Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Why women (and men) should train Brazilian jiu jitsu.

I think there's a great case to be made for why women should train in Brazilian jiu jitsu. I proselytize the great gospel of jiu jitsu all the time, everywhere, to most everyone I meet. (I do a lot of grocery shopping in gi pants and an academy tshirt, so it seems like I get at least one or two inquiries a week about BJJ that way.) But I don't often blog about it, because it seems like you're the choir, right?

However, if you know some ladies who might be on the fence about it, if there's someone you're trying to convince, here's what I would tell them (in a slightly-longer-than-produce-aisle argument.) Of course, this applies to men too!

1. Self defense. I have to chuckle, because when guys talk about "fights always go to the ground" and "if someone jumps you in a bar" and whatnot, I wonder what bars they're going to and what they're doing that gets them into these fights. But seriously, 1 in 6 women (and 1 in 33 men) will be sexually assaulted in the United States. Every 2 minutes someone in the US is sexually assaulted. There's a couple sub-arguments to be made here. One is, of course, Brazilian jiu jitsu is famous for offering an enormous variety of self defense techniques for almost any kind of situation, from being bearhugged and dragged away, to wrist grabs, to knifepoint attacks. No brainer. Another is, even "non-self-defense" or more purely sport jiu jitsu type moves (like sweeps and subs from guard) make perfect sense in a sexual assault context. Third, more preventative in focus, training in BJJ will make you walk and project yourself like the strongest, fastest gazelle in the herd so the tiger will choose another victim.

2. Healthy exercise and living. BJJ tests your strength, flexibility, and cardio like nobody's business. Anyone on the spectrum from fat, soft office slug to superfit Venus Williams will be able to adjust their level of participation in their first classes to a) last the whole class without dying, and b) still challenge themselves physically. That said, you will see amazing gains (and losses!) because jiu jitsu is fun.

We all hear the statistics on needing 30-60 min of vigorous activity 5 times a week for optimal health. Most people sign up for a gym and get bored, fail to change their habits, etc. The gym membership is pointless if you're not motivated. BJJ motivates you in the immediate sense ("I need to move or I will get choked!") and the short term sense ("I will stretch as much as I can during warmups so class is more comfortable").. and you'll be motivated in the long term sense. "I'm going to quit smoking." "I'm going to eat some extra protein and skip the ice cream." "I'm going to start working my core muscles more so I have better sweeps."

3. It changes the way you view your body. The corollary to number 2 is that you'll start seeing your body as this wonderful, "fearfully made" machine capable of amazing feats. This was a big one for me-- instead of seeing the number on the scale as the ultimate issue (and lower was always better) I started to see my body as a powerhouse with the ability to endure and move and sweep and smash, quite honestly. I stopped caring quite as much whether I ever saw my high school weight again and started caring more about my body fat percentage, my strength relative to my height, my flexibility, etc. I started to see that weighing 130 or even 140 wasn't "bad" and was still plenty smaller than most of my training partners. That 130 was tiny in comparison to even a 160 lb guy, and I occasionally wished to weigh MORE so I could be more effective. (Of course I've since learned it's not WHAT you weigh but WHERE you put it on them. But anyway.)

Ironically, though I weigh maybe 10 lbs more than I did a year ago (though 15 lbs less than when I started jits!) my clothing went down some sizes, it fits more loosely and my body fat percentage has gone down a couple points. My arms have distinct curves of bicep, tricep and delt muscles.. my quads and abs are super strong, and I can train for a couple hours a day, seven days a week without breaking down. I'm not perfect but I'm better, and if I had to go to a regular gym I probably couldn't bear more than an hour a day if that.

Another point to make is that you probably will end up simplifying your beauty routine if you really get into the sport. Frequent showers, messed up hair, and general encroachment on your day's hours can make you into more of a natural beauty. This is good, imho: you'll use fewer petrochemicals, create less waste, spend less money on products, and spend less time primping and more out there doing.

4. You'll be unique. This is a biggie for me. I like to do things that are unusual, off the beaten path. Not a whole lot of women in jiu jitsu, though it's changing gradually. This means you will probably get more willing assistance from others who are eager to help you. You'll have something far more interesting to talk about at cocktail parties-- as opposed to your garden, your tennis game, or the latest novel you're reading. (No offense to tennis players, and I love gardening, and novels... but really? doesn't stir up near the intrigue as people thinking "wow, she chokes people.")

5. Ego balancing. I didn't really lack in self confidence to begin with (thanks Mom, thanks Dad, thanks debate through high school and college, thanks law school..) but now I have even more, yet I'm more humble, if that makes sense. I know I can take care of myself in most situations-- physically and spiritually. Jiu jitsu builds a body good and it rewards discipline, dedication, focus, patience, and humor. It takes the most arrogant badboys and reminds them there's always a badder boy (or girl) on the block... and it gives the most demure, delicate flowers a stem of steel. Mostly girls don't have the overweening ego problems of the Tapout/Affliction crowd-- but there's nothing like the smile on the face of a young girl who was hesitant and iffy when she discovers that these techniques work against someone bigger and stronger than herself.

6. What a good group of people! For sure you can find good people anywhere in any activity, but I think jiu jitsu brings together such a varied crowd from so many walks of life, all of whom are dedicated to building each other up. It is an individual sport, but rising tides lift all boats and you'll be surrounded by teammates who actively want you to get better (because then they're forced to get better!) You'll have a more or less tightly knit crew outside of the academy, depending on your particular community's flavor, but when you need them, they're there. And to say nothing of the great people all around the world who foster the activity by their internet presence. I have learned so much from people like Seymour, Liam, Can, Matt, Elyse, Leslie, Cane, Chrissy, Michael, Jonathan, Dustin, Dev... never would have met them but for jits!

7. Fosters creativity: Unlike other martial arts, there's no one right way to do things, and there isn't a list of techniques you "have to" be good at to progress and be successful. Jiu jitsu acknowledges that everyone has a different shape, size, attitude and philosophy. Yes, true, you really do have to understand some fundamental basics, but beyond that, you will develop your own game according to your strengths and weaknesses. It's pretty much an infinitely variable thing. A corollary to this is that jiu jitsu meets needs at all levels of the Maslow hierarchy... physiological needs, safety, sociality, creativity, self-actualization. It helps you stay healthy, feel loved, mentally stimulated, and if you're lucky you'll create a move that's known by your name even after you're gone. Even if that's not the case, you can aspire to having interactions with others that permanently affect their worldview for the better. It's a win-win.

So that's the longer version of my sermon. Feel free to share if you know a gal who might think about getting into it. And then tell her to read Leslie's great blog BJJGrrl, especially the section on women in BJJ.


Anonymous said...


SL Chan said...

omg I couldn't help but nod to EVERYTHING you said about BJJ!!!!

Good stuff! More females should really get into the sport. But then again this is the kind of thing that females aren't naturally attracted too (And for some females not even compatible!). On the flipside, it's probably the same concept for males & pole dancing. :P

Liam H Wandi said...

I....I'm a beautiful and fast gazelle?!

Sudden Rush of Happiness Overwhelms!!

Georgette said...

@Liam: no, you're a smart ass. (sorry couldn't resist! :) )

@Su Ling: Thank you! So kind!

Sorry but all my feathers got ruffled when you said females aren't naturally attracted to grappling ... or that men aren't naturally attracted to pole dancing. I don't want to get into the whole gender/nature v nurture thing. But no one is "naturally" attracted to pole dancing (I mean, really!?) and women, just as much as men, can be naturally attracted to grappling, aggression, effortful athleticism, etc.

I don't disagree that lots of women *aren't* attracted to grappling but that, to me, has nothing to do with "naturally." Which kind of implies that women who are attracted to grappling are unnatural. Or that it is unnatural that they are.

I tend to think women are just as competitive, aggressive, and pragmatic as men if not more so. Those factors feed into jiu jitsu wonderfully well. They just need a little more coaxing or understanding to get over some of their fears because I think their fears are different than mens'.

But I don't mean to jump all over you *at all* and I am delighted to have you comment! Please do it more :) Happy training!

Julia Johansen said...

I totally agree about having a tight knit group of people. I love the guys at my gym!

My favorite is this:
3. It changes the way you view your body.

I so completely agree. You start to recognize the advantages of your body type and trying to use it to your favor. I'm short and heavy, so the scarf hold is something I latched onto immediately! Way to use my size to my advantage! :)

Thanks for writing this!

Meg Smitley said...

Holla at the 'natural beauty point'. I gave BJJ my hair ;)

SkinnyD said...

Fantastic! BJJ evangelism FTW! I agree with all you said about why women should train in BJJ, but I'm glad you added men in your title because everything you said is descriptive of my personal reasons for training - particularly your comments on fitness. I watch sooo many people drop out of gyms and quit on their fitness goals, and it's all because they don't have any fun! BJJ gets you in great shape almost behind your back. Also, even as a fairly strong man BJJ has influenced the way I view my body and helped bolster self-confidence in my own capability and athleticism.

Would you mind if I cited your article on my blog? This is the sort of stuff I love to pass along.

A.D. McClish said...

Love this!! I love the self-confidence BJJ is building for me. I have a long way to go, but this sport forces me to face myself in the most uncomfortable, frustrating, honest, wonderful ways. Great post!!

Georgette said...

@Skinny-- sure, go right ahead, and thanks! As long as people link back to me, I'm totally fine with sharing material.

Sean said...

awesome post. I'm definitely forwarding this to any female (and male) friends who are on the fence about trying Jiu Jitsu.

And as a bonus, I feel twice as smart after learning what Maslow's hierchy is!

NinjaEditor said...

I love this article. You covered pretty every reason for why I got into martial arts and BJJ.

I just wish I could recruit more girls. I keep trying! Would love to get out to a women's grapple camp at some point...

SL Chan said...

Hi Georgette!

Sorry if I got your feathers ruffled! I really didn't mean to offend by that statement :(

Please allow me to shed some light into the context I'm referring to. Maybe it will help. ^___^ And I guess I worded it wrong maybe natural isn't the word after looking back in hindsight but I meant to use the word culturally acceptable.

I live in Malaysia and in Malaysia we tend to be a conservative bunch of people compared to the rest of the world. The average Malaysian is very conservative compared to the average American. And by conservative here I mean in gender roles. Society places much burden on females to act as what they define as female. It is culturally acceptable for females to do pole dancing (which surprisingly is a popular sport in Malaysia) but society frowns upon females doing BJJ (due to its close contact with males). And vice versa for men to partake in pole dancing because it isn't what is culturally acceptable for men to do.

So in Malaysia we have a slightly different challenge. =/

It's very hard to even convince females here to take up BJJ because of the pressure from society to do what is acceptable for a female to do.

I get called 'toughie', 'rough', 'unlady like', 'can beat guys up', 'not feminine' in my office cause of my love for BJJ.

So as such, if one grows up in that type of environment hence why I use the word 'naturally'. You grow up thinking girls must be attracted to pole dancing, dance, yoga, pilates (acceptable female hobbies) and hence the natural attraction for Malaysian girls towards these sports and eventual aversion to close contact sports.

Hope this makes sense?

BTW Ian from your Gym is from Malaysia (he trains with us when he's back in Malaysia for holidays). You can ask how ridiculous the gender pressure here is!


Georgette said...

@Su Ling: Small world :) Ian says tell Fang he's going to choke him when he comes back.

What you say sheds a lot of light on your original comment and I'm so interested to learn more about the challenges you face in Malaysia. There are subtle cultural pressures here too, but no overt ones (that I am aware of.) I am SO PROUD of you for training regardless of those kinds of comments!

Megan said...

Thank you for this wonderful blog. I started in October and it has already truly changed my life. I have a better body at thirty than I ever did in high school, and FAR more confidence. I'd like to add that Jiu Jitsu is also an incredible mental workout, akin to calculus or chess :)