Friday 30 January was my last class with my first and only BJJ instructor for the last 10 years, Dave Birkett. After 17 years in the UK, I’m moving back to my hometown of Rochester, NY with my husband and son, tomorrow. Martial arts has been a big part of my life during my time here, and BJJ the star of the show for the last decade. Readers will appreciate how hard it is to leave a dear BJJ-family, and this has been an emotional couple of days.

Last Class

My last class was fun. We worked on one of my favourite techniques, a ‘punch proof’ triangle from closed guard. Felt some good mojo in my final rolls with some club mates, and managed to defend some issues I’d had trouble with the week before. While, in my opinion, my fitness and skill is not quite at pre-natal levels, it is pretty close. This last year of training has helped me to claw back a lot. My last class was made a little extra special in two ways. A new young woman came to her first class. We trained together and she was great and showed an excellent willingness to give it a go. It was nice to see a new female face on the mats and I do hope she’ll stick with it. I also received my third stripe on my purple belt. It feels a little too heavy for me to carry, to be honest, but I’m confident Dave would not have given it to me unless he was confident that I am at the right level for it.


What’s Ahead

I’ve done my Rochester-BJJ reconnaissance and have contacted the club I think is most likely a good fit for me. I’m hoping to observe a class this week and perhaps have a private with the main instructor before doing a class myself. Want to take it slow and feel confident it is the right sort of training environment. Readers appreciate what a commitment joining a club can be, and I’d like to do what I can to ease into it. With any luck I’ll be rolling with a new group of folks in a fortnight or so!

What I’m looking for in a club is – foremost and beyond considerations of doctrine and style – is a place where I will be treated as a ‘student’ and as a person, rather than as an ‘female student’ or other. Being accepted as a serious and capable student, regardless of gender, has been a big hallmark of my experience with Dave and my club mates at Dartford BJJ; I know this is not the case for some women in some clubs. For me, this is the thing that makes all the difference. Teaching-style and BJJ-style are also important considerations, but these things are irrelevant if there’s a sense that I’m viewed as an ‘other’ vis a vis a male ‘norm’. Sure my attributes – physical, intellectual, emotional – play a part in how my journey plays out. That’s not something confined to being a female player. Everyone’s unique collection of attributes contributes to the advantages and challenges they take on the mats. The sign of a superb teacher is that s/he can tune into how to guide each individual based on his/her needs, rather than fall back on stale stereotypes. In my experience, there are plenty of ‘good apples’ out there working as BJJ instructors and I’m feeling good about finding a new BJJ-home.

While we are really looking forward to a fresh start, old friends, some nearby family and capitalising on new opportunities for our businesses and lifestyle, it isn’t easy to leave our home and culture. Knowing that BJJ will be there for me, one way or another, and that we’ll get our routine of weights and mat-time up and running swiftly, helps to ease the anxiety and sadness of leaving our home and loved ones in the UK.