don’t really want to be whiny and complain about things I can’t change but as I spent the next couple of hours icing my elbow in the hopes that it would be functional for gi, it occurred to me that having women fight as advanced with 18 months of experience was also quite dangerous. As I watched some of the earlier matches and the other competitors were going for foot locks and leg locks it occurred to me that I was in a division where anything was legal and I felt quite unprepared for that as a blue belt. I am not saying my elbow got popped because I don’t know how to defend arm bars as a blue belt, I know that could have happened in any of my past matches. But at 18 months there are a great many people who are still white belts and I just see a lot of potential for injury in having a division with advanced rules for people who have only been training a year and a half.
I understand that women’s divisions are often quite sparse and that is the reasoning behind the current breakdown but considering we had 7 women in my division, maybe they can add another bracket for women in the future. Ok end of rant…thank you for listening!
So after a few hours of icing, watching some of the guys from my team compete and watching one of my coaches have an epic 70+ minute match with Wilson Reis and then win $1000 in the Rough Zen submission only tournament, it was time for gi.
As I was waiting for the match before mine to end I was thinking about how awesome it would be to come back from my poor showing during no-gi and have a Hollywood moment where I triumphed despite my sore arm. You know, me standing in the crane position while her coaches were yelling “SWEEP THE LEG” (in French as it turns out).
However after my rather insignificant showing in no-gi all I could think was “just don’t get submitted this time, whatever happens, just don’t get submitted!”. In retrospect this is probably not the greatest attitude to go into a match with. So I went in just hoping to last the round and that was exactly what happened.
I do not remember all the details of the match (and sadly I don’t think anyone taped this one). I was trying to do the traditional, knee in the middle guard pass and my coach told me to push up on her belt. I could tell because of how loose her belt was that I was just pushing it right into her boobs. I could see the discomfort on her face and I just couldn’t keep doing it. I didn’t tell my coach that at the time but I just didn’t want to pass guard that way! Sorry coach 🙂
Anyway she eventually got to my back. She tried to go for a bow and arrow and I defended it. We spent most of the match with her attacking and me defending. My only moment of offense was when I noticed she had her feet crossed on my back and I went for the leg lock.
So again, not the result I wanted but I was at least happy that I was able to hang in for the round. I think finally being able to last the entire match is some progress and hopefully will move me past my “I can’t compete with blue belts” mental roadblock.
For now the game plan is to take some time off to heal up (at least two days, possibly the entire week depending on the elbow) then get right back at it. My friend suggested some sports psychology books I will read to work on the mental part of my game and I need to really start working standup more. I just have to stay persistent and it will pay off eventually!