I have been training jiu-jitsu for a long time. I have been female for even longer than that. Often in our world, conversations about women in the sport focus on how to support and retain us. I am a huge fan of this and do what I can to support anyone who wants to train. It is true that women may face certain unique challenges to persisting in jiu-jitsu. However, there are also many great things inherent in being a jiu-jitsu chick/lady/bird/skirt/grrrl, and the following list celebrates this fact. Read on for some reasons it is awesome to be a woman who trains.
We are likely to have a less crowded bathroom. Back in the day, there often was not even a designated women’s changing room or rest room at some academies. I have changed for training in custodial closets, garages, the men’s room (which had to be emptied of its usual occupants and required that I rush while a group of guys waited outside), the instructor’s office, and between two towels held up by people who promised not to look. Nowadays most academies have designated men’s and women’s changing rooms, but it is still usually the case that the men’s rooms see more traffic. So, after training, while the guys are laughing in the next room and you are sequestered by yourself, you can decide to feel lonely, or you can decide to luxuriate in the fact that you are likely to be able to spread out and take your time.
Sometimes the guys forget themselves and tell us stuff they would normally only tell their bros. One time after class, years ago, I was chatting with a male teammate as we were heading toward the locker rooms. He was engrossed in his story, so when we got to the place where men turned right to get to the men’s locker room and women turned left to get to the women’s locker room, he turned right and kept walking and talking, oblivious to the fact that we had reached the end of our time together. The next time I saw him, he said, “I forgot you can’t come in with me.” This kind of thing happens to me a lot, and even if I cannot follow, I often end up learning more about how the guys I train with tick.
We get the opportunity to learn how to appreciate what our bodies can do, not just fret about what they look like. When I was growing up, “You look so skinny!” was the highest possible compliment anyone could pay a girl. Among jiu-jitsu women, it is more along the lines of, “You feel freaking heavy!” The first compliment is a focus on appearance, while the second is more about accomplishment. Learning to drop your weight effectively takes time and effort, and I am proud when my training partners compliment me on how heavy I feel, because it means my hard work is paying off. It also gives me the opportunity to appreciate what my body is capable of, not just what I perceive to be its aesthetic shortcomings.
Our very presence may help teach the men who need it how to interact with women like we are people. I have trained with many men who did not know how to talk to me. They did not look me in the eye, they answered somebody else (somebody male) if I asked them a question, and they generally did not feel comfortable interacting with me as if I were a person. I know there are many men who are not like this, but some certainly are. I wanted to learn jiu-jitsu, and I needed training partners, and simply by being present, I believe I helped some men learn that it is okay, and sometimes even enjoyable, to have casual, platonic interactions with women. Along those lines…
We learn, if we did not know it already, that men have feelings too. It’s true. And sometimes they will even express them to us. This is potentially wonderful, because many men have been socialized to deny their feelings, and if they do express the “negative” ones, this expression usually manifests as anger. Bearing non-judgmental witness to men’s feelings in all their complexity can help create connections and build understanding.
We get to learn to be gracious when people underestimate us, and to make sure they only do it once. I cannot count the number of times I have been on the receiving end of an appraising look from a potential training partner that says, “I probably can’t beat that guy over there, but I can probably separate this old lady from the herd.” I still get that look even now that I have a black belt. However, while I may not be able to physically dominate everyone who does this, I am pretty confident I make their lives more difficult than they were anticipating. That being said, I am always polite, because I let my jiu-jitsu speak for me. It is much more fun that way.
When we tell people who do not train what we do for a hobby, they will immediately start talking about their favorite UFC fighter or get a little reserved because they do not know what to make of us. Either way, it is amusing. This is pretty self-explanatory. I’m sure it happens to men too, but it has never NOT happened to me.
We will meet other amazing ladies and have the opportunity to support them. Attracting awesome women to jiu-jitsu helps us all, whether they are seasoned practitioners or brand new white belts riding that newbie high. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the increase in female practitioners in jiu-jitsu world will benefit everyone, male and female.
What are some other reasons it is awesome to be a woman who trains? Post your thoughts to comments.