Date: 28 April 2013
Location: Andy Roberts BJJ, 40 Cove Road, Farnborough, Hants, GU14 0EN
Our Q2 2013 London BJJ Women’s Open Mat will be held on Sunday 28 April 2013 and will be hosted by Ceris Oram and the good people at Andy Roberts BJJ. 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.
Email Ceris on firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
The 4th year of the London BJJ Women’s Open Mat kicked off in February at the Total Dojo in Milton Keynes. While I was too occupied with my new son to attend, Anne Birkett of Westcoast BJJ, was kind enough to write a guest blog for us; cheers for the excellent review, Anne! Many thanks, too, to Hayley Carter and her club for hosting the Q1 session; Q2 event announced soon!
Finally! The day had come when Westcoast BJJ ladies would attend their very first women’s open mat session.
Having trained for almost 2 years with the boys in west Wales and at Dartford BJJ Academy, all of us were excited to meet up with fellow female warriors and share the joys of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Setting off early in the morning from a misty Aberystwyth, Wales, four of us headed towards Total Dojo, Milton Keynes, ready to start our adventure.
Arriving at the Dojo we were met by smiles and hugs and it was clear from the begining that this was going to be a special day for us.
We started with a basic warm up of standing in base; shrimping and over the shoulder rolls before we got cracking with guard pass drills and chokes from side control. This was followed by plenty of sparring and question and answer sessions.
The different skill levels in the room, ranging from white to brown belt level, allowed us to further our knowledge of the art and also share a few insights of our own. We trained to have fun, laughed and enjoyed the company of almost 20 like-minded women.
On a personal note, it was great to see how staying relaxed while under pressure in a bottom position and waiting patiently for the window of escape worked well for me and reinforced why we drill this so often in our club.
This definitely added to my sparring experience as I felt calm and relaxed on the mats which ultimately allowed me to observe the positions I was in.
After almost 3 hours of total BJJ joy, Westcoast ladies said their goodbyes to new friends made and hit the road back west.
The atmosphere in the car was electric with excitement and gratitude to have had the opportunity to share a special day like this with our BJJ-sisters. I believe it is safe to say that we are all looking forward to many more women’s open mat sessions in the future.
As the new year began, one woman’s trust in her team mates was shattered. As many readers will no doubt already be aware, two BJJers from Lloyd Irvin, Matthew Maldonado and Nicholas Shultz, were caught on CCTV in Washington DC sexually assaulting a woman. This woman, drunk after a NYE party, put her trust in the guys from her gym to take her to a friend’s for the night. You can read a full report of the incident here
This sad and shocking news has ignited debate and controversy within the BJJ community and the martial arts world more generally, with some excusing – at least in part – the actions of the alleged* rapists because:
the woman was drunk
the woman is alleged to have been sexually uninhibited in the past
bad things don’t just happen to ‘bad’ people / those who deserve it
it is a reasonable expectation for a woman to assume personal safety, as men do, during a drunken night out in the company of friends
As already noted by Megan and Georgette, there is pernicious victim-blaming at play in aspects of the discussion around this crime, which might seem at odds with the self defence rhetoric integral to martial arts and BJJ. I believe, however, that one of the most problematic aspects of self defence discourse is exactly its tendency to justify blaming the the victim. This was highlighted to me most clearly when I sought to share a ‘real life’ experience of a simple purse-snatching on the street, which I am in no way equating to this assault or any violent crime, but using as an example of victim-blaming in marial arts culture. While I’d hoped to offer an alternative perspective to the ‘this is how it will happen’ assertions of instructors and students alike, the discussion didn’t, as I’d hoped it might, reflect on the some of the masculine perspectives and fantasies that can inform discussions of ‘self defence’, but rather the emphasis was on my failings as a person and a martial artist. Be that as it may, I reject the fallacy that individuals who train are immune to being the victims of crime because of their ‘special powers’. I mean, the reason ‘Master Ken’ is funny, is because he hits pretty close to the mark.
Sure, instructors and students can share valuable insights into likely scenarios based on their own experiences and research into violent crime, however, all too often discussions of likely scenarios are presented in a language of certainty. In turn, a (false) confidence in foretelling ‘what will happen’ can engender a belief among martial artists that they themselves can foresee, prepare for, and instantly respond to any and all situations in the manner of Jason Bourne. I believe it is this sort of thinking, prevalent within our community – the belief that danger can always be foreseen/avoided/countered – that helps to support, within the martial arts world, wider societal tendencies to blame the victim in cases of sexual violence.
There are alternative voices responding to this disgusting and tragic happening, and there have been some prominent (male) voices coming out in condemnation of this incident. Ryan Hall’s Open Letter to the Martial Arts Community and Rener and Ryron Gracies’s video response to the assault provide a lot of food for thought from the perspective of instructors and academy owners on the obligation to create a culture of love and service, rather than predation and domination within their clubs (something I’m proud to say is a central priority for my instructor, Dave Birkett and his club, Dartford BJJ).
As a woman in BJJ, what I find most horrifying about this crime is the betrayal of trust between team mates. THESE PEOPLE TRAINED TOGETHER! BJJ practice is dangerous. While BJJ can be practiced to high intensity in relative safety, ACLs get snapped; pectoral muscles get detached; elbows get dislocated; eyes blackened; noses busted; and sometimes much worse. As BJJers we enter into a bond of trust with our team mates, we agree, every time we train together, that we will apply submissions with respect and STOP as soon as our partner asks us to, for any reason. Grappling is an incredibly intimate art and through all the awkward 69s, boobs in faces, and sweat drips into eyes, we trust each other to respect each other. It’s the only way it works. At least, that’s the only way it works for me. I would feel 100% confident to get hammered with my team mates and make and arse out of myself, knowing that we’d look after each other; shoot, I took off on a ‘lad’s weekend’ abroad with a dozen of my male colleagues and never once considered that I would be in any danger – we partied and drank and there was no sex and no rape. Men are not beasts enslaved to their baser instincts, any more or less so than women, and men and women have the right to expect to be in each others’ company, doing stuff like BJJ, or disco dancing and body shots, without fearing for personal safety. So, I write again, it is not her fault.
Finally, I appreciate that this post may spark debate and high emotions in all sorts of ways, but today I must disable comments for this post. All things being equal, I encourage open discussion here, but with the new baby in my life, I could not give your feedback and comments the attentive and careful response that you deserve. Thanks, as ever, for reading.
* This is a formality. Maldonado and Schultz have not yet been convicted. But let’s keep it real, people, the evidence is about as uncompromising as it gets.
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 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.
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 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.
Date: 3 February 2013
Location: Total Dojo, The Brunel Centre, Milton Keynes MK2 2ES
Our Q1 2013 London BJJ Women’s Open Mat will be held on Sunday 3 February 2013 and will be hosted by Hayley Carter and the good people at Total Dojo. 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.
Email Hayley on email@example.com for more info.