I’ve always been spoilt, I think, in that I have a lot of female training partners at Kaizen Academy. Before Kaizen was even a glint in Ze, Adam, Michael, Kieran and Shane’s imagination, there was also plenty of girls training both at Lancaster Sports Centre, and in the MMA Society at the University. Sure, we were definitely still a minority when compared to the guys, but there was always a good handful of us.
In this, I think, I am very lucky. Speaking to other girls involved in BJJ or MMA, they often say how they’ve only got one other girl at the gym, or that they’re the only regular girl, or worst of all, that there’s literally not another female in sight. It is sad, because whilst guys do make great training partners, it is useful (especially for the sport side of BJJ) to test yourself against people your strength, weight and build from time to time. You can get this in competition, sure, but it is nice to experience it without the performance pressure as well.
Before Kaizen there was always about four or five regular girls, and then since Kaizen (Oct ’15) there’s been a core group of about four “BJJ girls” which over the past month or two has rapidly expanded to a number around ten, which is absolutely amazing! We’re all white belts, and (as cheesy as it sounds) it’s nice to support each other through all the nuances of being a beginner at BJJ. A few of us have a little bit of comp experience, but the other girls are also quickly getting on board and diving in feet first on the competition side, which is absolutely amazing. It’s also great because it widens the competition pool. When looking at competitor lists you often see familiar names, but the more girls we can get in there, the better. Fifty-seven ladies competed at Manchester last weekend at the BJJ24/7 Event, which I think is pretty amazing going. Onwards and upwards, ladies!
Training with girls is a totally different experience than rolling with guys as well, and I think where BJJ is concerned, having few or no girls at a gym can be a bit of a self-defeating cycle. I know when I first started grappling about eighteen months/two years ago, I was intimidated to roll with the guys at first; they were bigger, faster, stronger. It wasn’t that I was worried about getting hurt, necessarily, but it was also the fact that they were guys, and you wanted me to put my hands where? Under his armpits? Around his thigh? North-South you say? Erm… You can see why for completely novices, doing all these moves with someone of your own gender can ease you to the idea of being that up close and personal with another human being. Anyway, I digress, I quickly learned that there was nothing to be scared of and that there was nothing “dodgy” about rolling with guys, and that most people really really don’t care. Despite that, I think having girls there at the beginning certainly helped me get over whatever fears I may have had. Therefore, having more girls attracts more girls, they see that it’s something they can do, or that they don’t have to immediately grapple with guys, and feel a lot more comfortable with the idea of getting involved with BJJ.
My rolling style also changes when I roll with girls compared to guys (unless they’re an extremely small/light guy). For example, I have to be much more careful with my underhook. On a big guy, if you lose it, it’s often relatively easy to get it back. On a girl, the space is a lot smaller, so therefore it’s harder to fight for. I often find girls are more aware of the underhook as well, because we’re so reliant on it’s power when passing, that often half-guard will digress into a hand battle for the underhook. I think girls can be more aggressive than guys as well – some of the most brutal crossfacing I’ve ever experienced has been from girls, as well as some of the meanest pressure. It’s because most of us can’t rely on our weight or stature when doing this sport, that we become so much more aware of other things in order to become more effective (and sometimes more nasty!).
Next time I’ll take a look at some of my experiences going to female fight camps…