Jiu Jiu’s note: This week I have a guest writer, an anonymous blue belt gal who has been doing jiu jitsu for a span of time. She contacted me after I ran my gender issue blog posts, I asked if she would share her story with my readers.
I’m not going to lie… jiujitsu is hard. It’s hard for all white belts (I’m fairly sure it’s still hard for black belts) but it’s even harder for a girl. This is not me complaining, this is just me telling my story with all the facts that I can accurately remember. But I want people to know that being a girl in this sport is HARD.
I started my jiujitsu journey with a female friend. She did all of maybe 3 classes and decided that it was too “intimate” and that she didn’t feel comfortable. That left me stranded in an academy full of all guys. I don’t think I showed up for a week or two after that because I didn’t know how to face that environment. Luckily, I decided in my own mind that I had to give it a fair chance. In that first week I could count on one hand the number of people who would train with me… it was in fact 2 people. One of them was a teenager who our instructor paired me up with (since we were much more size comparable) and the other was a friend from school. It was like that for a while. A long while. My instructor had to keep pairing me up with people for drilling every single time.
Eventually the teens accepted me into their group (even though I was at least 8 years older than them), and I finally began to have consistent training partners and even got to roll during open mat a few times. At about 3 months I competed in my first tournament. That helped change some things. After that there were 2 brown belts who for whatever reason decided I was worth helping. To this day, I know that the only reason I stuck it out was because at that moment I finally felt like someone cared whether I succeeded or not. At around month 5 I began to win over some more of the guys because no matter what, I kept showing up. Finally blue belts and purple belts would train with me, but not all of them. At about 7 months I signed up for my first IBJJF tournament, and that’s when everything changed. People wanted to help me do my best and 90% of the guys were more than willing to help me. Of course, my favorite group was still the teens. After the IBJJF tournament I came back and the other 10% was converted. I now know that I can train with whoever I want at the academy. Did you read that? It took a good 9 months until I felt truly comfortable and accepted by everyone.It doesn’t happen overnight.
Now, I know that most white belts go down the same path. Heck, in some ways I was lucky because most upper belts don’t even learn your name until you’re a blue belt but they all knew mine as a white belt. But here’s where it’s different… most white belts bond with the other white belts and therefore have lots of training partners. For several reasons (most importantly not getting hurt) I was only allowed to train with the teens and the upper belts. So you’ve knocked out the white belt population and left me with upper belts who, in total fairness, should not have to train with a white belt all the time. I get it, I totally do. It was just a long hard road.
There were so many times when I wanted to quit, and that’s the nature of this sport. Until you gain the respect and the true aspect of family, it can be quite alienating. You can feel totally worthless, terrible, and like a waste of space on the mat. What’s important is that you remember THAT IS NOT TRUE. Every single person started where you’re starting. Every single person feels that way at some point. A black belt wasn’t born a black belt, they were once a white belt stumbling through the moves and trying to fit in. Luckily, I had people who believed in me very early on and pushed me to be better. They will never ever know how invaluable that was to me. I was struggling with school and struggling in the academy, and they were able to make me feel valued and give me hope for my future. I will never forget the first time I was told “you have so much potential”. It was in that moment that I realized one day all the pain, all the sadness, and all of the flailing around trying to find my own rhythm will be worth it.
Every day on the mats I know I have so much more to work on and so much more to become better at. But knowing that there’s hope and that there are people who really believe in me, that’s by far one of the greatest things one can have in life. Jiujitsu has given me hope when I felt hopeless and given me a family I know I can count on to always have my back. So yes, it’s hard. And yes, it’s hard being the only girl. But I would never trade it for anything. BJJ really has saved my life. I do not know how I would have made it through this year of school without it – there were days I honestly felt like quitting. But I knew I had it inside of me to keep fighting, because I was able to prove that to myself every day on the mats. I will one day earn my black belt and I will one day compete at Worlds, and every single accomplishment between now and then is because I NEVER QUIT.
So to every white belt, and to every girl starting out in this wonderful sport, please believe me when I say IT GETS BETTER. It really does. And one day in the future you will never have to worry about who’s going to partner with you during drilling or if anyone will do open mat with you. It takes a while, but the family that you gain and the knowledge in this sport are invaluable. So in the beginning, cry if you need to (off the mats if you can) or eat a pint of ice cream after a terrible class but never stop going.