Every month at my gym we host a women’s open mat. They are open to all women and they are quite fun. It’s a great chance for us to get the experience of training with other women. They have not typically been hugely attended with our average being around 6 women, but hey, that’s about 5 more than I am used to getting to train with!
However the stars aligned in favor of women jiu-jitsuers in the Philadelphia area during our November open mat and 23 women came to train. 23 women!!! This was only the third time in my training career that I had seen 20 or more women in one room to train and the other two events I had paid for (not that they weren’t totally worth it).
I really don’t know if I can make the guys understand what a rare treat this is for us ladies. In my gym there is a chance that any class you attend will have 20 or more guys there to train with. In order for us to get that many women we had to host an open mat, mobilize people from other gyms and advertise in women’s grappling groups. We had a couple of people come from about 2 hours away just for the chance to train with some women. One of them, a purple belt, said it was the first time she had gotten to roll with a woman who was her rank or above.
Every time I get the chance to train with a lot of women, particularly women I don’t train with often, I am struck with the realization of how different it is than rolling with the guys. Instead of dealing with being outsized and outstrengthed, I have to adapt to smaller, quicker opponents. I actually found myself getting frustrated at one point and thinking “these girls never stay still!”.
When thinking about this later it occurred to me that this might be how the guys I train with feel about me. I have often heard guys say that rolling with the women is challenging because they are technical and squirmy but it’s not something I’ve experienced a lot since most of my training is with guys. It was really eye opening. I started to understand why the urge is there to just lay on top of someone and hold them down (but I still don’t like having this done to me…I haven’t evolved that much).
I also began to wonder what my jiu-jitsu would be like if I trained with that many women all the time. I feel like I, as well as probably lots of women who train, have had to adapt my jiu-jitsu so that I can deal with size and strength. What kind of game would I have if I trained with women all the time? Perhaps I’d be the smasher? Probably I won’t ever find this out but I do find it intriguing.
As awesome as women’s open mat was, I also find these events to be somewhat bittersweet. Having a rare glimpse of what it would be like if there were as many women who trained as men is a bit of a tease. Rolling with someone who is more evenly matched to you physically is very different than rolling as the smaller/weaker person most of the time. Although I love the guys I train with and enjoy it, it’s really fun to roll with people who don’t have the option to smash you sometimes.
However I know that we are still some time away from being anywhere close to equaling the number of guys who train. In the meantime I will continue to enjoy the challenges that come with training with the guys and look forward to events like open mat where I get to mix it up with the ladies.
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.