I was talking to my bestie on the phone and casually mentioned that my first BJJ class was coming up the next week.
“I’m sorry, did you say Jiu Jitsu?” she asked. Yep. “Isn’t that like wrestling? You signed up for wrestling?” Well, it’s kinda like wrestling I guess, I replied. Insert long pregnant pause…
“You signed up for a class that involves rolling around on the ground with a bunch of sweaty guys that you don’t know??” You’re making it sound weird, Megan. “That’s because it is weird. You don’t like to touch people you DO know, let alone a bunch of guys you DON’T know.” That was a fair statement. I am a “no-touchy” type of person. She was bringing up a good point. How weird was this going to be? I am frequently the only female in class. Which means I drill and roll with the guys. The first few classes were low-key. Professor Amir would assign a classmate to work with me during the drilling portion and then assign other classmates to cycle through the few 5-minute rolls during the last portion of class.
Zero pressure. There’s a working mindset while drilling and rolling- no need for awkward chit chat and no need to feel out a common interest or talking point. We’re there to work; we’re there to learn. Being a female in class seemed to be no different than being a male. Then it happened. The directive, “partner-up everybody”, was called out, but a follow-up directive on who I was to be partnered with did not happen. My eyes darted around the room, silently pleading for someone to come to my rescue. Where are you Amir?
It dawned on me that I was going to have to find my own partner- I was being kicked out of the nest, so to speak. Time to fly on my own. I was familiar with most of my classmates on a very limited basis but couldn’t remember any of their names. Anxiously I watched as pairs of classmates broke off towards different spaces on the mat and my nearly forgotten childhood memories bubbled to the surface- me on the elementary playground awkwardly standing in a line waiting to get picked for a kickball team. I was almost always picked last by the boy captains. It was frustrating because being picked for kickball had almost nothing to do with your skill and mostly everything to do with your level of popularity.
So there I was, 30 years later, standing by myself again wondering how this was going to play out. I had neither skill, nor popularity this time around. There was only one guy left and I nervously made eye contact and shrugged while hesitantly walking over to his space as if to say, “Sorry man, I guess you drew the short straw today”, while also wondering if he was dreading rolling with the new girl. My thoughts shifted from, “will it be weird for me”, to something potentially worse- “is it weird for them”? My trepidation crept up a notch with every passing buzzer signaling the end of a roll and the need to find a new, willing partner.
The nagging feeling of being an inconvenience to the rest of the class grew- was I holding them back? Were they struggling to improve their own skills when paired with someone smaller, weaker and whose inexperience made it more like wrestling with an unskilled octopus? (That’s me. I’m the octopus. Unpredictable, with arms and legs flailing around.) Maybe my girl-ness was a factor and it would get more and more difficult to train. Ladies. I can tell you now, month’s later that it’s NOT weird (at least I don’t think so, but possibly weird when really long pieces of my hair are stuck to the back of my partner’s neck or arms…..do I pull it off? Pretend it’s not there? I’m not really sure, so I’m currently just letting that one sort itself out.) It did take some time. But with time, your self-confidence grows and friendships evolve. Seeking out a partner becomes no big deal- “hey, you wanna roll?” Asking for training advice is no big deal- “How do I keep getting stuck with you in high mount?” Telling the new white belt, “Hey bro. Back it down a little.” is no big deal. I still feel like an octopus sometimes. But I’m a smarter and more skilled octopus now (also, a friendlier, more smiley octopus.)
I look forward to getting to class a little early for the pre-training chit chat on the mat and staying a little later to go over additional skills and catch up on life.
Training BJJ is a journey and one that is as much mental as it is physical. Take the chance. Believe in yourself; embrace the uncomfortable. Each student’s journey is unique and not to be compared to anyone else. Lightning Kicks promotes an inclusive culture of respectful growth and learning opportunities and includes a space for women. Sign up for a class. You won’t regret it. I look forward to seeing you there.