Trying out Jiujitsu can be intimidating for anyone. Knowing that everyone there will be better than you. Wondering if you will embarrass yourself. Maybe even feeling scared that you will get hurt.
While more and more women are training jiujitsu, it is still a male-dominated sport, so all those first time jitters can be even worse for us women. Hopefully, this FAQ will ease some concerns and give you the confidence to give it a try.
Q. What do I wear?
A. There’s two things to consider with what you wear to class, fit and protection. Wardrobe malfunctions are a real threat in jiujitsu so you want to be sure to wear tight-fitting clothing that will not move around much. If you don’t feel comfortable just wearing spats and a rash guard a t-shirt and gym shorts worn over is perfectly acceptable. There’s also the threat of getting mat burn so clothes that cover your knees, elbows and shoulders are a good idea. Our gym is great about keeping the mats clean but clothing also protects you from any germs that might be on the mat.
Most gyms have gi days and no gi days. Our gym’s no gi day is on Wednesday, and it is a great day to try out a class, since you won’t have to worry about purchasing a gi first. If you can only go on a gi day, don’t worry, many moves can be modified to do without a gi.
Q. I have long hair. How do I keep it out of my way?
A. Long hair in Jiujitsu can be a pain to manage but there are ways to keep it contained. The best way to keep it out of the way is two French braids. They will typically last through multiple rounds. If your hair is particularly long, looping the braids so they don’t get accidentally kneeled on is helpful. If French braids are beyond your skill, or just too time consuming, some women find pigtails with braids last pretty well. If your like me and just can’t be bothered, a ponytail works in a pinch but needs to be redone after every round.
Q. What does a class consist of?
A. At North Texas MMA, and most other gyms, classes are usually broken into two parts, instructional with drilling and active rolling (wrestling). For the first half hour, our instructor will demonstrate a new move or series of moves and we will drill that move with a partner. Some gyms have separate classes for new white belts but our gym prefers to keep everyone together so that white belts can learn from upper belts and upper belts experience teaching. If the move of the day is too complex, our instructor will teach a simpler move to the white belts and have an upper belt help them to drill it.
For a first class, one of the upper belt students will take the brand new person to the side to teach them the fundamental positions and movements of jiujitsu. The basic positions are side control, mount, back control, closed guard, and turtle. The basic movements are shrimping, shoulder walking, and break falling. There are tons of youtube videos on these and checking them out before your first class can help you get up to speed faster.
Typically, a new white belt will not roll for their first few classes and instead be instructed to watch others and try to observe the different positions and movements used in active rolling.
Q. With most of the other students being male, I am afraid I am going to get hurt rolling with bigger and stronger opponents. How do I keep myself safe?
A. For most of my jiujitsu career, I have frequently been the only woman in class. I received excellent advice when I first started that consisted of, don’t roll with other white belts and never feel bad about refusing a roll. I’m a glutton for punishment and didn’t follow this advice and as a result I have had a slew of injuries. Don’t be like me. I learned the hard way that if I want to train regularly, I have to choose my rolling partners with care. In general, most upper belts will be great partners. They are in control of their movements, know how to flow roll and go easy. They will ease up on their pressure so that they don’t crush you and give you room to work. There are sometimes a few exceptions to this rule and other members of the gym will know who the rough rolls are. Ask around. White belts tend to make up for lack of knowledge with pure and wild enthusiasm. Unfortunately, this makes them super clumsy and more likely to injure themselves and others. They also try to muscle everything which is more likely to get you injured. Avoid them.
If you start rolling with someone and feel like it was a mistake, stop. There’s no shame in stopping a roll when you feel like you may get injured. Most people will be understanding and if they aren’t, that’s on them. Better to mildly offend someone then to get injured. If you feel comfortable with the idea you can ask to drill for the remainder of the round instead of rolling.
Q. I had a traumatic experience in the past and I’m afraid I might have a PTSD episode on the mat. How do I handle that?
A. Not surprisingly, many women who have had violence committed against them turn to learning a martial art for self-defense. There are also many men who have had past trauma that may make jiujitsu psychologically difficult for them. Even people who have had no trauma can find jiujitsu overwhelming at times. Your instructor has probably seen many people freak out on the mats and will not be shocked if you have a PTSD episode. If you feel comfortable telling them, give them a heads up before class, so that they can be ready to help you out if you need it.
If you find yourself panicking, just stop what you’re doing. Don’t try to hide it and wait until you are full on freaking out. Excuse yourself, say it’s a little too much for you at the moment, and go to a locker room or bathroom and calm down. If you can go back out and resume class, great. If not, don’t let it keep you from coming back. You will not be the first or the last to panic and no one will think anything of it. Most people probably won’t even notice.
Q. Okay, so I know what to wear, what to do with my hair, how to select training partners, etc. but… I’m female and their male…Is it going to be weird?
A. Honestly? No. You hear things from people who don’t train like, “I would never want my wife rolling around with a bunch of men.” and it’s pretty obvious they have no idea what rolling is actually like. There is absolutely nothing romantic about a 200 pound man trying to bend your arm the wrong way while dripping his sweat on you. In jiujitsu you sweat, A LOT. You will be soaked with your sweat, their sweat, and everyone else’s sweat that you rolled with, it’s not really an environment conducive to thoughts of romance.
Thoughts of my gender and that of my opponents never cross my mind beyond the size and strength difference. One reason jiujitsu is so good for mental health, is because while rolling you quite simply cannot think of other things. It’s often compared to chess because it is a very thought-intensive sport. You have to be thinking about your position, your opponents position, what they are trying to go for, and how to block that and turn it in your favor. There is no room in your brain to be thinking about your partner as anything other than someone who is trying to tap you.
Q. Besides self-defense, what are the other benefits of jiujitsu?
A. Jiujitsu is good for you mentally, physically, and emotionally. Every training session is exercise for your brain, as much as your body. Every technique learned is a challenge to your brain, interpreting the move your instructor did to the movements you need to do to accomplish it, memorizing it, and figuring out where your going wrong. Rolling is a constant series of puzzles that need to be solved. Forget the brain teaser apps, jiujitsu will exercise your brain like nothing else.
Physically, it is an amazing workout, even more so for women. Most men when they train do not use their full strength but when everyone is bigger than you, you have to. Jiujitsu also isolates muscles. You will find muscles, you didn’t know you had, are sore after class. At forty, I am more limber and toned than I was at 20, all because of jiujitsu.
Emotional benefits are often overlooked but I think are one of the best things about jiujitsu. First of all, it is an intense physical activity that causes your body to release tons of endorphins. Because it is so mentally consuming, it is also meditative. If you have been ruminating about some problem in your life, you will find yourself completely forgetting about it during class. Then there’s the social aspect. When you have to trust other people to listen to your tap and not actually choke you, you can’t help but form friendships. Pair that trust with the natural high everyone is on from all the endorphins and you have a fun atmosphere filled with joking. You find yourself going to class for the camaraderie as much as for the jiujitsu.
—Jenica is a student and kids’ coach at North Texas Mixed Martial Arts. She also teaches the Women’s BJJ class at NTMA every Thursday at 11am. You can read more of her articles here and on her personal blog at JenicaandPatrick.com