We’re beginning our 5th year of the London BJJ Women’s Open Mat on Sunday 2 Feb 2014, the weekend following the European BJJ Championships. The Open Mat will be hosted by Ella Wu and the fine people at Legends Gym. We are pleased to invite women, aged 18 and over, to join our informal session of drilling and sparring.
No grappling experience is required and the Open Mat is a great opportunity for seasoned players to train with other women and for women new to BJJ to try out the art in a friendly environment. The Open Mat is free of charge.
2013 has been an exciting and challenging year and as it comes to a close, I’m feeling more positive about juggling life’s goals, aspirations and duties. At the start of 2013 I’d misapprehended my ability to parent, build a business, get my postpartum bod back in shape and relearn my BJJ. My expectations at the start of 2013 were unreasonable and didn’t adequately account for the demands of an infant; I hadn’t appreciated that the space where BJJ used to live would be filled by parenting, as this is the only way I can juggle growing my business with motherhood.
Where I’ve Been
Personally and professionally there have been big wins. We’ve made great strides with Sproutee, against all odds and with no childcare until the last quarter: getting into business with a pack of great new clients; relaunching our company site; bringing a new sister site and service near to launch; and enhancing our hosting business’s infrastructure are a few milestones. We’ve made great progress with the little guy who seems a healthy, confident toddler with top baby signing skills, a well-adjusted disposition, and an apparent willingness to persist when confronted with a problem (to the extent a tiny can do so). All while living in comfort and safety with a super partner in cosy wee house. More blessings than I could reasonably expect. And yet, it really REALLY hurts to have my BJJ atrophy to the extent that it has. Dear reader, you know BJJ isn’t just an art you leave at the door of the dojo, it is a mindset, a worldview – ugh as much as I cringe at the phrase – ‘a lifestyle’. It gets in your bones, in your heart and in your mind and is integrated into the day-to-day with: training BJJ, updating a training diary, daydreaming BJJ, blogging BJJ, watching BJJ and all the other obsessive stuff we get up to. It is part of your marrow, your tissues, your identity; certainly my identity has long been strongly informed by being a ‘martial artist’ and over the last 9 years by being a ‘BJJer’, more specifically. Now, not so much, and in 2013:
I didn’t train BJJ as much as hoped (2 x week)
I didn’t daydream about BJJ as much as hoped (perhaps an hour all year)
This all hurts as it goes right to the core of me and while I have gained so much, a big part of me has died, or perhaps gone into a medical coma, and bringing ‘Megatron’ back to life is proving to be as mighty a challenge as keeping my arms tight to the bod and getting onto my side when under big dudes’ side control.
Since the summer I’ve been able to train once a week pretty regularly. This is a lot better than never, but if I get a cold, a load of client-work, or my knee swells up (as it does from time to time), and I miss a class, there is a big gap to my next window of opportunity. Similarly, as BJJ-friends reading this will know, twice a week is ‘more than double’. That is, to me, the increase in retention between one session per week and two sessions per week is more marked than between two and three. Likewise, my post-training debrief into my training diary is much more cursory and hit and miss than in my previous life. This lack of mat time and mental focus really shows when I do get the chance to grapple and I can’t help feeling that I ‘suck’. This is the downer news and is a bummer, largely, because I think I assumed I would be close to back on form by the end of this year.
The situation vis a vis BJJ is not as bleak as I’m painting and while juggling total craziness I’m happy that in 2013:
I did start training BJJ consistently
I did post at least 1 blog a month
I did keep the London BJJ Women’s Open Mat running, finding hostesses each quarter to make sure this time and space to train continued to be available (whole other milestone to actually be able to make an event).
Where I’m At
The good news is that I’ve ended the year in a much improved position in terms of my health and well-being. At the start of the year I was 71.5kgs and 24.5% fat; at the end of the year I’m 66kgs and 22% fat, so making good headway back to my prenatal 60kgs and 20% fat. Most of this improvement has been since the late summer when I started 2 x weekly personal training and 1 x weekly BJJ. The personal training is helping my overall recovery both from the pregnancy and the knee operation and I’m feeling stronger and more nimble every month. Of course the improved physicality is helping my BJJ; I’m not saying I’m trying to rely on attributes over technique, but if a sister can activate her core she’s going to have trouble executing her technique. I’m also pleased and thankful that I am getting my Friday BJJ as much as I can. I do have a pity-party for myself after most classes, lamenting my total skill-atrophy, and then I rub some dirt on it and come back the next week. Only one way to get better, but those of you who have had to take a BJJ-sabbatical for babies or injuries will know it can be disheartening to re-eat all the shit you thought you’d been through and moved past.
Where I’m Headed
Over the course of 2014, it’ll be all about keeping up the clean eating and personal training to help get back to my former lean-self. Alongside this will be hitting Friday BJJ as much as I can and working on a strategy to get to Dartford BJJ HQ during the week; we’re seriously considering a car and me finally getting a UK licence. It may still not be practical for me to get down there in light of parenting and business commitments (plus the ever-present spectre of sleep deprivation), but I am going to try to put structures in place to facilitate getting to a Dartford class on top of the Friday night session in Ilford. Two classes a week would make all the difference to retooling.
Sure, in the bigger picture maybe BJJ isn’t that big a deal and I can imagine people outside the art ridiculing my earnestness and focus on a ‘first world problem’ such as not feeling competent in BJJ as a purple belt at this time. That’s not really the point though. For me, BJJ is part of me and when I lost it I lost a big part of myself and it is vital to my sense of self and well-being that I bring it back into the balance of my life a bit more; it isn’t mutually exclusive to love my little man and the time we have together and want to be my own person (just really hard to implement). BJJ is taking a back seat to the business and the boy, and that will be status quo for the medium term, however assuming I can make the timing and commute to Dartford work, I feel that it is an achievable goal to get to 2 classes a week, and that would make a big difference to me as a martial artist.
What’s in it for you?
Yikes, this review is more than a little self-centred, is there anything for anyone else? I hope so. I hope reflecting honestly on how my life has changed in relation to BJJ and how that’s been hurtful and difficult for me (again, against a back drop of a whole lot of amazing), can support other new parents dealing with similar issues. Some folks have incredible local support systems or less intensive work commitments or easier access to their clubs or whatever boon of luck to get them back on form quickly after welcoming a new addition to the family. That’s brilliant and I love that for those people. Some of us, though, have commitments they do not/cannot subordinate to BJJ and the space where that sat in our lives before parenthood gets squeezed out and compressed. To those people, my brothers and sisters, I say, take heart BJJ is all about the long game. We’ll get there.
Martial Herbs, British sports supplement outfit, shared two of their specially formulated products with me; Martial Herbs Recovery and Martial Herbs Strength. Martial Herbs is bringing unique herbal and homeopathic supplements to market aimed at the particular needs of martial artists. While some might suggest that HGH and steroids might be part of the solution to keeping your body in condition, some readers may prefer dietary supplements such as whey protein, or an alternative medicine route to complement ‘training intelligently’ and ‘keeping it playful’ for longevity on the mats. If so, Martial Herbs might be for you.
Martial Herbs Recovery
Martial Herbs Recovery (£18) is a high quality aromatherapy massage oil. The ingredients of MH Recovery target pain relief and muscle recovery; nigella sativa, almond oil, lavandula augustifolia.
Nigella Sativa, aka black cumin, has a long pedigree in alternative medicine and Martial Herbs’s claims of its antibacterial, immunological and analgesic properties seems supported by at least one academic study. So, the nigella sativa used in MH Recovery may help to reduce inflammation and muscular pain, keeping you fresher for your next session.
MH Recovery uses good quality almond oil as its base and is naturally perfumed with lavender, used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation, a sense of wellbeing and to counter insomnia.
I really enjoy using MH Recovery. Whether for self-massage on my legs and around battered knees or for roping in a willing set of hands to rub out the shoulders, it is a very nice quality massage oil. Very smooth and absorbs well and I personally love the scent of lavender, which gives the oil a pleasing aromatherapy quality in addition to its muscle calming properties.
Martial Herbs Strength
The Martial Herbs Strength (£22) supplement uses a concoction of herbs particularly important to Ayurvedic medicine to offer the best smelling supplements you are likely to come across.
What’s in it:
Shilajit (Ashphaltum): an important Ayurvedic element associated with anti-inflammation and pain reduction
Withania somnifera: aka Indian gooseberry, has a variety of traditional uses, including the treatment of inflammation, ulcers and anti-depression
Khusta Fulad: an Ayurvedic iron supplement
Sassurea lappa: from a family of wild flowers native to Asia, Europe and North America with some anti-inflammatory properties
Zingiber officinale: aka ginger, has been used in traditional and alternative medicines for calming stomach complaints.
Cinnamomum aromaticum: aka cinnamon, is a key herb in Chinese medicine and helps gives the supplements a lovely aroma
Syzgium aromaticum: aka clove, also adds to the scent of the supplements and is associated with pain relief in traditional medicines
Piper nigrum: aka black pepper, has, like many spices, a long association with traditional medicine
Martial Herbs is offering a unique set of homeopathic supplements targeted at the special needs of martial artists. MH supplements are particularly suited to practitioners interested in alternative therapies to help them maintain their fitness and enhance their recovery.
All reviews are based on my independent observations. I have no formal qualifications, I am not sponsored by any company and I do not endorse any one brand. If you chose a product based on my review, please let the manufacturer know that MegJitsu persuaded you. This will not benefit me financially, but can help me to get more things to review.
Thanks to Marital Herbs for offering me their supplements to test and review.
When BJJ bloggers offer critiques of what they view as sexism in our beloved BJJ – bloggers such Jiu Jiu, Georgette Oden, Megan Williams and Can Sönmez – responses range from applause to threats of violence to indifference. One theme that I have encountered when challenging sexist representations of women in BJJ, especially when discussing Manto’s now infamous nipple + grappling photos, and which has resurfaced in discussions of Kyra Gracie’s gi-and-arse photograph, is the idea that non-Western cultures have set a different bar of acceptability for sexual representations of women.
This idea bugs me for a variety of reasons:
The idea that women in the West have a ‘more evolved’ status in society has been used by Western leaders from Disreali to Bush to justify imperialist or quasi-imperialist action to ‘save’ women, coincidentally while bombing, enslaving, and otherwise economically and socially oppressing those women and their families.
The suggestion that women in the West are ‘more equal’ than elsewhere minimises and dismisses the real challenges to gender equality that persist in Western cultures.
The notion that Western women enjoy higher status than elsewhere demonstrates a distasteful paternalism that pats itself on the back for ‘allowing’ Western women such status while subjugating non-Western women.
During discussions of the Manto photoshoot, there were suggestions that the shoot was done in Eastern Europe where pictures of boobs aren’t a big deal; that it was somehow not problematic to sexualise women in Eastern Europe. Similarly, for the Kyra-butt shot, this comment appeared on Reddit:
I have the overwhelming feeling reading the Megjitsu blog that it’s a very Anglo-centric view of feminism. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but I think Brazilians (and Latin Americans as a whole) have a very different view of all of this. These sorts of images are celebrated there not just amongst the men, but the women as well. I guess I look at carnivale as examples of this.
I don’t like mixing the ideas of sex and jiu-jitsu, but Brazilians think about things very different than the Anglo world.
I think that this comment comes from a good place – one that is seeking to empathise and to understand – and it does make some valid points. Of course, there are broad cultural differences between Western Anglo-American culture and other world cultures. Sure, every individual Brazilian has a different perspective on, for the purposes of this post, gender issues. Absolutely, Brazilian feminisms can and do have distinct agendas. Most definitely, my feminism is informed by my culture, my class, my ethnicity – all the things that are jumbled up to make my personal subjectivity. Similarly, there certainly are tensions between the agendas of feminisms in different parts of the world and a certain complacency around the sexualisation of women in emerging economies, camouflaged as cultural-sensitivity, can be apparent in the writings of Western feminists; check out Megan’s honest introspection into her own views of the sexualisation of Brazilian women. I think apologies for the sexualisation of women in non-Western cultures mistakenly conflate a societal tolerance for the sexualisation of women and (local) feminist tolerance for the sexualisation of women.
The reputation Colombia has for ‘its women’ is notorious and stereotypically sexist…What many fail to notice, however, is that this ‘hotness’ comes from a sad place, from a deeply patriarchal Catholic society that cannot see women outside the virgin/whore dichotomy. (Jaramillo)
Rather than seeing the sexualisation of Latin American women as unproblematic, isn’t it possible that Latin American cultures may be more subject to expressing the priorities and desires of a dominant masculinity? While I have no expertise in Latin American feminisms, Brazilian culture or other salient subject areas, I set out to see what I could see.
Permeated by a patriarchal political culture, they [the political elites] have remained notoriously resistant to the inclusion of women. This has resulted in a major paradox for Brazilian feminists: on the one hand, the presence of a wide and well articulated women’s movement, and on the other, a notorious absence of women in decision making positions. (Alcântara and Sardenberg)
I’ve tried to educate myself with some online research into Latin American feminisms. What are the issues central to Latin American feminisms and, in particular, what are the perspectives of Latin American feminists on sexualised representations of women? Clearly, this research is limited to easily accessible online material which is published in English. Though very cursory and narrow, I do think my reading has given me a feeling for the issues that excite Latin American feminists, such as significant activism around reproductive rights, and it seems reasonable to suggest that the sexualisation of women is an issue for feminists in Brazil and neighbouring countries.
…western feminists aim for sexual liberation, while in other parts of the world women want freedom from sexualization (Kimball)
Discussions of feminism in Brazil confirm that there is a vibrant women’s movement extant in Brazil and that Brazilian feminists struggle with a complicated intermingling of class, race and religion: ‘…it is the most marked form of a post-slave society, which despite the myth of its racial democracy, still has an internal social and economic division with strong ethnic distinctions, and of class and gender as well’ (Maluf). It is clear that Brazilian feminists work through a variety of channels for women’s reproductive and sexual rights and to encourage and demand women’s role in decision-making processes. The Brazilian women’s movement is making advances and Dilma Rousseff, a self-identified feminist, seeks to use her position a Brazil’s president to advance the country’s women’s movement. However, as women increasingly enter previously male-dominated spaces, such as the Rio police force, sexualisation continues to undermine and cheapen Brazilian women’s achievements:
Every day I hear [jokes about being a woman]. Today they said, go and put on your bikini for your interview. (Phillips)
While Brazilian feminists agitate for greater access to power, for the rights of all Brazilian women including Afro-Brazilian and indigenous women, sexualised and objectified portrayals of women’s bodies persist. For instance, the ad campaigns of the Devassa bear brand, devassa meaning ‘slut’, elide women’s bodies and beer, offering both for sale to male consumers (Britto). Where they encounter objectified representations of women, it seems that Latina feminists deride rather than celebrate these depictions.
So, what the heck am I getting at? I find the implication that because Brazil (or any other country) has a ‘sexier’ culture, sexualised representations of women aren’t really sexualised at all – ie sexiness is a ‘norm’ so there’s nothing problematic or demeaning about these sorts of images – to be incorrect. On the one hand, I believe there is confusion between ‘sexy’ images of women (or men), and sexualised or objectified images of women (or men). I tried to unpack this difference here, and JiuJiu has recently published a useful discussion of sexy versus sexualised. On the other hand, I believe this point of view is rooted in a post-imperial Western smugness which claims the relative equality of women in one nation versus another as, essentially, a badge of patriarchal honour and tolerance rather than a reflection of feminists’ own struggles and achievements.
The argument that in cultures where sexualised portrayals of women are more mainstream those images are insignificant in the undermining of gender equality was also employed during ‘Manto-gate’, with the insistence that East Europeans just see sex differently so we can’t use our Anglo-American values to judge their representations of women. I say, this response to feminist – Western or otherwise – condemnations of sexualised representations of women is fallacious and based on an acceptance of how patriarchy may operate in any given culture. While certainly my feminism is informed by my own white, middle-class, American background and there are certainly important differences between feminisms informed by different ethnic, cultural and geographical factors, it is clear from even a narrow reading of Brazilian feminisms that women in Brazil (and Latin America more widely) struggle for sexual equality and against the stereotype of the sexy Latina. Thus, sexualised representations of women in Brazil are indeed problematic and can be seen as representing the dominance of a patriarchal masculinity. Of course, I am not a Brazilian feminist and I don’t wish to layer my subjectivity onto a cultural milieu I have very little understanding of. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed trying to broaden my perspective and understand issues in contemporary Brazilian feminism and I hope this post has showcased some of the views of Latin American feminists, themselves.
Women in BJJ may also be mothers in BJJ. While parenthood has implications for both mothers and fathers in BJJ, the processes of pregnancy, birth and recovery in the first year have particular implications for mothers. You can see the different ways motherhood can impact a woman’s training by checking out the Facebook Group, BJJ Mums, where mothers in BJJ share stories, challenges and insights into training pre- and post-natal. It is clear from threads here and lived experience among other new moms that – unsurprisingly – recovery after birth varies from one individual to the next. Some women seem to drop the weight immediately, some hold on to it for dear life, some integrate core-boosting exercise into their routines, such as yoga and Pilates, while others hit the weights, power walk with their prams, some are straight back to training with the baby sleeping on the sidelines, some are slower to get back on the mats. So, my journey is just that, my own, and it may or may not reflect the experiences of others, but I do hope that chronicaling some aspects of my experience will be helpful to other athletic women contemplating their first pregnancy, or wondering how to get back to feeling good.
Hmm, well after 12 months I’m not there – back to feeling good that is – we’ve had a very exciting year and the little guy is a pleasure to have around, to adapt to, and to nurture. However, as any parent can tell you, he is the focus, and with primary responsibility for childcare there’s limited bandwidth left for running our business, much less for self care. That said, as little man grows there’s more and more opportunity to make space for what I need to do beyond mommy-duties.
There’s been a lot of changes in my life, including when and where I train. When possible, I hit my long-time instructor, Dave Birkett’s, Friday class which is a short commute to Ilford. My attendance is sporadic as it requires my hubby’s work from home day to land on a Friday, which isn’t always possible. Other than Fridays, there’s no chance, at the moment, for me to make the commute to Kent in time for classes with the club I grew up with, Dartford BJJ. This is a serious bummer, as I miss training with those guys and working with Dave. One must solutionise, however, and happily my training partner, Jon Hegan, is a Royce Gracie BJJ affiliate and runs a Wednesday class in easier reach, in Upminster, which starts at a time more practical for me in terms of handing off childcare to my hubs. I never imagined I would train with anyone but Dave and the guys, but I’m really grateful to Jon and his crew for taking me in on a part-time basis and it is brilliant training with them. From the time little dude was 9 months old, I’ve been reintegrating (sort of) regular weekly training back into my routine, hitting Wednesdays and or Fridays whenever practical.
Integrating activity into my lifestyle – beyond daily walks with the buggy – has gotten a lot easier more recently for three reasons: 1) little person sleeps pretty reliably; 2) little boy weaned himself at 11.5 months; 3) I’m investing in personal training. Though little mister had only been enjoying a light morning feed since about 10.5 months, having dropped all others of his own volition, it wasn’t until the complete end of breastfeeding that I realised how fatiguing the creation of breast milk is, even just a wee bit! Though my energy levels are still lower than I’d like, within the context of reasonable sleep, I felt immediately that there was more in the tank once we were done with that chapter.
Personal training was really important to my ante-natal fitness and it is proving to be a big help, post-partum. With my schedule and my poor energy levels and just feeling so heavy and weak – working out is so much more fun when you’re fit! – I’ve found that having an appointment with a trainer helps me get to the gym and get the most out of it. Twice weekly I get together with my trainer and we work the kettlebells and a selection of core exercises. She’s reasonably merciless, which is great, and I’m definitely getting stronger and our work together is helping to improve my movement when I’m able to get to BJJ.
Finally, it turns out I’m not one of those ladies that seems to magically shrink back down to size during breastfeeding. The baby weight hasn’t really gone anywhere, in spite of gym work, watching my diet, and daily activity. I’d hoped to be much closer to pre-baby fitness by this stage and am at the start of a 12 week sprint of exercise and mega clean eating, undertaken in concert with my husband. Hoping that as the hormones have worked their way out of my system and my cycle is back online, with a little more sleep, and a little more conviction that I can be more tolerably fit this calendar year, I’ll have made some good progress on the fat stores by the end of this 12 week phase and then a new set of goals will be appropriate.
So, what’s the point? What have I learned about BJJ and motherhood since the little lord’s arrival. Um, that it is tremendously difficult to make time for anything aside from mothering when operating outside of a substantial support system. That it is more than a little disheartening to have skills hard won since 2004 appear to evaporate in a relative instant. That there is only one way to regain those skills. That patience is a virtue. That 2 hours of BJJ a week is better than zero. And that I’d pay handsomely for a BJJ club with morning classes and a creche 😉