Carmen Janke
Carmen Janke

On Sunday I attended the first women’s only BJJ seminar in Britain at the Roger Gracie Academy (Mill Hill). The seminar was organised by Pippa Granger and led by brown belt Carmen Janke. It was a fantastic day of training and rolling with 20 tough chicas.

The seminar ran for several hours on Sunday afternoon and attracted a healthy turnout of women from all around southern England and as far afield as Wales. There was a great atmosphere as whites, blues and a purple from all different clubs came together for a day of training. For many of us, this represented a rare opportunity to roll with people of similar size and strength as many of us train mainly with heavier men. The interest the event attracted and the healthy participation spoke volumes in terms of the appetite in British women’s BJJ for female-only events, as we are a distributed group and usually only meet at competition.

The seminar began with a lengthy warm-up of line drills. These could be pretty challenging as regards coordination and included individual and partner drills. They were aimed at isolating core movements including, serendipitously, two I’ve been working myself: backward rolls to neutralise an opponent’s stack and pass and shoulder walking to make space to get the triangle position as an opponent tries to stack and pass.

We moved on to drill techniques from the closed, open and half guards. These included a variation of the X-choke from guard and old school sweep from half guard that are slightly different from those I’ve been taught; going to have a play with them this week. I particularly liked a sweep from the butterfly guard which is similar to one I’ve had some success with (on opponent’s closer to my size for the time being) and will also be looking to integrate that into sparring as and when this week.

While the drills and the few rounds of sparring we got in at the end were excellent fun, I found hearing about Carmen’s experience in BJJ most helpful. Carmen, like me, is a lightweight, and it was interesting to get her perspective on how she’s developed her game and what she’s found works best for her as a smaller person. It gave me confidence that she’s taken a path of ‘position, control, submission’. This mirrors my own (evolving) experience as I find I’m still very much at the stage of trying to get the position and maintain control; as a smaller practitioner my game is largely defensive and is based around solidifying these two aspects before moving to offence (and more often than not, just ‘closing up shop’ – what the guys call the ‘tortoise’ – and keeping everything tight while I get crushed on the bottom and patiently look for an opportunity to improve my position while not being submitted). For Carmen this meant she didn’t really start an offensive game until purple belt and, indeed, I understand that Coach’s plan for me is to work on building a tough(er) defence as a blue, before I start dismantling opponents with offence as a purple.

Carmen also discussed her intuitive approach to rolling and her practice of ‘listening’ to her opponent’s body. So, for instance, if she finds herself in a tight spot such as her posture broken down in guard, she’ll try to relax and feel what her opponent is attempting to do, in order to frustrate the opponent’s game while looking to improve her position. While discussing this point she made the important, to my mind, observation that these approaches may be most effective is one is ‘prepared to lose’. I mentioned in a previous post the importance of training without fear of losing so that it is possible to try and to learn new things, a notion that seems to reverberate among many seasoned martial artists and certainly among the much more experienced BJJ practitioners, such as Coach, Marc Walder and Carmen, that I’ve had the pleasure of training with.

Finally, it was a real treat to train with this exceptional group of women without the pressures of competition. There was a very friendly atmosphere and it has certainly ignited a desire for more women’s training events. For my part, I’m working on arranging a training day at Dartford BJJ, which Coach has generously offered free of charge for gatherings; other women from the seminar have also already mentioned hosting meet ups at their clubs. I feel really overwhelmed to be part of a talented group of women who, while fierce and competitive, are simultaneously supportive and positive and want to do what they can to enhance women’s BJJ.