Friday, October 28, 2011

"Don't Tread On She"

To be honest, I was a bit nervous about posting my last blog on such a sensitive topic involving men and women "on the mats" in Jiu-Jitsu.  I definitely didn't anticipate the response I have received from readers and I appreciate everyone who took time to read and post comments. Most of all, I am glad it opened up discussion about topics most people don't openly talk about. The comments and feedback from my blog brought up a lot of interesting points that really got me thinking. I found it particularly interesting how interpretation and perspectives can vary among readers. Although I think my message was lost to some, I am extremely happy it sparked conversation and opened up discussion on other sensitive topics that needed to be discussed.

I want to clarify the purpose of my blog topic.  My intentions were not to make men self-conscious when training with women or make them second guess themselves especially when they have good intentions. The last thing I'd want is for guys to be discouraged from training with women because they are worried about what we might think.  If your intentions are good, we can usually tell.  Also my blog wasn't about how all men don't know how to train with women cause that's obviously not true. I wasn't trying to indicate that there is a catch 22 where guys are "dammed if they do and dammed if they don't". The article was not about being a bad or good training partner. Being a good training partner has nothing to do with the gender of the persons involved and is a topic I'll revisit at a later time. The primary focus of the article was to expose common types of harassment and torment some women have encountered. While acknowledging the fact that behavior and intentions can sometimes be misinterpreted.

My goal was to bring light to the most extreme types of harassment some women have experienced in Jiu-Jitsu and never openly talked about in public.  It was a "forbidden topic" that some of us knew about but were to ashamed or embarrassed to share.  The personalities of "knuckle draggers" and guys who "take you on a date", represent the more common types of harassment in Jiu-Jitsu. The situations or mentalities I mentioned were the most extreme circumstances. Another important point is that it isn't always men who can be bullies. Women can be as just as insecure, petty, passive aggressive, ego driven, hurtful, malicious and be too rough on the mats, as some guys, if not worse.

I've been fortunate in having loving Jiu-Jitsu brothers and sisters who looked out for me and had my back if someone got out of line with me.  But the harassment is not always apparent to an onlooker. It can be subtle and remain unnoticed.   We cannot and should not rely on others to protect us or fight our battles.  We have to be able to face bullies on our own and that's why Jiu-Jitsu is such a powerful tool that teaches us how to be assertive, strong and capable on and off the mats.

Unlike my experience, for some women the harassment was constant and unbearable. The worst part for them was that those who could have stopped it instead turned the other cheek, ignored the problem entirely, blamed the victim or were directly involved in the abuse. I've heard of a woman who got felt up while drilling and when she stood up for herself, SHE was asked to leave the class for making a scene.  I've also heard of many women being physically roughed up so badly that they almost left Jiu-Jitsu completely.  For other women the abuse got so horrific it forced them to leave their academies and start over at a new academy or even a new city. The stories of women who overcame abusive circumstances  made me wonder just how many women we never hear about who have been driven away from Jiu-Jitsu and never came back because of these types of harassment.

The biggest argument I saw in response to my blog was the use of the word "legitimately", "When rolling they will use strength and force to muscle through moves so they won't get caught or feel embarrassed by tapping out to a woman when she's legitimately caught him in a submission.". I agree with the points made, because if you legitimately catch someone and finish the submission they are forced to tap or they will end up with broken bones, dislocated joints, etc.  It was a poor choice of words on my part. "Almost" would have been a better word in its place.

 Most of us, especially women, start training to build self confidence, learn how to protect ourselves and to learn how to become better people. Jiu-Jitsu is not the most appealing art for most women immediately and I feel it really takes a certain type of woman to stick with Jiu-Jitsu.  I've also found that quite a few of the women who stay with Jiu-Jitsu, do in fact share a lot of common qualities. 

My hope was to bring this topic out in the open so people who have  experienced it realize they are not alone and they don't have to put up with it now or in the future.  There are lots good academies that are nurturing, supportive and have a positive environment for women.  I also realize that it is not just women who've experienced various types of harassment and that some men have as well.  Abuse on the mats is not something that most of us feel comfortable openly discussing. In fact a lot of women I talked to have a sense of shame when it comes to it, even though it is not them who should carry the burden. I feel privileged that many women shared their experiences with me and I was able to use my platform as a tool to open up conversation and provoke thought on the topic for both men and women.  Thank you all for your input and for opening my eyes up to various different perspectives.  Keep on Rolling!

To view some additional feedback you can check out: j/comments/liru6/shama_ko_ on_training_bjj_as_a_woman / 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Don't take me out on a date"

These topics are things most of us don't openly talk about in the BJJ community but i think its time we brought them out in the open.

As I've become more involved in the BJJ community, I have had many opportunities to listen to other women's experiences.  I have found inspiration in the strength of the women around me, especially those who have had to learn what it means to love Jiu-Jitsu so much that it hurts.  Although I'd like to think we are in a new era where women are becoming equals in a male dominated sport,  I am continually reminded of the obstacles that remain a harsh reality for women today.   I've heard horror stories about mistreatment including
verbal harassment, physical abuse, emotional torment and in some cases unwelcome sexual advances.  But the most unifying theme among the women is that these traumatic experiences never took away from the genuine love they had for Jiu-Jitsu and made their commitment to the sport even stronger.

There was recently a big uproar in the BJJ community about a certain company that executed a overly sexual marketing campaign that many felt misrepresented and objectified women.  I won't give any additional steam to the buzz, so their name shall remain anonymous. But as successful as the campaign was from a marketing stand point, the ads were a direct slap in the face to women and was a prime example of the stereotypes women in BJJ have fought to overcome.  As if Jiu-Jitsu needed anymore help looking sexual to an outsiders.

Women discover Jiu -jitsu through various means and it can take on several purposes and definitions for each of us.  It is a sad truth, but some men are still of the primitive opinion that women have no place in BJJ or contact sports as a whole.  I've gotten comments on my YouTube site saying that I should be a lady and leave the fighting to the "real" men.  The funny part is most of these men don't even train.  These guys are ignorant and my suggestion is that they try rolling with a real BJJ woman.  As I am sure most of them will find out what it truly means to be humbled when a woman half their size can "man handle" them.

Unfortunately some men in BJJ share this opinion that women shouldn't train or that we are not equals even though we put in our time on the mats just as they do.  In my opinion, these guys are insecure and obviously intimidated by a strong woman.  It's disheartening how they find ways to diminish or belittle women's efforts on the mats with sexist remarks, harassment and ridicule.  When rolling they will use strength and force to muscle through moves so they won't get caught or feel embarrassed by tapping out to a woman when she's legitimately caught him in a submission.   Or in some cases they use brute force and too much resistance to physically hurt and torment women. Perhaps they think that by manhandling and mistreating women it some how makes them more of a man.  These are not men, instead I refer to then as "knuckle draggers" because of their caveman  mentality.

But then there is the flip side, where some men "take you out on a date", meaning they roll with little to no resistance like a wet noodle or stiff like a board.  These rolls can resemble a game of "grab ass" where the guy basically allows the woman dominate him so he can have the opportunity to be close to her or maybe a chance to flirt and work his "game".  Even if the advances are innocent and harmless, rolling with women like this can be particularly damaging because it creates a false sense in her of the effectiveness of her moves.  This behavior is equally as wrong as the knuckle draggers and an insult to our abilities as if we wouldn't be able to tap them in "real life" if they hadn't just given it to us.  

My suggestion when being "taken out on a date" is to use it as an opportunity to work your game. Set the pace and gradually increase the intensity to see if they match it.  Chances are he will get the point that you are serious about BJJ and not interested in his advances.  If the guy doesn't match your intensity, think of it as if you're working on Bubba Gracie (the Bjj dummy) and have a field day with it.  Or if the situation makes you feel uncomfortable, don't put up with it and go roll with someone who you know is a good training partner and will give you adequate resistance.

However, not all guys that roll too hard or too stiff are like this.  Recently I was reminded of how some guys really just feel uncomfortable working with women, especially if they are not used to it.  They tend to either be too loose or too stiff.  The big difference is that they are not doing it to be disrespectful.  They are just trying to make us feel comfortable because they do have respect.  Nice guys don't finish last, because they can be taught how to be good training partners if you help them get over the fact that you are a woman and
simply just want to train.

Don't get me wrong throughout all of my training most of my best partners have been guys. For the most part guys in BJJ are good training partners or can be taught how to be. One of the many things I was taught by the highest ranking female at my old school that will stick with me forever is to be selective in my training partners. This has saved me a lot of grief because I am kind of a snob for my own protection to avoid injuries or uncomfortable situations.  Being a good training partner is something that isn't taught, but can be learned through practice.  But that's a whole other blog for another time.

I hope one day women don't have to endure the torment that so many women have faced over the years. I hope that the pain experienced will not be a lost cause, but pave the way towards change for future generations of women in BJJ. No one deserves to be mistreated and it shouldn't be tolerated. Only we have the power to change our life's path and no-one will ever look out for our interests as best as we can.              
*The photos are not related to the content of the story.  If the individuals in these photos wish to have them removed, please contact me.  Thank you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Academy Hunting Homework #1: Gracie Humaitá Austin

After spending a summer sitting on and off the sidelines, I decided I was going to go crazy unless I returned to training. Since I'd been out for a minute and I knew I had a lot of rust to scrape off, I decided to ease back into an environment that had familiar elements.

The first academy I visited was Gracie Humaitá Austin-Gracie Legacy, which is perhaps one of  the newest academies to the Austin area. Although Gracie Humaitá Austin is only a few months old, the head instructor, owner, and black belt Donald Park, who is under David Adiv & Royler Gracie, is not a newcomer to the Jiu-Jitsu community or Texas for that matter.  With over fifteen years experience in  Jiu-Jitsu and eight years as an instructor, Donald is among one of the most qualified instructors in Austin. He has been teaching in the  Austin area for close to three years and I felt privileged to have taken his competition classes previously at Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. It has been a few months since the formation of Gracie Humaitá Austin and I was excited to see what has been brewing.

Gracie Humaitá Austin is so new that they don't even have a permanent location to call home yet.  They currently train on the University of Texas Austin campus. Gracie Humaitá Austin is composed of ten students with a steady flow of visitors for each class.  Gracie Humaitá Austin is not currently taking any students until January 2012.   However, Gracie Humaitá Austin does host a once a month Open Door Seminar and all members of the Jiu-Jitsu community are invited to take a class two times a month with the  permission of their instructor.

Last month, I decided to take advantage of my opportunity to start training at Gracie Humaitá Austin.  I was also fortunate to have attended the open door seminar which had an overwhelming response of 90 requests to attend and only 40 slots available. After attending the seminar, it was apparent as to why attendance for this event was in such high demand. 

The open door seminar was full of information. Over three hours of instruction had my head spinning with amazing Jiu-Jitsu.  The seminar was composed of some very basic fundamentals and principles of Jiu-Jitsu. Donald's instructional  technique was very detailed and incredibly effective.  I enjoyed how the smallest details were emphasized and how he provided explanations on why the move worked and the principles behind  it.  

The seminar was very laid back and moved at a relaxed pace, which was not the pace I had been accustomed to in Donald's competition classes.  I'll admit, I can have lazy jiu-jitsu sometimes and I loved his other classes because they were very no nonsense, fast and at an intense pace which pushed me to my limits,as a competition class should do.  Now I was curious about  the regular classes at Gracie Humaitá Austin.

Due to my knee I've not been able to attend a class with rolling involved. Therefore all the classes I've taken at Gracie Humaitá Austin have been strictly instructional. Even though I was among the smallest on the mats and the only female at most classes, I felt right at home and was 100% comfortable.  Classes are 5-6  times a week for one-two hours in the evening which works perfect with my schedule.

The class began with a  typical bjj warm up. However, I was introduced to a new variation of shrimping that I found to be very effective.  After the warm-up we did a variation of drills to loosen up the muscles we would use in the instructional portion that followed.  Once again just as in the seminar, the instruction was extremely detail oriented, well structured and moved a comfortable pace. There was adequate time to drill the moves after each demonstration.  Donald was attentive and helpful in providing positive feedback, constructive criticism and encouragement during our practice. 

 In most classes the instructional portion begins with a take down of some variety followed by the mechanics of a position to a sweep or transition of some nature.  If time permits a submission is incorporated as well.  Due to my schedule with work and school, I have not been able to attend back to back classes, so I was unable to gain an understanding of the flow from one class to another.  However, I do find the structure of the class to be compatible with my learning style, making it easy to focus and retain information.  These classes and the seminar have given me insight to some of the principles of Jiu-Jitsu that I wasn't aware of before.  I was never taught principles as principles.  It's been an eye opening experience on many levels.

The students at Gracie Humaitá Austin are among some of the most talented and hard working individuals in the community that I've come across.  In only the few months of training at Gracie Humaitá Austin, I can recognize the tremendous impact this training has had on their game as evidenced at the Grapple America last month when they earned more medals than the number of competitors that entered.  Students range in various sizes and skill levels from white belts on up to brown belts.  Everyone seems content with their new home and I've heard nothing but positive feedback from Donald's students.

Although portions of Gracie Humaitá Austin are in the process of being solidified and remain uncertain, there is no question that the training is top notch and I'll be back for more!

To learn more about Gracie Humaitá Austin check out their website, follow their tweets on Twittter and become a friend on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jiu-Jitsu for thought?

One of my girlfriends told me the other day that I am "doing a BJJ tour of Austin", which is true. But it is a lot different to analyze an academy from the perspective of a visitor who will come back a few times a year compared to finding an academy to call your home. BJJ academy shopping is a lot of work. Throughout the past few weeks I've trained at a few times at the same academies. I believe it's going to take a while to really get the feel of an academy and to honestly evaluate it. To visit just once is not exactly the best way to "judge" the inner workings of an academy. Unless you had a particularly horrible experience on your first visit, I say every academy deserves a few shots.

As I've mentioned before, I have a growing list of areas to consider when choosing a new school and team. To make it easier, I've broken it up into five categories (for now); academy, instructor, class, team and training partners. Most importantly I am evaluating how my needs can be met and assessing how the inner workings of each school aligns with my vision. Keep in mind that each person's priorities will vary and mine is a work in progress. I am not an expert by any means and I am definitely open to suggestions. Here is what I have so far in no particular order:

Academy: location, equipment, price, facility, ownership, other programs, women friendly.

Instructors: Lineage, belt, level of technique, style of Jiu-Jitsu, teaching style, execution of lessons, accomplishments, attentiveness, type of coach, body type, perspective on Jiu-Jitsu, understanding of principals, detail oriented, compatible learning styles, tolerance of student training at other schools, Jiu-Jitsu is their only job, level of involvement (employee or ownership), mutual dedication, loyalty and support.

Class: structure, intensity, goals of classes (competition, recreational, instructors training), length, times, days, allotted time for rolling, woman friendly

Team: Lineage, structure, presence, camaraderie, family style, unity and level of support

Training partner: Size, skill level, type of training partners, student's perspectives (academy, instructors, classes, etc.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Yay or Nay?

Over the past few weeks I've frequented a few new jiu-jitsu academies. All of my jiu-jitsu muscles hurt, but it's that good type of pain that gives you a sense of accomplishment.  Like you got a real work out.  Its been a while since they've (jiu-jitsu muscles) been used.  I am glad to know they still work.

 My first and second week back were rough.  I seriously felt like a white belt on the mats.  My timing, coordination and ability to focus were all off.  I had the attention span of a two year old.  I think what's made it harder is that I am learning new technique and style instead of things I am already used to.  Although It was particularly frustrating, I've found amusement in my awkwardness and am working through it.  Thankfully I am getting back into the groove.  I can only hope the worst is over. 

Through my visits at these academies, I am also realizing that there is no best or worst Jiu-Jitsu schools, teams or instructors. It's all about finding what's right for YOU!  We don't all have the same outlook, or learn the same ways, goals or share the same values.  It's important that I find an academy and team that best aligns with my vision and meets my needs.  I feel it's crucial that I choose wisely, because I believe that the ties we have to our schools and teams are a reflection of common qualities and similar outlooks.

That patch on our backs, shirts that we wear and sticker on our car mean something to me. It identifies us as a representative of  a  team, school, and  instructors. That is why it is important to remember that not only does our conduct and demeanor represent who we are, but our actions reflect upon what we choose to represent.  Just as we are an extension of our lineage
(team, academy and instructors) , that lineage  is an extension of ourselves and what we believe in.

What most people don't realize right away is that there are underlining politics and rivalries involved in Jiu-Jitsu that go way back. I don't really understand most of it and it's none of my business anyway but I've been around long enough to have heard different perspectives. But is it fair to allow what rumors you've heard dictate where you train?  Aren't you just selling yourself short?  I think so.  My goal as I visit each school is to
enter with an open mind and an unbiased opinion so as to truly gain a worthwhile perspective. I owe it to myself to give all schools and teams a chance before I make a decision.    

I never used to understand why someone would want to leave a school or a team.  I thought people who left their schools were traitors, weak or deserters.  I wondered how loyalty could be so fleeting.  It is funny that no matter how wonderful a relationship might have been at one time, it is the bad that most of us remember.  Loyalty is incredibly important but at the same time I believe that it is also important to look out for ourselves too.  After all this is our personal life experience and ultimately each and everyone of us have the right to choose what is best for ourselves.  Some people get lucky and find the right school on the first try. While others might not find the right school immediately or after they do find it things change.  Once again I am reminded of how hard it can be to look out for our own best interests even when it sometimes it means hurting people you care about the most.  Everyone has their own reasons for leaving and it takes strength to move on. I don't see this as being selfish anymore, but as being a wise investor in our life path.