Women on the mat- being one, working with one

This is an ongoing project... I'm mostly cutting and pasting from my contributions to discussion forums.

For guys:
Please be aware that it is intimidating as hell to walk into a BJJ school and be the only woman on the mat, especially when you are a fresh white belt and know nothing.

How the guys treat us is one of the biggest things. If they are welcoming; if they are happy to pair up with us for drilling or sparring and don't make us feel like we're the last kid getting picked for the kickball team; if they are considerate partners and neither smash us nor condescend to us.

 Even today, having been training for three and a half years and almost at purple, I still feel a twinge of embarrassed panic when it's time to pair up. A few of the other female blue belt BJJ bloggers have mentioned still having that as well. No one wants to be the last person standing alone on the line- or one of the last two, with the other guy looking at you with a less-than-thrilled expression on his face.

It can really mean a lot to your female classmates- especially the brand-new ones- if you take the friendly initiative and invite them to drill or roll sometimes. If you and she are the last ones left on the line looking at each other, please smile and try to not look like you're disappointed.

It can be easier for us to pair up with the other girls- if there ARE any- and it's often a better size match. But many of us do not want to be paired up with each other all the time. If there are only 2 women, and they are both new white belts, they would both benefit from getting a chance to work with colored belts sometimes.

Usually, when the only women in class are me and our brown belt woman, we end up paired together. That's fine, we like each other and all- but I feel kind of bad for her sake because she's so far ahead of me skillwise that I can't really push her game at all.

And again, even if the weights are comparable, don't immediately assume that the women in class would ALWAYS rather pair up together. Even if she's the best drilling partner in the world, I don't want to drill with the same classmate every day- would you? I need to work with different people- different weights, belts, body types, different games. So guys, please offer to work with us. We want to work with you.


If you have never rolled with women before- it's okay if you feel weird and don't know what to do with your hands. Please don't avoid us for that reason. I think the best way to handle it is to just acknowledge the elephant in the room and say to her, "This is the first time I've rolled with a woman, and I feel a little awkward." with a smile. She will probably assure you that it's no big deal and to not worry.

Treat her as you would treat a male classmate of the same size and belt. Don't smash her, but don't treat her like a seven-year-old either. Try to not post directly on a breast, but otherwise don't worry too much about where your hands are going. We realize that you need to grab lapels and reach under thighs and do all the same things you do with anyone else. If you accidentally grab a boob or something, just say, "Whoops, sorry" and move on. Just the same as you do when you accidentally grab a guy's junk.  WE CAN TELL the difference between an accidental boob grab and copping a feel. Trust me. We are used to the accidental boob grabs, it's just a reality of the sport/art.  If you are not intentionally running Penthouse Forum storylines in your head while you're working with us, it will be fine.

For women, who say: "ARGH! They don't want to work with me!!!"

I wish I had something all rah-rah to say to make you feel better, but yeah..... we're all in the same boat. That is, you don't have bad breath, but you have ovaries. You can't fix this.

I still end up the last kid picked for the kickball team many days, and it sucks.

I always do my best to be a good partner. I never fail to sincerely tell my partner at the end of class that I appreciate him (assuming I wasn't working with a total jerk that day). If he gave me good feedback, or if I feel safe with him because he never squashes me even though he weighs 300, or he has great guard and makes me really focus on my passes and try new stuff, I tell him that.

Another thing I always do- when we're working speed drills, and he's puffing and grimacing through reps #80-90 of that spinnning armbar, I cheer him on. "Almost done... nice and smooth.... five more real clean ones... go go go! Awesome work!" I've had a lot of people comment that that's helpful, and it's certainly helpful when they do it back to me.

Often in the few minutes before or after class, I'll grab one of the guys and say, "Hey, I'm trying to get in 30 reps of this new armbar every day... can I use you?" Then ask if he wants to drill something on you in turn. Thank him. This is a good way to "break in" a guy that you haven't worked with before. Now he's worked with you, and he's not so weirded out.

Things like that help build a team spirit relationship.

I now have a decent selection of guys that might not lunge for me as their first choice, but I feel confident that they aren't actively bummed when we end up together. Once in a while when I'm just not up for finding myself standing alone on the wall, I'll go to one of them before class and say, "Dude, will you drill with me today? It's been a long week and I just cannot deal with getting stuck with a spazz today." or even, "Dude, I torqued my right elbow pretty hard yesterday- will you please drill with me today so that I don't end up with some meathead who's going to fling me around?" It's important to not wear out your welcome with those nice guys, either.

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