Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Women And BJJ

Read a blog by Keith Owen BJJ black belt on, can women handle BJJ. Didn't think it was particularly inflammatory nor very long, nor did it offer a variety of different ideas. More of an observation and his attempt at encouragement. He took a few paragraphs to say, he noticed women quit a lot, and wish they wouldn't. He also has a perspective a lot of us do not have, as a black belt, as a school owner and instructor.

But I wanted to make some points. He says he treats guys and girls the same. You can't. Men and women are different and they learn differently. This is known in math, science, and English, but most BJJ instructors do not have a background in education.

Secondly BJJ is a very intimate act. You are getting very close to people, it's why there's so many jokes about it being gay. For a lot of people this is uncomfortable, and more so for women to roll around with men, especially if its someone they don't know every time. It's why women feel more comfortable with women (both in this awkward situation together), and that's why there are women's only classes, and open mats, and seminars now. Chests will accidentally get grabbed, feet and knees will be near or pushing on groins. Think of the stack pass, or triangle choke or butterfly guard or any lapel grab. It's part of BJJ. It's why there's so many women in kickboxing, and a surprising number of both men and women compete in it. But its still not as intimate as BJJ, you will not have a guy twice your size sit on your chest and hold your arms down. If 2 guys roll, if it looks like they are mimicking gay sex, then when a women and man does it, sometimes it looks and feels like rape defense situations.

Third is strength difference. The weakest guy in the gym will either become a technical wizard (which doesn't happen often because that means he has to be twice as smart as everyone else and just because someone is stronger than you doesn't mean he or she is dumber than you and just because you are weak doesn't mean that makes you a genius).  So for girls, they will most often be smaller, and weaker, and if the class already is majority men and very few if any women at all, you can't just be as mentally tough as men. You have to be 3 to 4 times mentally tougher than everyone else there, that's asking a whole lot.

Not only that but as a strength coach, a lot of these girls may not come from an athletic background where they had to deal with a lot of load nor needed superior strength. So they may be behind in general physical preparedness (unless they swung kettlebells since age 10). So even if they roll with a guy their own size its hugely different. Now if they meet a girl who's physically prepared, which I've seen all the time, the difference in strength is like night and day. With men there is a standard in the culture to at least be somewhat physically capable. For women the same doesn't hold true so often times the girl who can do pull ups is an outlier and the norm is the girl who can't do any. Now when a normal girl meets the strong girl who is her size, that's even more mentally crushing. You will feel extra weak, even though you're probably normal and she's the exception. With men you will often hear, that guy's just bigger than me, more often than you will hear he's stronger than me.

Whereas with women, they will find people stronger than them, bigger than them, and often times both.

It's not just strength, boys learn physical skills differently than women, and have stronger grips (it's why girls take longer to throw like the boys do), and have a background where they did stuff that asked for more kinesthetic and spatial awareness (it's why there's a joke about girls being bad at parallel parking). And even though they learn differently, most of these classes are taught by men who teach in the way men learn.

And finally, it's about sample size and math. More men join BJJ, more men stick with it. Less women come through so it's hard to get any amount of data with such low sample sizing.

To ask women to be like men, to ask them to be as tough as the guys is like taking a kid who is from a lower class or maybe minority. No early tutoring, a very low rated elementary school, an even worse high school, and ask them to do as well on the SATs as the privileged kids. It's different. It's like asking people to finish a race when some people got head starts. It doesn't mean it can't happen but give the other people some time. And for that kid who came from behind to finish with everyone else doesn't mean he or she is mentally as tough as the others, it means they are exponentially tougher than the others. I paid my way through college and graduated in the top 2% of my school. Do I feel the other kids who didn't have to pay their way through as I did are as hard working as I am? NO!

BJJ is a physical sport and girls don't come from a culture that expects them to be physically strong or as active. For them to hang and do well with the guys, they aren't just as good or tough as the guys, they are far superior to them. And to ask that of every girl who's starting BJJ is asking for a whole lot.

Put a guy's brain in a girl's body and have them start BJJ. They will probably quit in far bigger numbers.

End rant.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to understand women and their up hill struggles with BJJ and grappling. Most men don't get it, nor want to take the time to try to understand. Your efforts here have been appreciated by women in grappling groups.

    I especially agree with BJJ being taught the way men learn as well as being focused on the strengths men have. BJJ for women is different than for men. Our superior strength is in our legs not upper body, we are generally smaller in size and close guard nor triangles are not feasible when you start. Mount is the worst when you start and your legs can't even reach the floor because the guy is so big. All you do is float and get benched pressed off. After many years of training like other women who stuck with it, I figured out another way. A way to play to my strengths and abilities which is different than the way a lot if guys do things.

    Plus in a self defense aspect, close guard is the worst. If I guy is attacking me, he most likely will be larger and wants to sexually assault me. Why help him get close down there? Any open guard would be so much better. Plus I'm most likely going to be blindsided from behind or the side and that isn't usually covered. These basics don't play to our strengths or needs as well as it does for men.

    So once again, THANK YOU! Guys normally don't understand and thanks for letting me have a mini rant.



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