As one year comes to an end and another begins, many folk get to thinking about what they’d like to achieve, how they’d like to improve, and how they plan to take life to the next level in the new year. For many folks, this includes resolutions around health and fitness. Certainly, in month four of postpartum, I’m feeling the ‘get fit in the new year’ vibe pretty hard. Indeed, for the past 2 months I’ve been working on raising my activity levels including semi-weekly BJJ privates with my instructor. While I am getting the reflexes back little by little, there’s a lot to relearn and, on top of feeling, fat slow and generally not my old ‘tronic self, that can be an invitation to a bit of a self-pity party. And lo, an awesome correspondence has got me pumped and really inspired.

A light painting of the year 2013 written against a black background
Happy New Year!

A friend of MegJitsu on Facebook, let’s call her Lily*, has been kind enough to share with me her first steps into the world of BJJ. As readers will already appreciate, BJJ is great for women, and women are great for BJJ. Nevertheless, it can be seriously daunting to step into your first class which is why open mats and women’s only classes, not to mention sensitive instructors and students, are so important and helpful to encouraging women’s participation. Once folk get on the mats, the fun and fantastic of BJJ pretty much sells itself, but taking those first steps can be really hard, especially, I believe, for women. So big props to our kind friend for taking the plunge and for sharing her thoughts with us which she’s kindly allowed me to reproduce here. We hope they are of interest to other women thinking about getting started in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The Context

Lily got in touch with me a few weeks before starting BJJ with some questions about gi. She shared her story about getting out of shape and looking to regain control of her health and wellbeing:

I had slowly gotten out of shape and gained 60 lbs over the past few years due to a high stress job and bad stress management. I was in denial and very unhappy about it for a long time. On November 12 I joined a bootcamp class at a BJJ academy that is taught by BJJ blackbelts. I’ve lost about 25 lbs since then doing that and running. They told me I should try BJJ but I was hesitant about doing it, because even though I think it’s awesome, I was nervous about me doing it.

Lily’s interest was peaked and she started digging around online, reading this and other blogs about being a women in BJJ. She got herself a gi (a Vulcan for you gi-freaks) and resolved to get on the mats in the new year.

The Class

The experience was an overwhelmingly positive one, and I was delighted to receive a follow up email from Lily recounting her first class.

I had my first class this morning! It was awesome. I was so nervous. I spent from 8am to 11:15 getting ready for the class, taking a 45 min shower, trying to relax. Yet once I got there I wasn’t so nervous. I was a bit nervous walking in, but my instructor came up to me, fixed my belt, then told me for the first few classes I would be working directly with him on the side of the class.

Class began with a warm-up exercise, I think it’s called shrimping, where you’re lying down on your back, you pull say your right foot back to your butt, then you turn to the left and push with your foot while pushing your hips up and to the left and arms down towards your feet, then switch sides, and do that across the gym. The instructor was next to me the entire time and told me not to worry about doing it as fast as the other students but instead to try to do it perfectly. I was alright at it, although not very fast, and confused which leg to use a couple times.

Then my instructor had me sit down and asked me what I’d do if someone was attacking me from above. He showed me how to fall back and put my feet up and use them to push off his hips. Explained what the guard was. Had me lie down and move around in guard while he circled me. I wasn’t at all nervous working with him. Part of it might have been that I’ve been doing the bootcamp since November, and I really trust him as a teacher and know he’s a nice person. Part of it might be that I’ve read that it’s important to try to stay calm, relax, and breath. Either way, once I started practicing with him, I wasn’t nervous. I was enjoying it. He was being very gentle, not using strength, just technique. I’ve always loved martial arts, but was worked that the personal space issue would bother me with BJJ. But it wasn’t an issue at all.

Then another new student arrived and my instructor had us work together. The new guy was good with fast movement and was very strong. Our instructor had us practice on the ground being in guard, rotating who is on top/bottom. Then he showed us how to go into side control from there. Then guard–side control–mount. Then guard–side control–mount–americana arm bar. He said to tap when you feel it, don’t try to hold out. When it came time for us to practice together, he told the other guy that he had to be gentle with me and not hurt me. He said that multiple times throughout the session, that he better not hurt me–nicely, but directly. It was nice knowing my instructor was looking out for me and making sure I wouldn’t get hurt. I want to give it my best shot and don’t want to be wimpy, but it’s nice knowing that they are going to make sure I don’t get hurt. The new guy was actually pretty nice, and probably didn’t need to be told not to be rough, but I guess the teachers are wary with new guys because of all the UFC types. I sat out the sparring part, was told to watch. Not sure when they will have me try that. Probably not until I know some more stuff.

Watching the sparring, I was able to see how intense it can be, but also how the students interacted with each other. There are some huge guys in the class and some tiny girls. And the biggest guy was sparring with a small girl and they looked like they were having a great time, and he wasn’t using his weight against her (probably 100 lbs on her) and was focusing on technique, and she was doing a good job holding her own. They were both blue belts. So I think it’s a great place to have joined. I appreciate how they made my first class such a great experience. I’m sure it’s going to get a lot harder once I participate with the rest of the class instead of doing the on-the-sides beginner prep with the instructor. But I’m looking forward to it. Also, I think it’s super nice that the top black belts take the time to work with the newest person.

Wow! What a great story. Lots of things stand out for me. Firstly, that’s one heck of a good description of shrimping and drills from the back by someone who’s never done BJJ before – impressive, grasshopper (though does Lily has previous martial arts experience). Secondly, I love how the instructor is making a special effort to ease Lily into the class. He’s sensitive to the fact that walking into a male-dominated grappling sweat-factory can be a little scary for a woman, and is working hard to mitigate that so that she can get started and move towards being integrated into the main class. Really very cool. So much to learn from Lily’s story about how to help new people get involved; huge thanks to her for sharing with us.

So, next time you’re feeling a bit low about your own practice, or a friend looks interested, but too scared to start, remember Lily’s story and her beginner’s spirit. Happy New Year, friends!

* Names have been changed to protect the innocent.