Why Should Women Train BJJ A short film, ‘Why Should Women Train Jiu-Jitsu’ was recently published by Ocean County BJJ. This is one of the latest in a collection of blog posts, magazine articles and videos about why women should train BJJ. The video is distinguished by great production values and taking an allegorical, rather than a didactic, approach to the topic. The video also does an excellent job of speaking to women from a feminine point of view, rather than at women or casting women as an ‘other’.

In the film a young woman is trying to enjoy her cosmo when a large, drunken man appears to proposition her. He feels free to approach the woman, to grab her, to lounge on her, to breathe his putrid breath on her. After her initial ‘no’, the man persists, and the woman seeks to use his form of aggression against him – aggression being not necessarily equivalent to violence. The video freezes frames as she steps through a cross collar choke using her aggressor’s suit jacket, and thus offers a creative ‘tutorial’ on one of BJJ’s ‘bread-and-butter’ techniques. You can watch the whole thing here:

I loved this. As a woman and a BJJer it resonated for me. I thought the allegorical approach was superb and provided a innovative illustration of the utility of BJJ for women:

  • the pyjamas we train in aren’t just for show or hygiene, they replicate clothing
  • self defence doesn’t have to be wildly violent or escalate a situation
  • ladies, you have the right to drink your drink in peace, but if he won’t lay off, BJJ can give you options

After enjoying the video, I scrolled through the YouTube comments. I know, why?! That way lies madness. While there are many comments that appreciate the symbolism of the film as well as women’s right not to be grabbed and goaded, there is a good amount of macho bluster that seems to ‘nay say’ and bark from a privileged masculine perspective while, to me, completely missing the bloody point. Two prominent themes:

  1. this technique is not ‘good’ self defence
  2. this woman had no right to choke out a guy who was ‘only talking’ to her

From an impressionistic analysis of the YouTube commentary the first point seemed to relate, in the main, to the idea that BJJ, as a martial art, is no good for self defence. I’m not going to dignify this with a response, as I suspect the majority of people with this view have never practiced BJJ.

The second point seemed echoed by BJJers and non-BJJers and included subthemes to describe the woman’s response as unwarranted because:

  • she was in a public place and should have simply asked for help
  • the guy was not a ‘real’ threat to her

I think these two ideas demonstrate a total lack of imagination. A lack of imagination that hinders: a) understanding the allegory of the film; and b) empathy for someone different from oneself.

To me, discussions of what would have ‘really’ happened in the situation depicted in the film are completely and utterly fruitless; totally moot. Let’s start with the fact that this is a film, not CCTV footage. It is a story, a representation, a symbol, you know, ‘art’. To my mind, one of the massive downers of self defence oriented training is the insistence on postulating what ‘will’ happen in any particular situation. Sure, one may have been in a particular situation and one recalls the events and outcomes in a certain way. That’s a useful experience to bring to the table, but an anecdote recalling something from one’s own experience is not necessarily relevant to anyone else’s experience and can, in fact, prevent one from understanding another’s response to similar scenarios. Let’s avoid delving into how our subjectivities colour our recollection of the past, too meaty a subject to treat here and better suited to my former life lecturing in oral history, and agree, for the moment, that while anecdotal evidence has value, its value is limited and cannot be reasonably extended to foretell events.

This brings us neatly to the idea that the woman in the film over-reacted to her aggressor; she had no right to defend herself as she wasn’t ‘really’ being threatened. Besides, she was in a public place and should have raised an alarm. These notions demonstrate, to me, a clear lack of empathy with the lived realities of women; women deal with the predation of men every day. From the little micro-aggressions that can dog a woman’s professional life, to day-to-day sexual assaults such as street harassment, to serious physical, mental and sexual violence as so adeptly presented in a recent Women’s Aid PSA featuring Keira Knightley (warning, a graphic depiction of violence):

While some may suggest many women’s sense of low-level threat throughout the day is wrong-headed. Dismissing women’s perceptions of their surroundings and interactions, ie the failure to appreciate another’s point of view, can be a consequence of immersion in one’s own privilege, in this case, ‘male privilege’. If this concept is new or unfamiliar to you, JiuJiu has a clear discussion of male privilege in relation to BJJ and John Scalzi’s Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is uses a very readable gaming analogy to explain male privilege. Let’s be clear, male privilege does not mean all men are ‘bad’ – of course not! However, it can mean that men can inhabit a ‘parallel universe’ in issues of gender and, by extension, that women’s experiences of male aggression are couched in a different context than men’s experiences of male aggression.

In terms of this film – again leaving aside that this is a symbolic representation of women, BJJ and self defence – it is not for anyone else to judge if a woman felt ‘really’ threatened by the actions of her aggressor. The justification for self defence in the UK is not what others understand of the situation, but rather what the individual felt at the time of the incident. If one can prove that one felt in danger, actions in proportion to the threat as perceived at the time are justified. We’d still need to convince a jury that this woman’s sense of threat was proportionate to her actions and jurors’ sense of privilege can, and does, minimise and dismiss women’s understanding of their interactions with others, partly as evidenced by low rape-conviction rates. So, while another woman or another man may not have felt threatened by the actions portrayed in the film, other women and men, may have found his actions extremely alarming. In cases where a woman is being man-handled and forcibly subjected to a man’s attentions, why is it reasonable that a woman either submit to aggression or put herself in a position of dependence on the (possible though not guaranteed) kindness of strangers? Why the rapidity to condemn the female victim? Looks like a case of male privilege to me. This sense of privilege and perhaps fear that one’s own behaviour could be ‘misinterpreted’ may be an influence on some individuals’ lack of empathy and lack of imagination; in the same imagined situation, would a man be likely to cry for help, or be expected to do so?

My reading of this film has very little to do with whether or not BJJ is effective in ‘real life’ self defence; whether or not the technical details of the tutorial are accurate; whether or not the woman in the situation represented here was justified in her response. Where I think this film has tremendous value is its presentation, in a very female-friendly way, of the practical usefulness of BJJ. This video takes a creative tack on the ‘tutorial’ while linking the abstract and ‘weird’ gi with real-world clothes as well as showing a non-violent response to aggression. For me, striking is a violent approach, prone to escalation, where as helping a drunken sexual predator have a nap, from within a ‘realistic’ posture is both pragmatic and non-violent. This can appeal to women both inside and outside of BJJ; no point just preaching to the converted! In the film, the gi is connected with actual clothing and its use in training subtly explained. The scenario in the film will be familiar to many – if not most – female viewers and shows a response from within a posture likely experienced by female viewers, that is having a larger person use their bulk to drape over, invade, and seek to dominate a woman’s body and personal space. This to me is a seriously effective way to communicate to women the power and beauty of BJJ.


You can connect with the director of ‘Why Women Should Train Jiu Jitsu’, Mark Ward of Garden State Productions, on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Shannon Meehan, the film’s heroine, can also be found on Twitter.

Shout out to reader, Hugo, for dropping the video in my inbox. Cheers!