Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Women who grapple

I've had my share of frustrations lately. The whole box and dice of thinking I suck. Seeing guys who started later than I doing 'better' than I. Being stuck in a 99% defensive game. Wondering if I'll ever improve. Scratching my head about the need/want to compete. Generally questioning at times whether I 'have it', it being the necessary drive, agression, pushiness to ever develop any sort of successful game.

It's been good to talk to a few other women lately. A lot of what goes around my head is echoed by others. I absolutely see the need to train with other women if I want to compete.

If my goal is to roll at the school and generally improve, it doesn't matter. Though this will continue to emphasise the development of my defensive part of my BJJ skillset. At the very least, I have several male training partners who are close to my weight, which is a bonus. Another bonus are the senior guys who freely share their experiences and help me get better. I love rolling 'at home', and the guys are like family. Every one of them, no matter the experience, size or type of game they play, is good value hand helps me become a better grappler.

On the other hand, to do well in competition, I need to do two things: train with women and compete more. Competing more isn't so difficult, we now have several decent comps in Melbourne every year, and nothing stops me from travelling further for more. Regular training with women is another story. It is simply too difficult and time consuming (considering my job, uni and the farm) to travel to Melbourne a lot. I'm very fortunate that I've met Jess, Jody and several of the other ladies who train in Melbourne. I wish I could train with them weekly, but that's not going to happen.

On the same subject, there is a decent thread on Sherdog, titled strength in womens grappling. It is (so far) devoid of the usual meathead remarks which wreck most open discussions involving women in any grappling sport. Hillary Williams has contributed some lengthy posts which are quite interesting. Several others are discussing mental and physical aspects of grappling in an intelligent and interesting way. Quite useful.


  1. I'm curious to see what you think about that thread. Right now I'm scared of ending up where you are. I'v consistantly had 1-2 other women my size who have no problem going hard, but one has fallen off and the other is joining the navy. That leaves the guys, who are SLOWLY getting used to using strength with me. It's a hard road to walk on both ends. Most guys have to be trained on how to roll with women. I honestly think we vary more when it comes to aggression levels and intensity. I'm personally still uncomfortable when I first start with a new lady that hasn't trained in a martial art or played a sport. That look of fear slows me down.

    Too bad we're not in the same area...or continent...or...hemisphere.

  2. Hmm, seems like I'm not alone either. I would love to figure out how to have an offensive game.

    I have a question for you two, do you end up injured more frequently than your male training partners? Neck, shoulders, elbows, knee, concussion, etc. It's hard to convince the guys I am not a fragile little flower when I keep getting hurt. If you aren't getting hurt, how are you managing that?

  3. @ Megan: Well, as I never had fellow women grapplers, I don't miss them as such. But I can see how if you are used to some female partners, losing them would suck.

    Haha, yeah, pity we live in different hemispheres.

    But don't give up on the guys. Aside from a few exceptions, they are capable of learning ;-). Besides, if you pick your partners (higher belts if at all possible), and you let them know if they go too hard or heavy (or too light), it should be ok.

    I agree on women varying more in aggression levels and intensity. I've rolled with very, very competitive ladies, but I've also rolled with rather timid new ones, and the latter ones do need a bit of encouragement.

    Men in comparison (in my observations anyway..) are much more evenly aggressive and mostly only learn to tone it down when they get a certain level of experience. I will say though that even fairly new guys often ask if they are going too hard or rough or heavy. Which is great, because they are thinking about how they roll and there is an openness to adapt to the training partner. Even if they don't ask, there is nothing that stops you from talking to them to let them know how to roll with you. Communication is the key.

    Personally, I just go at whatever intensity is warranted, and I'm thankful to have enough experience that I can scale it up or down.

  4. @ Laura: I think that our more offensive game will come. I see glimpses of mine already :-)

    Guys just have it from the beginning, for a variety of reasons. Some women do, but many don't. Some maybe don't want to be offensive. I do, but I just didn't seem to get it together, every time I tried, I just got into more trouble, so I rolle(d) very conservatively, hence defensively. However, I feel as though I'm starting to be more consistently offensive now. As my skill level increased, so did my confidence in my own ability. For you, too, it may just take time?

    Injuries? Well, no, I don't get hurt more often than the guys. Yes, I've been injured. Crinked neck (nothing serious), strained toes/fingers, slightly overextended elbows, wrists, shoulders, ankles, sore back etc. More seriously, knee injuries and a damaged rotator cuff. The knees were due to pre-existing problems though, so not directly caused by BJJ.

    I find that if I roll with the hulk type, I go into self protect mode. Don't care how uncool it looks, don't care if they are new whitebelts (meaning as blue belt I OUGHT to kill them...), don't care if my teacher looks on. I roll very conservatively in that scenario. If Mr. Hulksmash wears himself out for five minutes trying to submit me but fails, I consider that a win. If I see a safe opportunity to slip to his back and choke him, I will. But above all, I'm quite prepared to tap at any time, as loudly as necessary. I wouldn't give a shit either if the peanut gallery thought that I should do better as a blue belt (not that this was ever said!). I guess the benefit of having a well developed defensive game (guard, mainly) is that I stay pretty cool.

    With guys that roll more controlled, I'll be experimental and I'll go for stuff. With guys who I know well, I'll try crazy shit and new stuff because I know I won't get stacked on my head and my arms won't get ripped out.

    I will tell people when I have requests or complaints. If the Killer Whale suggests he will only work off his back so he doesn't smash me, I'll tell him no, it's ok, I'll just tap early. If a guy goes 100% after we agreed to 20%, I tell him. If a guy goes batshit crazy, I'll tell him to turn it down and try some technique after I've given him five exhausting minutes of getting nowhere. Do not be afraid to speak your mind nor to tap any time and quit, and even refuse to roll with that person again.

    I have a lot more thoughts on staying safe and still having fun training, and what makes good training partners. Maybe I'll write a post about that at some stage.