In the grand modern age of female CEOs, female Olympians and athletes, and basically all female insert-occupation-heres, we dangerously assume that all is well and dandy in the gender framework of society. Within the world of martial arts, it seems as though woman’s mere presence in the dojo/ring/what-have-you screams equality. She has been accepted! She becomes one of us! But does she really?
I wanted to not-so-subtly veer this piece of writing towards myself and my own experiences, especially as those of a practicing jiujiteira. I’ve been training for almost over twelve years, competing in jiu jitsu for ten, and just recently entered the lucrative world of teaching and seminar-ing. I knew what question to expect from organizers when planning seminars: the seminar would be women only. Right? There are a few good reasons for making this assumption: women want a safe space to train and learn among their female peers, perhaps they would also enjoy learning in a similar environment.
To an extent, it’s true. Learning in a roomful of women, from a woman is comfortable and exclusive. But a small part of me attaches itself to such a sentiment and gnaws at it constantly. Is it really about comfort? Or is it about numbers?
Is it because women are usually the only people that show and create interest, pay in advance, post their statuses of excitement on Facebook? Of all the large seminars I’ve done, the number of men in attendance never exceeded the number of women. In fact, the numbers have never even reached sameness. When I arrive at a seminar, I’m usually met with a roomful of women with only a smattering of men. Where have they all gone? I know for a fact, that most schools I teach at have more male students than female, so where are these guys spending their technique-less Saturdays?
Gym owners and organizers tend to confirm my worst fears: “oh you know, they hear it’s a girl and run in the other direction. They say, I don’t know what I would learn from a woman. It’s all Tiago-this and Marcos-that until they find out it’s a lady. Then it’s she has nothing new to teach me.” I’m not surprised by the ignorance, it would be a lie to say I didn’t know why the number of male students in attendance is low. It is simply sad to hear these words come out of the owners’ mouths. It is even sadder to see their expressions that reveal how hard they did try to promote and coax the guys into coming.
Guys. When you attend the seminar of a jiu jitsu woman, any jiu jitsu woman, know that she is going to bestow upon the class techniques that worked for her against her training partners. Plot twist: remember my statement from before? The whole “most schools have more male students than female” thing? That statement remains true for that jiu jitsu woman. She had to endure crushing roll after roll against persons heavier, stronger, more biologically-inclined to squash her. She had to centralize the game she plays in her dojo to out-maneuver the big guys. The strong guys. In the battle where her strength didn’t come close, she had to make her way with technique.
Besides this simple fact, I have another news flash. Women learn the same moves as men. They execute the same moves as men. They didn’t win Pans on account of having the nicest hair or the longest eyelashes. They won because they choked the hell out of someone with a triangle. Oh yeah, and that defense her opponent did to keep the choke from happening? The one that one dude uses on you every Wednesday in class? She knows a counter to that. And she’s willing to share it, for a nice fee that is.
Fellas, I can’t and won’t beg you to come to my seminars. I can’t force you to attend those of powerhouses like Michelle Nicolini or Hannette Staack. I can, however, tell you that your assumptions (if you have them) that you have nothing to learn from us ladies are based on nothing. Everyone has something to learn, whether it is a slight detail for a finish or a pass, a crucial grip change, a specific foot movement or just general competition advice. That’s the beauty of jiu jitsu: no one is allowed to call themselves all-knowing because it is literally impossible to know all of the jiu jitsu things.
Bottom line is, every jiu jitsu fighter has their own set of unique skills, techniques and adaptations. If they also happen to be competitive and successful, their techniques have likely been tried and tested by the best of the best. It is important to diversify one’s game. It is critical to adapt and evolve with the practice of new techniques. Otherwise one may just get left behind as the metamorphosis of BJJ continues along. Choose to learn from high class athletes, regardless of gender. Open up to the possibility that they might just know more than you, or at least more about insert-specific-technique here more than you. If you don’t, chances are you missed your chance to expedite your progress and learn the escape to that one de la Riva tangle you keep getting caught in.