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  • Writer's pictureJess D

Why Training Martial Arts with Women Helps Me Be My Best

Updated: Jun 19, 2022

After training with mostly men for my jiu-jitsu journey, training with women gave me a support system on and off the mats.

When I first started getting into martial arts as an adult (we won’t talk about my small stint doing karate when I was in 4th grade), I mostly trained with men because mArTiAl ArTs ArE OnLy fOr DuDEs” right? It went from me uncomfortably walking into a jiu-jitsu gym, seeing ONLY dudes, and being resolved enough to not walk out.

After getting comfortable with being around and training with only guys, I kind of started to train hard to be respected and be like “one of the guys.” Although, we had a team of a few girls at Renzo Gracie Northern Valley, I learned to really appreciate my fellow female training partners when I came to Shanghai. So, after trying to be a brute and muscle my way through everything, here is how training martial arts with other women has helped me improve on the mats and in life!

Learning to work with skills at any size

When rolling with men, I always tried to roll with strength. According to one of my BJJ friends, it seemed like I was always rolling for my life”. I thought BJJ was about just seeing something your coach did and using it crazily on your opponents. Because I was rolling with only men (then mostly men when I met some new girls at Renzo’s), I was just focused on holding my own when rolling with them.

It wasn’t until I came to China and got back to rolling again that I realized that brute strength and size isn’t everything (although it helps). The realization came through my fellow female training partners in many forms: getting tapped out by girls a lot smaller than me, me hurting girls because I was trying to win with strength and getting gassed out when rolling with a bunch of people. It wasn’t until I slowed down and learned to use skill and make my jiu-jitsu efficient that I started to improve.

This also is true for boxing and kickboxing: so many girls were kickass and technical at striking. When I sparred with someone smaller than me and got punched or kicked, their skills helped me improve my striking, too.

An environment of learning and patience

I don’t if there are any of the women out there who feel the same, but usually when I roll with men, I try to be as serious as I can. I honestly have this big fear about not being taken seriously as a jiu-jitsu practitioner, just because I am female. Also, sometimes I feel that I can’t even mess up a little bit with my male training partners. I know that some of my training partners and friends know my skills but with men I’m not familiar with, I think they think that I’m not worthy of my belt or that I’m not serious about BJJ. I know that’s the thought in my own mind but it still something that makes me a bit anxious.

While training with my female training partners, I feel so much at ease. There is this fun kind of air that feels like “if we mess this up, we’re messing up together.” Also, despite being a purple belt and the girls at my gym being mostly blue and white, there is always constant learning to be going around and no egos involved. We’re all trying to get better on this journey and celebrate our small wins together.

Feminine touch (no one is trying to kill you…often)

When it’s time to roll, the mat becomes a warzone. People are trying to use what they learned in class or any kind of submission to really dominate their sparring session. During these times, that little ugly ego likes to come out and take over. I for sure have an ego. Everyone has an ego. But there is nothing uglier than the male ego. I recall preparing for a boxing match I had and getting punched in the liver twice by a male coach. I know he was trying to teach me something, but it’s not the way I wanted to learn that lesson.

Although it doesn’t happen as often anymore, rolling with dudes, especially when they’re a lower belt, often leads to that ugly male ego coming out, the ego that doesn’t want to lose to a girl. This then often leads to a real death match where some ends up injured. This especially happens if the dude is a lot bigger and stronger than you.

With my lady training partners, that ego is there but I think there is no ugly ego that is just trying to win. As I mentioned there is this atmosphere of love and learning. So, although we might be rolling to the death during that 5- or 6-minute round, we women always talk about the session, talk about what went right or wrong, and help each other drill to get better.

True friendship & love

In my time in Shanghai training, I’ve developed a strong connection with the girls at my gym. It’s not only a “hey, how you doing?”, roll and leave after the class is done. We always stick around to drill and/or stretch together, catch up on our life happenings, and offer advice and encouragement when it comes to on mat and off mat matters. In these stretching moments, I’ve realized in many of the facets of my life that I feel I’m royally f**king up in my life or it’s just not in the way I want to live it, most of these amazing women are going through the same things and are still amazing. They inspire me with kind words that make me realize I am just as great.

When I feel like my “brute persona” is breaking down, the persona that feels I can do it all on my own, they are a shoulder to cry on and a rock of support. These girls are even constantly pushing me and nagging me to post more content on the blog, so I will be kicking myself in the butt to put more out there and share with you guys.

I’m glad I’ve met all the girls I’ve trained with all over the world. Thank you so much for the lessons, learning, and love. No matter if I’m in Shanghai, the US, Antarctica or wherever, I hope to grow with y’all and be the best jiu-jitsu practitioner, martial artist, and woman I can be.

How are the women in your gym inspiring you to be great? Comment or message me on Instagram @blackgirlwhitegi_bjj

Pictures mostly by @milayapanpan on Instagram

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