Women and Whether They Can “Handle” BJJ

I know everyone has probably put in their two cents at this point, but when I first read the heading to Keith Owen’s post, “Can Women Really Handle Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?” my first reaction was to recall a scene from the movie 300, which I have (painfully) recreated for you with a free gif generator, so sorry for the poor quality:

“Clearly you don’t know our women…”

Granted this guy doesn’t make his living writing, he makes it teaching  jiu jitsu. Also granted there is an expectation that as an instructor he should have a little more open mind and less sexist attitude when it comes to recruiting women students into his academy. 

Maybe it’s just me, but in his post the instructor creates an “us versus them” mentality, which may also reflect in his teaching at his academy. In an attempt to not scare women away, he in fact is creating a segregated culture by putting women to the side where they won’t be”harmed” or “made uncomfortable” by rolling. By putting women to the side you create a double standard; a perfectly healthy man is pressured to train, where the “delicate flower”of a woman is not pressured to try her new skills out on the mat. 

Aye, but there’s the rub: to try something new, jiu jitsu or not,  is about getting out of your comfort zone and being challenged. And while we know the joys of overcoming those challenges in the art, they can be immensely frustrating and practically a deal breaker for ANY beginner. It takes time and patience to get a new student through that first obstacle, regardless of gender.  I’m sure if this is he notices a lot of women walking out the door, there’s a good chance a lot of white belts in general are walking out the door, frustrated with the experience: it’s just women are the smaller group and so their absence is more noticeable. While you will find a few exceptions to the rule, your white belts aren’t quite “in love” with jiu jitsu up to the first 60 to 90 days-you have to share that passion, that enthusiasm with them. Challenge them, but also make sure someone isn’t smashing the living daylights out of them the first week in.

I do find the mention of the married men a bit out of line though. I could be totally wrong, but to mention it as an issue means there’s a good chance someone is making it an issue on the mat which would make any female uncomfortable no matter how much they love training.

I never thought I had to be Captain Obvious, but women don’t think about sex when they are training with male partners. We are there to learn and improve, not to “get our grind on”. Just….ew. And if the wives of these guys are complaining about women training with men, encourage them to try a few classes to see what the whole thing is really all about. Who knows? Maybe you’ll have a few women sign up that way.

My point is treat everyone in your academy with respect, encourage that respect among one another, have  relatively little to no double standards (guys in our academy are not allowed to wear a shirt under their gi, but women are allowed- that sort of thing) and most importantly share your passion for the sport with your students. That is how you will get women to stay: by focusing on the sport and everything you love in it, and not a woman’s perceived “delicate sensitivities”.

I’m linking to Julia’s post on the subject, mainly because she was the one that brought the whole thing to my attention, and also I don’t want to give this guy any more publicity than he already has gotten in response to the article. If you are going to read it, read Julia’s analysis first, and like her post so she gets the readership traffic boost.


Filed under bjj, Training, women's bjj

6 responses to “Women and Whether They Can “Handle” BJJ

  1. The part about not giving him more traffic made me laugh. Yeah – he’s had over 250 hits from my website alone, not to mention the Reddit links. I’ve never seen 300, but that’s an awesome quote and gif.

    I hadn’t said it, but I think you hit on part of it – the entire sport was so new to me when I started. The whole dang thing was squarely in my “discomfort zone” that “easing me into” grappling would have been akin to joining a polar bear club and then them telling me – well, you can ease into the water if you like – rather than just telling me – look, this is what we do. We jump in – so if you’d like to be part of the club, jump.

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  3. Joy Honeycutt

    Really enjoyed reading Jiu Jiu response to this post. Fortunately I read it immediately after seeing Owens post a few days ago so it was a calming influence.

    You mentioned the part of his post about men risking their relationships as out of line. How did his advice to women strike you? The “Your significant other has to be comfortable with you being in a class full of men.” followed within a few lines by “You have to be good at being drenched in male sweat from an exhaustive roll”. Maybe he meant to say “good with being…”, not sure how one becomes good at being drenched in someone sweat (gender not withstanding).

    It was a combination of the married men stuff, those lines and the bizarre “Some of them have gotten pregnant (from their husbands or boyfriends),…” line that put it over the top for me.

    • Katie

      While I sort of understand what he was trying to say, he did a piss-poor job of conveying his thoughts. I agree, I think he meant to say “good with being”, but as I mentioned he makes his money teaching jiu jitsu not writing in any sort of eloquent or succinct manner. I do know there are some girls who really do have an issue with the invasion of personal space, the close contact, and yes, the whole “I sweat on you, you sweat on me” sort of unspoken agreement we have with one another.

      Also, I feel the line about being the significant other I feel can be taken a couple of ways: I’m not assuming he was looking to take the high road, but a S.O. (because I’m lazy and feel like abbreviating the term) may worry about the safety of the woman training with guys, concerned that they may become too exuberant and use their strength and then injuring the woman. A noble but misplaced concern if safety and respect are taught and shown on the mat. If we’re taking the low road… That’s a relationship issue that would stem for an insecurity issue from the partner, or something that was said/done in the academy. Can’t help with the former, but again the latter should not be an issue if respect is made a priority on the mat.

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