Training in Brazilian jiu jitsu is one of the most rewarding activities I’ve ever done in my life. It has taken me out of my comfort zones and into a lot of different areas. I have become certified in mobility training with RAD Roller, I became a writer for Breaking Muscle, I am a teacher in Titans MMA’s women only and beginner classes, I learned how to build my own website, I traveled to other countries to compete and I made friends I know I will have for the rest of my life.
Starting Brazilian jiu jitsu is tough for anyone but if you’re a woman over thirty, it may be a little more challenging for a few reasons. A lot of our teammates are young men, we are in the minority or sometimes the only female on the mats and we’re probably the physically weakest person there, too.
I started training BJJ when I was thirty-two. After ten years of training, and I’ve learned a few things that may be of use to you.
Take Care of Your Body
Get lots of sleep and always get a good warm up. If you get to class early, start warming up, don’t just sit there watching. When people begin training any new sport, their bodies are unaccustomed to the new movements and are more likely to suffer injury. When you are underslept your reflexes are slower, your cardiovascular system isn’t as effective and your balance isn’t optimal.
When your body is “cold”, your tissues are stiffer and may more easily be stretched past their limits. Injuries in jiu jitsu can come from not rolling very often and then going in full blast, not allowing yourself to recover from your last training session by getting lots of rest and good nutrition and not ensuring that you are a supple leopard. Getting a good night of sleep will also help you to learn your new sport more efficiently.
Watch this podcast. I guarantee that once you do, you will schedule eight hours of sleep per night.
Progress at Your Own Pace
Don’t compare yourself to your teammates. When you are training with people who are bigger and stronger, it will be harder for you to pull off new techniques. This is why it is smart to attend women’s classes, if possible. It will allow you to practice on people your own size and strength and then, once learned, you can more easily pull off the techniques on larger, more skilled opponents.
Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today. Your jiu jitsu is for you and only you so don’t feel bad about it if you feel you aren’t meeting perceived expectations.
Sadie Hawkins Mat
Ask people to roll. It is natural for people to prefer to be partners with their peers; people who are more like them or even just people they already know. They have more in common and they bond more easily.
If you’re different than your teammates you may find that you are not sought out as a training partner as a first choice. Your new teammates may be shy or they may just find it easier to ask someone they are good friends with. Do not take it personally if you find yourself as the “last woman standing” more often than you’d like. Always be prepared to ask someone to roll or if someone says they already have a partner to ask them to roll the next one.
Most training partners will be considerate when rolling so as not to crush or manhandle you but if you find that someone is too rough, mention to him in a kind way that you felt overwhelmed. If that doesn’t work, just say no if he asks to roll again in the future.
Communicate with Your Peers
There are some really supportive Facebook groups for women in the Brazilian jiu jitsu community. Check out the Women’s Grappling Network and Australian Girls in Gi. In these groups there are no stupid questions and they discuss topics from training on your period to what gi is best for your body type.
Socializing with Teammates
As I mentioned, you will make friends at BJJ that can last a lifetime but as a mature woman, it might be best to approach training in the same way you would approach working in a professional setting.
New women on the mats can get a lot of attention so it is wise to proceed with caution. Romantic or sexual relationships with your teammates may develop, of course, and that can be wonderful. Worst case scenario is you have a messy breakup and have to deal with heartache and everyone knowing about it.
Overall, you have may have to consider your motivation for being at the club in the first place. If it’s to meet men, work your way through the whole club if you want. If it’s to learn BJJ, try to behave in a way that will allow you to keep your dignity in tact. As Miranda Lambert says, “Hide your crazy and start acting like a lady.”
If you make a mistake, don’t be too hard on yourself. It happens to the best of us.
Don’t underestimate your teammates. It’s funny how when we get older we think we are wiser but I am always impressed at the maturity and intelligence of the young guys on my team. Fourteen-year-olds who are so polite and kind, twenty-year-olds who are so skilled and able to teach me details of techniques that I didn’t catch. And the fifty-year-old masters who have been through the trenches and can help you navigate through it all. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
Brazilian jiu jitsu is a collaborative effort and it’s an environment where everyone is equal. The CEO and the dishwasher are equal as they slap hands at the beginning of a roll, the military officer suffering with PTSD and the recovering addict help each other calm the inner demons as they express their aggression in a positive productive way, the cheerleader is cheered on by the book worm with the skinny arms and vicious heel hook.
The jiu jitsu community is beautiful in its complexity and there is no place I’d rather be. We are more the same than we are different so don’t assume when you are paired up with someone that you will have nothing in common.
Black Belts are not Gods
When you begin training BJJ, you will be amazed at the things the higher belts can do but I will let you in on a little secret: if you work hard, you can do it too. They are not special, they just didn’t quit. And just because they are good at jiu jitsu doesn’t mean they are good at everything in life.
There is a false hierarchy in BJJ clubs that people new to the sport can buy into. It’s not that black belts expect awe from white belts, it just happens that way sometimes. I recommend that you treat everyone in BJJ, from white to black belt, with the same level of respect. No one is better than you are as a human being and you are no better than anyone else. Proceed accordingly.
Best of luck as you take the first steps onto the mats. It will not be easy but as I always say, you can start now and in ten years you might be a black belt. If after those ten years you quit and get fat, you will always be a black belt. If you quit step aerobics after ten years and get fat, you will just be a fatass.
If you’ve read this article and you’re thinking to yourself, “uh, I just want to know where to buy a gi.” then feel free to read my article, Information Resources for New BJJ Students.