Female BJJ survival Tips
by Livia Gluchowska
I’m a purple belt from Melbourne, Australia. Although I am still a relative baby in this sport, and have only been around for 4.5 years, I’ve trained at over 40 academies around the world. From what I gather, one thing is certain… it is not easy being a female in the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Especially a small one (I sit at around 53 kgs).
The female BJJ population is growing rapidly. I have seen a massive increase of women training and participating in competitions in the past 4 years. What’s even more exciting is the growth of women’s only classes, female-only support groups and open mats. When I first started there was none of that. There were no other ladies at my gym and sometimes no one to talk to about my issues.
Personally, it didn’t affect me too much, as I have been an athlete all my life – a gymnast for 12 years and a sprint cyclist for 6 years. As a cyclist I was used to being one of the very few ladies competing, being labelled ‘non-feminine’ and racing for no financial reward, whilst my male counterparts were offered up to $10K for the same race.
However, Jiu Jitsu can be incredibly rewarding if you can stick through the first 6-12 months. For me, that was the hardest period. Being the physically smaller and weaker sex, it is only now as a purple belt that my technique is starting to work against bigger, but less experienced opponents.
Here are some helpful observations and tips to help you get through the first couple of years:
- Perhaps the most common scenario I come across with other ladies training BJJ, especially in the earlier years, is dealing with tears and my unfortunate ability to turn on the water works at any given time. We all do it. We all hate it. All of us are embarrassed by it. Why? My theory is that (apart from the damn hormones) us girls are very good at taking things personally. This means that if we fail at a sweep, the emotional response is frustration, which can come out as tears. Some of my friends cry as they get choked for no particular reason. Others like to compare themselves to every other female that ever trained and is successful. To make matters worse, as soon as someone asks if you are ok, the result is usually more tears.
- It took me until about 3 years into my BJJ journey to stop crying at training. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen any longer, because it does – usually when I’m exhausted or hungry. I can recognize the triggers now though, and when I do, I pack up and go home and rest instead of pushing my body/mind further.
- I think it is very important to have a good talk with your training partners and coach to let them know why it happens, and see what they can do to help. It can be very hard for someone to understand why you may be having a break-down, let alone how to deal with it at training. In my case, I usually just need 5 minutes alone in the bathroom to compose myself and then I’m ready to train again. Figure out what works for you and keep your coach informed.
- I have also learned (finally) that jiu jitsu is about the execution of skills. It is not meant to be a war at every training session. I am not trying to win at jiu jitsu. I am not “fighting” my team mates. I am attempting to execute a particular skill, and when it doesn’t work, I ask questions, watch videos, problem solve, and then try it again. It is good to fight with heart, but you should try as much as possible to take the emotional component out of training.
- What also helps is not defining yourself as a person, based on your training or competition results. When you lose a fight, that’s all that happens. You just lose a jiu jitsu fight. No one died, life doesn’t change, no one apart from you really cares (because they love you either way) and you get to learn a lot from your mistakes. The same holds true for when you win.
- Stop comparing yourself to other women (or men). It’s easy to look at someone else and think you are far behind schedule. Everyone is different, and everyone learns at different speeds. Not every jiu jitsu practitioner needs to, or wants to win a World Championship. Many would not be able to do so, if they did want to. All of us cannot afford to train every single day, and we do not all possess the same physical and learning abilities. Remember it is your own journey and your only job is to be the best you can be. I think the people you meet, the lessons you learn, and the experiences you have; far outweigh any medals you might collect.
- BJJ is a marathon. You will have good days and terrible days. You will have slumps, plateaus and periods of immense growth. Enjoy it all and know that this is not only normal, but it is crucial to your development.
- Push yourself, but if you really don’t want to train, don’t. Go home and have a glass of wine and eat cake. Be nice to yourself. Then wake up the next day and go back to the gym and enjoy every single minute. It is such a wonderful journey, and a journey so well worth having. Why would you want to rush it?
I hope this article helps you. Thank you for reading!
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Please check out her personal Jiu Jitsu blog as well.