The Europa Experience-Where Women Rule The Mats

The Europa Fitness Expo-Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament has to be one of the most unique venues in Texas.  The jiu-jitsu tournament is just one of the many attractions at this expo.  The Europa Fitness Expo includes body building competitions, weight lifting competitions, a car show, vendor booths with lots of free swag, Cross Fit games, and other Martial Arts tournaments.  You name it and it is probably there.  This year's Europa jiu-jitsu tournament was by far the biggest tournament I've seen all year.  Dare I say even bigger than the IBJJF Houston Open.  The final count of eight hundred and fifty-five competitors was damn impressive, but what really made an impact with me was how the stacked with competitors the women's divisions were.  Holy crap!  The flood gates are open!  However, the real question is how many will stick around for the long hall?  Is the popularity of jiu-jitsu just a fad among women or is the new generation of white/blue belt women emerging on the scene, signs of a new tomorrow when women's divisions' are as well attended as the  men's?  

I can only speculate on the official count of women competitors, but it had to be at least close to forty.  Even though the women's divisions started an hour earlier than the men's at 9:30 am, matches were going strong all morning long and into the afternoon.  The spectators were entertained by one exciting match after another.  It's like the women's divisions just didn't stop and neither did the action.  Watching these women from the sidelines I couldn't help but wish I had so many women to compete with years ago when I was a white and blue belt.  Six years ago, when I first started competing in Texas, sometimes you were considered lucky if any other women even showed up.  There have been countless tournaments where in order to get a match I would compete with lower belts or with women several weight divisions above me.  In some cases, I'd have no other option but to get a refund.  This is seldom the case anymore for white, blue and some purple belt women.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see two women (purple belt Tara Arrington and black belt Roberta Bernini) reffing the matches at the Europa.  Women like Hilliary William (the 1st female referee for IBJJF) have led the way for other women referees through out the USA.  Regardless of sex, refereeing is never an easy task and you're not always going to make everyone happy.  However, Tara and Roberta proved to be just as competent as the men referees and in my opinion they both did an exceptional job at Europa!  

This got me to thinking, if not for the efforts of jiu-jitsu women before us we would not be where we are now.  The jiu-jitsu women of previous generations have paved the way for all women and girls within the community.  These women's efforts on and off the mats have given us the opportunity to continue to prove ourselves as equals in a male dominated sport. I can only imagine the sexism and stereotypes these veteran women first encountered.  I am glad the times are changing.  Instead of women's divisions being seen as a sideshow attraction, the athleticism among women is finally being noticed.  Through all of our actions and involvement, women are proving to be a valuable component of the jiu-jitsu community.  I feel indebted to the generations before me and the best way I see to honor their legacy is by being the best person I can be, pushing myself towards excellence and most of all supporting other women in the community.  As we encourage and support more women in jiu-jitsu, this will makes it easier for all of us.  With every hurdle we overcome we will continue to pave the way for the future generations.

At the rate jiu-jitsu is spreading in the USA, I don't see it slowing down anytime soon, I think over the next few years we will see black and brown belt women's divisions in the IBJJF break off into their own divisions.  I also think we will see white, blue and purple belt divisions get closer to that of what the men's divisions were a year or two ago.  I also think that as more of us compete we will start to see equal prize money for women's division at tournaments. At this rate of growth, all signs point to that this jiu-jitsu "craze" is far from over.  However, retention among women always seems to be the hardest part, perhaps because it really does take a certain type of woman to live the jiu-jitsu lifestyle.  Not everyone is cut out for the sacrifices that go along with being a jiu-jitsu competitor or martial artist.  Obviously women enter the sport with many different motives and goals, but as the popularity of the sport grows among men, it also reaches out to more women.   I can only hope that the increased number of women entering jiu-jitsu will bring more change and opportunity for all of us.  Only time will tell, but I am willing to bet on this one!  Big congrats to all the women who competed at the Europa.  Way to represent!  Keep the tradition alive! 

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