It started with this comment from a Renzo Gracie whitebelt with 3 stripes:
"Do women in you [sic] school drill and roll with men? or are they left to roll with only other women? I almost feel like they are in a special category and not held to the same high standards that men have to go through... I'm sure this isn't the case at most other schools just wondering if this is the case where you are at?"
Fellow lady blogger Kitsune responded very thoughtfully:
"You can't expect a 110lb GUY to be competitive against a 240lb guy either (until the experience level is disparate enough that the small person has enough technique to kick the large person's ass). It's not about what is between your legs.
I really wish that everyone who thinks female BJJ artists are inferior could be strapped to a chair and forced to spend a morning watching a little 115lb female black belt own a gym full of big guys.
You may think we have it easy, but most of you cannot even begin to imagine what it is like to have every single person on the mat be towering over you, and have to work EVERY DAY against people who are twice your size. Not just the bruises and getting your ribs cracked, but the psychological burden of getting smeared all over the mat all the time. It is BRUTAL. The women who survive, who stick with it long enough to start getting subs on bigger men deserve mucho respect. We have to be GOOD, held to a much higher technical standard than the average, to make things work at all.
Some men whine, "I've been going to class for three weeks and I can't sub anybody." Well, howdja like to go to class four times a week for a YEAR and not sub anybody. When I hit the year and a half mark, I could still count my legitimate subs on the fingers of one hand (and have fingers left over). Imagine how hard it was to keep dragging ass into class. Now it's been almost three years, and I'm just starting to get to the point where I can reliably hold my own against an average size white belt, and the point where I can actually get some subs. I can't even begin to describe how much hard work that has taken, and how much chutzpa it has taken to not give up.
Once a female BJJ artist gets to about purplish-level, it starts to even out a bit, and believe me she had to just about kill herself to get that far. The white and blue belt journeys of a female BJJ artist are hard, hard, hard, HARD. Purple and up, my observation has been the women- pound for pound- are as good as any man their level, if not better.
On a practical note- assuming there *are* any other women to roll with, yes, a decent instructor carefully picks partners for the lower-belt women... other women, and skilled colored-belt men.
It is a well-known fact that you are most likely to be injured by a white belt. Many of them do not yet know how to work safely with their partners, many of them do not know how to moderate their game for a smaller or otherwise physically limited partner, and many of them are spazzy and tend to crank subs. Just having a person in top side control can crack a rib if they're a lot bigger and not being really careful; it's happened to me. If you are half the size of the other people in your gym, rolling with white belts is pure suicide until you have enough experience to be able to protect yourself.
My teacher went out of his way to pair me up almost exclusively with skilled colored-belt men for at least the first year and a half (there were usually no other women present). If I'd been rolling with a lot of big clueless white belt guys, I would have spent most of that year and a half on the bench with injuries (if I didn't give up altogether).
That method kept my injuries to a reasonable level, but it was no walk in the park. The fact that I was working almost exclusively with much more skilled higher belts meant that for a year and a half, I got owned by everyone. They were gentle about it and taught me a lot- but owned nonetheless. None of the techniques I tried worked, because the colored belts were always three steps ahead of me. I didn't know what it felt like to roll with someone my own level or lower, someone that I might be able to actually GET something on. That was hard in its own way. Now that I finally have enough experience and technical skill to actually start getting some stuff, I have a lot of ground to make up in that area. I had to try to develop a game much differently than most male BJJ artists go about developing their game. Now I'm trying to break myself of the hesitancy to try stuff (subs and sweeps, mostly) because I've been so conditioned to think, "No sense even trying that; this brown belt will defend it easily". Now I can work with some whites who maybe *can't* defend it that easily. It is a serious reality shift. I still have a "holy crap" moment every time I try a technique and it WORKS.
So yeah, good teachers will pair the women up together, or women with good colored belts, but it's not to make it "easy" on us or to keep the standards low. It's just to try to keep us out of the hospital in the first year, till we have enough experience to take care of ourselves better.
Another thing- many techniques have to be tweaked when you're trying to do them on somebody twice your weight, or somebody whose legs are twice as long as yours. It takes a lot of experience before you can start to be able to watch the demo, try it on a partner much larger, and be able to figure out for yourself how you need to alter the technique to make it work with the size disparities. Trying to do that at white belt or early blue belt level is very frustrating- you don't know how to adapt, so you just try the technique as demo'ed and fail, and feel like you "can't do this". It makes the process so much easier if the first time you learn a new technique, you get a chance to try it AS DEMO'ED on someone your own size (ie, another girl, if you've got one) and see how it's SUPPOSED to work. After that, it's easier to try it on different sized partners and figure out the alterations. It's a lot harder to have to figure out tweaks on your own for a technique you've never seen before."
Another comment from the original poster,
|"At my school none of the girls roll with any of the guys, and are given no exposure to them. If their technique is there then they should still be able to effectively roll against a 240lb man."|
This prompted my response, which I would appreciate your feedback on.
1. I wonder if you know how poorly this reflects on your school. Are you sure "none" of them roll with "any" guys? and are given "no" exposure to them? Or are you taking a whitebelt only (or mainly whitebelt) class? Do you speak from the limited experience of a whitebelt who has been training, what, 6 months? a year? or have you asked upper belts at your academy? have you asked the women at your school?
2. "effectively roll" meaning what... not be tapped? achieve and maintain positional dominance? not get injured?
3. As a petite female, I have learned to protect myself by choosing training partners carefully. I usually won't roll with a brand new whitebelt until I get to know him a little bit (meaning he's not brand new any more and I get a feel for his personality, his maturity and control, etc.) I frequently roll with men who outweigh me by 50-80lbs and occasionally I'm lucky enough to roll with guys who are 120+lbs more than me (one a blue belt, one a black belt.) I have heard the following theory attributed to several people, but Hillary Williams repeated it to me first:
"Given approximately equal experience levels, size and strength will win.
For a smaller weaker man to defeat a larger stronger man, he will need a two year technique advantage. (Of course we're talking a substantial size difference, not 10-15 lbs.)
For a WOMAN to defeat a MAN, (note, size is less relevant because even same height/weight individuals will produce a muscle-mass disparity in the man's favor) she will need a four to six year technique advantage. "
I have not found the latter to be true consistently-- on occasion, even going balls to the wall (so to speak-- not them "taking it easy on me") I have submitted a male opponent who is 20-30 lbs heavier than me (or more) who is within 1 year of me in either direction, experience-wise. But the big jump in technique advantage required reflects the greater upper-body strength of 99% of men *and* I think the better training available for men, who almost always have at least a good number of remotely-similarly sized training partners (whereas most women are stuck almost always being the smaller/weaker of a pairing.)
The ladies in your academy may choose to drill with other women so that they can learn the techniques and not have to struggle against weight and length in addition to the unfamiliarity of the movement. They may choose to spar against other women out of fear, preference for better smells, desire to improve competition performance, or sheer ignorance that they'd be welcome to spar with the guys. Have you invited any ladies to roll?
I'll also add that I agree with everything Kitsune's said and wanted to elaborate just a bit more: Know what a sweet spot is in tennis? or racquetball? It's the place on your racquet face that "works" best. It's not on the edge, it's somewhere in the middle, and when you connect with the ball there, you know it. Or think about playing hide and seek as a kid with someone else telling you "warmer" and "colder" as you got closer and farther.
Trying things in jits, especially takedowns and sweeps, also involves a sweet spot. When you first learn a sweep, there's a range of places you can put your hands, legs, balance etc and if you picture it like a bullseye, when you're in the outer realm the technique won't work at all. The closer you get to doing it "right" (someone calling out "warmer!") the easier the technique is and the less you have to force it. As people learn sweeps, they can "fudge" a little bit and make up for having less than perfect technique with a little extra power, push, pull, whatever. They have a greater # of permutations of variations in grip, balance, positioning that will "almost" work. Men have, therefore, a larger "sweet spot" at the beginning of learning that technique. Women rarely have sufficient muscle to "force" a technique to work, therefore their sweet spot is much smaller. Sweeps simply won't work AT ALL until we get past "cool" and "warm" and very, very close to "hot." So if a guy drills a sweep 20 times with a partially resisting partner, maybe 4-8 of those reps will be in the "warmer" area, giving him 4-8 opportunities to figure out what works and be positively reinforced for being even "close." A girl with the same 20 attempts MIGHT get it ONCE in the warm-enough-to-work, much-smaller sweet spot. She has to drill it 100 times with the partially resisting partner to get the same 4-8 data points.
NO WONDER IT SOMETIMES TAKES WOMEN LONGER TO ACQUIRE THE SAME LEVEL OF PROFICIENCY.