Category Archives: women's bjj

Teaching in BJJ and Removing Assumptions

Admittedly over the past couple of months I have been mainly teaching classes with more advanced students: we separate our gi classes into people who are super beginner and those who are more advanced and just due to scheduling conflicts I haven’t been able to assist in the beginner class, so the by the time they get to my world they are people who have been doing jiu jitsu for a couple of months, and while they have their struggles, by and large they sort of have a base understanding of certain principles and we build off of those.

I’m teaching that beginner class this week while we have some people out to go compete in Master Worlds, and if nothing else it’s very much a reminder that some of the things you think of as second nature after a while. How for some people not only is elbow escaping (or shrimping as some people call it) not something their body naturally does, but that even sometimes they know their right from left.

It’s a reminder that sometimes you need to stop and make sure that everyone is on the same page. It’s a bit like when you are telling your friend a story, but you never told them who the story was about, you just started using all the pronouns and expected your friend to understand exactly who and what you were talking about….and they just kind of stare at you blankly. Other people, particularly at my job do this to me all the time, actually. That’s when I will stare at the person and say, “I want you to repeat that entire story, but don’t use ANY pronouns. Go.”

Sometimes when we -higher ranks that is- are teaching, we know that people don’t have the same level of teaching, occasionally the erroneous assumption that people will know certain things will creep in without us noticing. Of course a white belt would understand why this guard is important! Of course they would know to turn left instead of right…and so on.

While it’s just human nature and there’s certainly no malice behind it, at the same time teachers need to be aware of those assumptions while on the mat, and do what they can to correct them. While some do have a bit of natural body awareness, more often than not people literally don’t know what they don’t know, with white belts having the biggest blind spot of them all. It’s our responsibility as higher ranks to expand their horizons bit by bit, showing them what’s possible and what’s necessary as they begin to learn the ropes of jiu jitsu. And the more we share that knowledge, really the better we all become: the newer student becomes more well versed in jiu jitsu, and the more experienced student understands the potential struggle that another future student could also have. There are also benefits of being the teacher instead of the student, but that’s for another time.

Have a great day everyone!

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The Appeal of IBJJF Tournaments for Women in BJJ

It was an interesting question posed on social media- they expressed frustration regarding their impression that in order to compete against more women, they had to sign up for an IBJJF tournament, which let’s be honest costs a lot of money. They person expressed frustration that they had to drive for a longer period of time and hand out more money than say going to a smaller tournament closer to home, and asked why so many women chose to sign up for IBJJF tournaments. And her question is totally reasonable: it does seem a little silly to pay over 100 dollars to drive 2 to 3 hours to wait another couple of hours to fight someone that may potentially train like, 45 minutes away from you and the two of you could have duked it out at a local tourney for 60 bucks.

There are a couple of factors that play into this: first and foremost, it’s one of the better known tournament organizations, and whether anyone likes it or not, it’s pretty much a gold standard when it comes to gi competitions, especially when it comes to their rule set. From what I can tell a number of other tournament organizations use IBJJF’s rule set as their own, so walking in you should have a good handle on what’s allowed. Some commented on this person’s question stating that IBJJF is one of the best run tournaments out there. I think when it comes to the bigger tournaments- Pans, Worlds, etc. they more or less smoothly, but there have definitely been times where they have messed: the displays shorted out, during this past Pans there was a mess up in their bracketing and scheduling software and a bunch of us who were supposed to fight on a Saturday thought our divisions were pushed up to a Friday night (we found this out after dinner 45 minutes away from the venue and the divisions were supposed to “start” in 30 minutes, so we were pretty much all freaking out to some degree until we were able to get a rep on the phone to assure us it was a mistake), there was one time where one of our girls was basically forgotten in the bull pen when her competitor didn’t show up and she was basically left there waaaaay too long- they are by no means a perfect organization, but they get it right more times than they get it wrong.

Also, from what I can tell it’s one of the first tournament organizations that really set out from just the local scene and decided to extend their reach- it’s sort of like the GoPuff of the industry: for anyone who may not be aware of what go puff may be, it’s basically a convenience store on wheels. Say it’s late at night and you suddenly fall ill and need some pepto bismal, or maybe you’ve gotten the munchies due to whatever shenanigans you’re up to and could really go for some junk food, but you’re all out! You log into the app, pick out your items and go puff will deliver those items to your door.

There are companies that are now trying to recreate that service and push into that market space, but since (as far as I know) GoPuff was the first to offer this service, so it has the brand recognition and had a chance to establish its presence as the main service. And even if they weren’t the first, IBJJF is possibly of the longest running and, to my knowledge, still expanding tournament organizations out there.

So you have a recognizable, long running tournament with a clearly established and well known rule set- that frankly you know top competitors compete in, and are motivated to do so now because of the points system they recently implemented as a qualifier for some of their larger tournaments…. it’s no wonder that women tend to gravitate toward those tournaments. It would be nice to see more women in local tournaments, but really I’m happy to see women competing anywhere, and if that’s at an IBJJF tournament, so be it.

Will there be a change? Honestly, probably not. There are a good deal of tournament organizations out there, but unless they can find a way to top IBJJF’s popularity in the market- maybe by specifically reaching out to women? It will probably remain the same.

If there’s another tournament organization that you would love to see take off, please by all means let me know. Otherwise, have a great day everyone!

 

 

 

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Friendly Reminder: Cut Your Nails When Training in BJJ

And really in general, but especially make sure to keep them short for the sport. Just mentioning this because while training with someone I received approximately 2 inch cut from someone’s nails while rolling last night.

I spoke with the person after class (it was an honest oversight, it happens) but for anyone else our there who needs a reminder, please cut your nails- both fingers and toes.

Please and thank you.

Have a great day everyone!

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Tips for Competing in a BJJ Tournament

While there are a number of people who read this blog and don’t do jiu jitsu, there are some, and maybe a few of them have thought about competing in the near future. This is by no means a complete list, but here are a couple of tips and things to keep in mind if you are thinking about competing:

  1. Get there on time– This is sort of obvious, but take a look at travel times, and take into account the possibility of traffic. I’m not saying get to the tournament 8 hours early, but if you are headed to say NAGA’s Battle at the Beach, which takes place in a New Jersey beach town, maybe add a little time in case you get stuck in beach traffic. You’ll also probably want to warm up beforehand, so I would say show up at minimum an hour or so beforehand.
  2. Make sure you have the right gear– if you’re not sure, see if the tournament has rules on the kind of gi that you can wear, belt, if you need to wear a rashguard reflecting your rank if you’re doing no gi, etc.
  3. Bring some snacks, water, possibly a yoga mat– It’s going to be a long day, so unless you want to roll the dice with the food and drink provided at the venue (which can range anything from a full meal to some hastily made PB&J sandwiches), you’ll probably want to bring your own snacks and drinks.  And if you’re looking to stretch somewhere before competing, it may not be a bad idea to bring a yoga mat so you can plop down somewhere and loosen up.
  4. Warm up– Related to the previous point, you should warm up. Stretch, jog, jump rope, do something to loosen you up before competing.
  5. Make sure you know the rule set– again a gimme, but don’t assume that all tournament organizations run with the same rule set. Some run their matches for different lengths of time, some allow certain submissions that others won’t, and so on.
  6. Keep an eye on the progression of the tournament and check on how they are going to call you to compete–  A lot- not all, but a lot of- tournaments will simply designate one, maybe two tables to a division and then corral the division by the table(s). If that’s the case, keep an ear out for your name, and/or just keep an eye on the general progress of the tournament. There are some tournaments that progress by rank from small sized competitors to larger sized competitors. So, if you’re a smallish blue belt and you’re watching some larger white belts on the mat, start to pay attention because you may be called soon.
  7. Breathe, and have fun!– No matter the outcome, you’re going out there and doing the thing! You’re facing your anxieties and stepping out on the mat. It may feel super stressful leading up to your matches, but afterwords you’ll feel accomplished, and can walk away knowing that you did your best!

Those are some tips for competing that I can think of off the top of my head- hopefully this is helpful to someone out there if they are thinking of competing in the near future.

Have a great day everyone!

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Fighting the Right Fight in Jiu Jitsu

It happens to all of us at some point: in the puzzle/human chess game that we call jiu jitsu, we sometimes find ourselves trying to execute on something that either just isn’t there, or focus on trying to do something that isn’t giving us the desired results.

We struggle, trying to put the wrong pieces of the puzzle together in an attempt to make something work- we try to fight the wrong fight, essentially.

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This can be super clear/obvious at lower ranks: the first example that comes to mind is when someone tries to break closed guard in the beginning. A lot of people have some…interesting ideas about what to do in closed guard. Some of them make sense, some of them, not so much. But it boils down to what they are considering the threat and what they are trying to neutralize.

This becomes less obvious as you advance in rank, because the road to success seems a little more open, and the options leading to a successful sweep or submission are- or at least appear to be- more numerous and potentially viable options. And while of course we should make an attempt and try our best, we should be careful though and not waste all of our energy on trying to stick a round peg into a square hole. Sometimes techniques don’t work because we need to get better at executing them, and sometimes techniques don’t work because we need to get better at understanding the right timing and opportunity for them.

Of course, it’s hard to tell that at first, but over time you should take the occasional second if you are struggling to think “Is this the fight I should be focusing on right now?” the answer can certainly be yes, but once in a while the answer may be no and that’s when it’s time to change strategies. It will take time to understand those situations, but if you are able to catch them, it should lead to more productive training sessions.

That’s all for now- have a great day everyone!

 

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Interesting Article on The US Women’s Soccer Team and Working with Their Menstrual Cycles

I’m a bit late on sharing this, but here’s an interesting article on the women’s US Soccer Team and how their training was adjusted for the different stages of their menstrual cycle.

I think it’s mainly interesting because if nothing else, it can start to change the conversations that we have about women’s health and training during those different cycles. While many may not need this kind of tailoring, since they don’t depend on their health and athletic abilities to pay the bills and put a roof over their heads, it’s interesting to think that there is a shift in this conversation and something that athletes and coaches talk about- having athletes take proactive steps to minimize any detrimental effects caused by their menstrual cycle.

Just something interesting to share- have a great day everyone!

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Creating a Psychological Safe Space on the Mats

I think there are some lower ranks who are sometimes afraid to ask for help- I sincerely hope that it’s more of an internal struggle than some sort of impression that they have received from an instructor.

It could be that you are feeling a little awkward because you have SO MANY questions about different techniques and their applications. and ok, that’s fair. There’s only so much time in a day and after class. But say there’s something that stumped you while you were training, I definitely think it’s ok to ask for help at the end of class. I’ve rolled with teammates who ask about something in the middle of rolls before too- if I can give a very short answer I will, but if it takes a little longer to respond, I usually ask if we can wait to talk about it after class.

Admittedly, sometimes I give unsolicited advice at the end of a class- “Hey, I noticed you were doing this- if you do that instead you should be able to successfully do x,y, and z” and even sometimes if I keep catching someone a number of times in the same submission, I’ll tell them a way to defend it or to how to shut it down.

I’m weird, I know, but I also want my training partner to feel like they are getting something out of the roll, and not hitting the same roadblock over and over again.

This kind of touches on the idea of creating a psychological safe space in the gym. The term I’m referring to comes from a book called “Smarter, Faster, Better”

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While the book is geared toward someone in a management position, covering how to have a more productive team in the professional world, the underlying principle sort of remains the same. In order for people to learn and for there to be progress, people need to feel that they are in an environment that allows them to ask questions, to come up with a hypothesis and then test it out, and make mistakes without fear of being reprimanded. Ideas and questions naturally lead to more ideas and questions, and the group then moves forward in their knowledge.

Understandably this can be a tricky balance to maintain: on the one hand you want people to ask questions, be curious, test theories. On the other hand you also want lower ranks to focus on and master the basics and preferably stick to the whatever you guys are working on at that moment, but at the same time not stifling curiosity or someone’s desire to learn and experiment. Ultimately, much like dealing with a team atmosphere in a professional setting, a higher needs to not discourage that spirit of curiosity and learning, but instead remind the lower rank of the steps and fundamentals needed to get there.

So for the lower belts, don’t be afraid to ask questions after class, and for the higher ranks, encourage questions and working with lower ranks on certain issues- if the technique is a little off the rails or above that students’ skill set, then go over different, more basic elements that will help them get to that final destination. We are all here to support and help one another as we all grow and evolve through jiu jitsu.

Have a great day everyone!

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Picking and Choosing Your Battles When Rolling in BJJ

When you progress in jiu jitsu, you have to become a little more careful about who you roll with, in particular circumstances such as getting ready for a tournament, getting over and injury, and also just generally when you get older (hey, it happens- and it’s certainly better than the alternative). Side note, all of this is predicated of course on the idea that you have multiple options for people to train with: if there is only one other person to train with, hey, there’s only one person to train with and that’s kind of that. But we’re operating under the assumption that you have a number of training partners that you can choose from when it’s time to roll. It’s great to train with as many bodies as possible, don’t get me wrong, but there are some match ups that may not work in your best interest, and worst case scenario, could end up hurting you.

For most people after training for a long enough period of time, you start to know who those people are. And if you’re not sure, then before the next time you train you should think about who is in class, or will probably typically be in class, and the kinds of sets you have with that person: how do you feel when you roll with them? What kind of intensity do you two typically roll with- are they more chill sorts of rolls, or are they more aggressive and why? Are they pushing the pace, or is there something that makes you roll harder when training with that person? And more importantly, what sort of intensity and positions are you looking for with your upcoming training sessions, and which partners at the gym are a good fit to meet that goal? Are you getting ready for a tournament and so you want to push yourself, or are you getting over a hurt… something or other, and need to take it easy for a couple of days? And more importantly on the injury thing, will rolling with said person put you at risk of re-injury? Say you tweaked your ankle, and you know you have one teammate who LOVES going after footlocks. Do you like rolling with them? Sure! But if rolling with them puts your ankle at risk of injury, then maybe it’s not a good idea to roll with them for a bit.

Some may object to that, saying that you could just tell your partner not to go after that ankle- but friends, after years of training I can tell you with relative certainty that there is about a 60/40 chance they will remember your injury while rolling. What happens more often than not is you will start rolling, they will avoid the injured part of your body, then after some time muscle memory will take over and the chance of them going after that injured part increases substantially, and while your partner may have the best intentions, they will forget about that injury or it will turn into one of those footnotes in the back of their mind until something happens to that injured part of the body, where that reminder will come rushing back to them. They will look at you with wide eyes- and with a hint of panic in them- and will even sometime say “oh shit!” as they realized they are doing something to the body part that they shouldn’t be messing with. Again, while that person may have the best of intentions, sometimes in the heat of the moment they forget what they shouldn’t be doing. Granted, also in that person’s defense if you are that injured then maybe you shouldn’t be training period, but we’re a stubborn breed, jiu jitsu people, so you know there’s that.

Just some food for thought as we all prepare for competitions, some get over injuries, and for some who just need to start to get a little more picky about who they train with when it comes time to roll.

Have a great day everyone!

 

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Reading Your Partner When Rolling in BJJ

There’s a phrase that you all may or may not have heard- it’s called “reading the room”. It refers to having the emotional intelligence to pick up on the body language and reactions of an audience to adjust one’s behavior- whether it’s giving a presentation, telling a joke, or simply having a conversation.

It’s kind of the same when rolling with someone: sometimes you have to “read” your partner to figure out how the two of you can have the most successful/productive roll. Maybe you’re dealing with a timid lower belt- it doesn’t really make sense to go 100%, Mad Max “Thunderdome” style with that person: all you’re going to do is scare the bejeezus out of them and maybe even turn them off from the sport forever. Some may argue that it makes the person tougher and that they will come out of the roll possibly stronger, but you would need to know your partner REAAALLLLY well to proceed with a reasonable amount of confidence that they will rise to the challenge, so to speak.

Sometimes your partner wants to go harder, and if you’re game to do the same, by all means go for it: maybe they’re amped about a tournament’s coming up, or maybe they are just feeling feisty during that session.

And sometimes people are just not totally there, mentally. We all have a ton of things that are going on in our lives off the mat, and as much as we try to clear our minds and stay focused on training, sometimes the real world sneaks in and pulls us off the course, and makes us not feel or perform our best. Or there’s a chronic injury that someone is dealing with and for whatever reason- weather, life, etc- that injury is acting up. Sometimes these are not things we’re inclined to admit of course, and that’s where I feel reading your partner really becomes important.

At the end of the day we of course want to train well and get good rolls in, but we also care about and have respect for our training partners, and I don’t know about everyone, but I think a lot of people would agree that they also want their training partner to feel like they had a decent roll. Sometimes that requires verbal communication- which of course is preferable- but sometimes that also requires an unspoken readjustment in training speed and intensity, so everyone can walk off the mat feeling like they had a decent training session.

So how do you exactly read your partner? Honestly, you’re probably doing it already, you just haven’t noticed. Look at you, doing the thing! You pick up on body language signals, reactions, facial expressions of your partner, and sometimes adjust accordingly.

It can be a tricky balance sometimes, training in a way that you and the other person feels like they got something out of the training, but as you train more often, the more accustomed you should become to making these adjustments which leads to a win for everyone.

So, maybe keep that in mind the next time you’re training, and have a great day everyone!

 

 

 

 

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Larger Women & Training in BJJ: A Tale from Both Sides

I’ve mentioned this before, but I was pretty big when I first started jiu jitsu- I was pretty close (if not over) 200 pounds, which isn’t really a great look for someone who is approximately 5’3 and had very little muscle definition at the time.

When I started jiu jitsu there were a few girls that took some classes- they were definitely smaller than me, and while they meant well, there were a few instances where a thing would happen: they would become frustrated while training with me and would either make some sort of back handed compliment about my size, or there was what I call the huff- unconsciously or consciously letting me know that it wasn’t my technique but rather my size that was causing a problem for whatever they were trying to do. I can’t recall what specifically was taking place at the time, but as Maya Angelou once said, people don’t always remember what you do or say, but rather how you make them feel. And in those instances I felt large and awkward and almost not welcome in the space.

It doesn’t really make sense to a lot of guys, I know- the dream for a lot of dudes is to be as big and muscular as possible (and technical, of course), to be a juggernaut on the mats. For women it’s a bit different however: a lot of larger women are made to feel uncomfortable about the space they take up on the mat. Do I think it’s an intentional act? No, actually- I think for the most part people just do stupid things without any real malicious intent: we’re just not so great at interacting with other humans sometimes (I sort of jokingly say this occasionally, ‘people-ing is hard’).

As someone who has been in that situation, and as someone now who trains with larger women, I am sensitive to that feeling and try to make women of all shapes and sizes feel welcome on the mat. I very specifically remember training with a woman who was a bit taller and heavier than I was, and I asked her why she wasn’t really going for certain techniques. It took her a moment, but she admitted that she was afraid that she was going to hurt me. I basically told her not to worry, that I would be fine, so just go for what she needed to and let’s roll.

And I hope you all do the same: welcome people as they are, and try to make them feel as welcome in the space as possible. As I’ve mentioned before here, jiu jitsu is for every body: tall, short, thin, fat and a wide spectrum of abilities (or lack, thereof). And while this is not always the case, I would hope that your mats are filled with all kinds of body types, filling your academy with variety and a chance to roll with those way different than you. Understand that while someone may be larger than you, that is a great opportunity to work a different kind of game- maybe you won’t be able to work the same kind of sweep in the exact same kind of way that you have been doing to everyone else, and that’s ok- in fact use the training as an opportunity to adjust your game that it can work on someone with a different body type. There’s practically never a reason to not have someone feel welcome on a mat space, especially when it comes to just their body size.

Have a great day everyone!

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