Was a great pleasure to run the first Women’s Self Defence seminar at Phoenix MMA in Bournemouth. In spite of last minute rescheduling after the unfortunate events of the 14th, we had 13 women of all ages take time out on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, come down to the club and try something new. I learned a lot from this first experience of teaching BJJ and I am grateful to all the women who came out for the seminar, which was so superbly organised by Jimmy at Phoenix MMA.
When the south coast of England is fine, there is no place finer! It was one of those perfect clear, sunny, warm and breezy spring days when I arrived in the beautiful seaside town of Bournemouth. Hopped a cab at the recently refurbished train station and made my way to the club. This is a fantastic facility and if you are in the area, I heartily recommend that you check it out. Phoenix MMA is run by Jimmy Johnston, a friendly family man and dedicated martial artist with a background in both traditional martial arts and the grappling arts (congrats on your new BJJ purple belt, Jimmy!). The club is like a one-stop shop of training awesome. Huge matted space with a well kitted out weights area at one end and, at the other end, a row of heavy bags separates the main matted space from a training cage. It is a large open warehouse-type of space with plenty of natural light, but it doesn’t stop there. Head to the back to find a large sauna and steam room and, wait for it, men’s *and* women’s changing rooms complete with shower and mandarin scented hand soap in the loo. How fancy! There is also a therapy room where a visiting sport massage therapist works out the team’s kinks and knots. Phoenix MMA has instruction in a wide range of arts from Karate and Muay Thai to BJJ and MMA; definitely worth a visit!
This was the first seminar in what Jimmy hopes will be a regular series of events and was aimed at women with no previous martial arts experience, though we did have a few women with some striking background join us. As an introduction to martial arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for self defence, it seemed best to begin at the beginning and this seminar concentrated on defending attacks from the front from standing and from the floor. After a warm up of back break falls and standing up in base, we spent the first half of the three hour seminar working from standing. In the first technique, we defended a 2-handed grab to the throat (think ‘Zombie hands’) by bobbing and weaving out of the grab to reply with an open-handed slap to the side of the head. Next, we defended a straight grab to the chest (think ‘boob grab’) with a wrist lock. In both cases, the women worked hard at reproducing the movements they were shown and I was very impressed by how well they remembered the position of the hands, for example, when getting the position for the wrist lock. We rep’d and rep’d, refining foot positions and angles for achieving the best leverage. After a break, we got back on the mats to work from the floor. We looked at the ‘rape choke’, what I like to think of as the ‘Zombie grab’, when mounted and rep’d the upa mount escape, building up to work on the timing of the escape when defending from a striking attacker. We then progressed to a mount escape where the attacker has a head lock position. Again, the angles of movement were important conceptual elements in terms of the bridge and roll as well as the need to defend from a striking attacker. The women particularly enjoyed the addition of standing and stomping the ‘attacker’s’ groin once they’d bridged and rolled out of the mount.
I learned as much from the women as, I hope, they learned from me. A stand out principle was the importance of expectation management. This was highlighted to me in two ways. Firstly, as Coach noted when helping me to prepare for the seminar, it is very important to be very clear about the aims of the seminar and to contextualise the techniques within those aims. This seminar was about self defence and introducing women to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, not about ‘fighting’. The techniques, while teaching principles of movement needed in a more advanced BJJ game, were geared towards teaching strategies to defend an attack and to disengage safely from an attacker as quickly as possible. The idea is to defend effectively and to run away, rather than to engage in a fight with a potentially armed and likely more aggressive attacker and thereby avoid the risks associated with fighting, where so much can go wrong, particularly in a self defence context. Secondly, the importance of recognising how much one can achieve in her first 3 hours of jiu jitsu. The women were very keen to learn more about the hows, whys and wherefors of the techniques. There was excitement and keenness tinged by a little bit of frustration about how the drills might cope with different circumstances or how to perform the technique more gracefully. This is great to see! However, it is vital to set realistic goals for oneself. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an incredibly challenging art, especially for the smaller person; this is part of its beauty and it is rewarding precisely because it is so challenging and with time and practice you will develop more and more exciting skills. It doesn’t come natural though, it is about hard work and consistent dedication and a willingness to rep and rep, drill and drill, spar and spar – a ceaseless journey, the enjoyment of which is the goal itself. Ultimately, you have to give yourself a break and accept that the journey is long and difficult, but is, in itself, a rewarding and life-enhancing one.
Big thanks to Jimmy Johnstone for organising the day, my coach Dave Birkett for ensuring I was prepared for the class and to Andrew Hewson of