Monday, February 25, 2013

Thinking about keeping women in jiu jitsu...

Val Worthington wrote a really uplifting yet realistic and challenging article about focusing on positive ways to integrate men and women in grappling.  She also wrote about the difficulties in feeling a sense of belonging that afflict all new grapplers, male and female, which may contribute to dropout rates. I encourage you to read them. 

Not meaning to beat a dead horse... though I know I often do.  But I have been thinking about a further comment on the Keith Owen thing, made by his wife Shirlane on their blog.  Here's the interaction and I welcome your feedback.  It made me think that often, we blame women for being "girly" and quitting "BJJ" when actually the reasons they express have nothing to do with their gender, and in fact, would take people of any gender out of any athletic endeavor.  Anyway-- what do you think?
    (From me)
    Shirlane-- I'm curious! How do you explain the apparent contradiction between your academy's inability to retain female BJJ students and the enormous growth of women in BJJ elsewhere? Or do you see a contradiction at all? Thanks! 

    Shirlane Owen

    Let me go over the list for you of our experience...
    One student got pregnant
    One student had to have surgery for a bad caesarian
    Numerous were tired of being sore all of the time (a couple were black belts in another form)
    One had too many responsibilities at home as a mother and wife and had to quit
    One female student’s husband did not want her rolling with other men
    One had female issues and had to quit
    One could not handle the cardio aspect of it
    One student got divorced and could not afford it anymore

    Do you want me to go on?

    This has been OUR experience for 21 years and the blog is so we as adults can share our thoughts and ideas about the subject. It is not to name call, to belittle and degrade the person who wrote the blog as some are doing.
    Keith has been polite throughout this whole thing and has not said anything impolite or rude back to anyone. People are actually mad because he is saying “thank you for your comments”

    So let’s be adults- not blog bullies as many are being – people can share their opinion without attacking someone’s character.
(and my response:)

I hope you don't think I was being a blog bully in questioning you :) I would absolutely love for you to go on because it is my sincere desire to understand (and possibly to help, if I can.)

What I hear is that you had 7 plus "numerous" women quit BJJ over 21 years. [I assume that you are not including participants in your "Adult Sport Jiu Jitsu" program in these numbers... because I see that one of the instructors there, Kristen, is a black belt in ASJJ (and is thinking about getting a blue belt in BJJ, meaning she is still a whitebelt in BJJ... was she one of those "numerous"?) And there's Alanna, also a blackbelt in "ASJJ"...] How many women started BJJ in your academy's 21 years?

How many men have started training BJJ in those 21 years, and how many of them have quit? and why, if you know?

Of the reasons given by those women for quitting, how many are related to "women not being able to handle BJJ" as opposed to some other athletic activity which cost money?

I assume you would not count pregnancy, surgery, soreness, home/child responsibilities, female issues, lack of fitness, or financial reasons as unique to BJJ-- as all those reasons would/could equally keep a woman out of crossfit, soccer, triathlons, volleyball, swimming, am I correct?

Perhaps the soreness will be said to be unique to BJJ because some of those ladies were already blackbelts in other arts (and should have been used to being sore?) Unless they weren't sore while performing their other arts, in which case we might hypothesize that they didn't practice those arts with real resistance and aliveness? and if they had, might be they'd be more familiar and comfortable with it, and if they weren't then it's not BJJ they can't handle...

So far I'm only looking at one lady who quit because her husband was insecure and she was caving in....

Please help me to understand :)


SavageKitsune said...

Interestingly, I rarely encounter a new female student who is not already experienced to some degree in another art. In particular, the ones who stick are the ones who have spent significant (at least a few years) in another art. Personally, I suspect it's less about accepting the pain and the cardio and the rubbing-up-against-sweaty-guys, and more about the self-discipline of just making a commitment to show up to train on a regular schedule.

John said...


Could it be that we are still at a point where we have been raised according to our gender instead of according to being of Homo Sapiens? We are dealing with thousands of years of muddled thinking with respect to gender.

Perhaps this is the root of female students and male bjj instructors having different expectations. Neither the instructor nor his wife seem to appreciate the awkward way that they made their points. My guess, is that the original post was made as a vehicle to demonstrate that his thoughts on the topic of gender are both modern and enlightened. Unfortunately, his attendance issues could well be as a result if that very attitude.

Women live the gender gap everyday whereas we men live it as an intellectual enterprise. As a result, I think we men are more likely to go down a virtuous path only to find that they should have brought a woman who actually spent some time studying the map.

Austin fitness Extreme said...

Super G...
How about this. I started Kenpo Karate at age 5. Went through the belts , learned a great deal and achieved jr Black belt status at 13 and 2nd degree black belt at 18. I am not currently participating in Kenpo anymore, but from there I went on to Tae Kwon Do , Judo, Muay Thai, and yes BJJ. So, did I quit Kenpo? I wouldn't say quit. I accomplished what I wanted to and moved on as my interest moved on. I go to traditional Martial arts schools from time to time and while I love to see someone who lives and breathes a certain art, I do feel as though they aren't evolving. You mentioned crossfit. Crossfit is a relatively new fad in fitness, and much like tae bo,krav maga, and body for life, I don't see it being anywhere near as big in the future. People try things. Get what they want out of it and move on. I trained with a mother of 2 the otherday who had a blackbelt in shidokan karate, moved on to recieve a purple belt in BJJ and had moved to Austin and wanted to learn Thai Boxing. Thats where our paths crossed. I bet she's still profeicient on the ground , and now she wants to be proficient standing up. She's a martial artist who has moved on. Quit?..... I don't think so. That's one vantage point . I think the other is that as we get older it becomes far less acceptable for women to role around on the ground with men they arent in a relationship with. Hey, it's the elephant in the room most don't want to talk about. SO as the female martial artist evolves so too does the world of BJJ. Keep your girls by giving them more than just jits to do at your school. Be aware of how the industry is changing. It wasn't that long ago that BJJ was an unheard of martial art.

Mark said...

One day, my BJJ instructor at the end of class had everyone sit down. He walks off and walks back in with stack of waivers. Not a small stack, but easily 1.5 to 2 inch ream of paper. All signed waivers from former students. He ran that school by then, roughly three years. I had been training for the last two years. He spoke about the number of people who have walked in onto this mat, and those who have walked off -- of which TWO people continued to come back. He then handed out his two first blue belts in BJJ...myself and one other guy.

As martial artist for over 30 years, I've seen only a TINY number of people stick with it. As far as women, my mother stuck with it, earning her black belt in Shotokan. She's the only woman I personally know of who ever had gone from white to black. I can only think of maybe a half-dozen guys who I have known from white to black.

People just quit. It's human nature I think.

Nathan said...

Try responding to Keith Owens new video on this subject.

Shark Girl said...

Many of the reasons Shirlane listed have to do with external pressures women face, not women not being able to handle it. For example, one woman left because of her boyfriend. Her boyfriend couldn't handle it, not she.

Leaving because of responsibilities at home means that there was not a supportive partner allowing her time to practice. This is reality for many women who find themselves working outside the home and when they come home, shouldering more than half of the home responsibilities.

Also, not being able to afford jiu jitsu after divorce is not a uniquely female problem, however, more women find themselves in that position than men do. Georgette, as a lawyer, you can probably best explain the reasons, but men's salaries by and large are higher than women's and women usually have custody of the children (which can mean greater financial burden even though there may be child support), not to mention strains on time.

These have nothing to do with women not "cutting" it, but more to do with culture.