Since starting jiu jitsu, between forums, this blog, and emails, I’ve received several messages that told me to “deal with it” with varying degrees of kindness. Sometimes it’s rudely in response to discussions about male privilege in BJJ, sometimes it’s about gendered comments, sometimes it’s kindly in response to discussions about what women should or shouldn’t wear. On some level, there’s a huge amount of uncomfortable things you just have to get used to if you’re going to do BJJ. Off the top of my head, here are a few:

  • sweat
  • other people’s sweat
  • close contact with others
  • having a heavier person on top of you
  • having people try to choke you
  • having people perform arm and shoulder locks on you
  • being in positions that are most easily described using sexual terminology
  • mixed gendered training

Honestly, these are aspects of BJJ that if you cannot deal with on any level, it really isn’t the right sport for you. If you say “I’m uncomfortable touching other people” I don’t know what to say other than “Maybe try yoga?” Like wine or beer, BJJ is something that may initially seem gross or unpalatable, but then you get used to it. I think a lot of the discussion about Ab Man and Cleavage Gal fall under this category – you need to learn to deal with it. And that’s okay.

It will be okay!

It will be okay!

When I started, there was a move that was way too uncomfortable for me to practice. It was my first week. It involved pulling open the gi top, stuffing it in the armpits, and getting to mount. I had an over the top emotional reaction to it – it felt a lot like a simulated sexual attack. I told my partner “I’m sorry, I can’t do this” and sat out of that particular move. If we were to do that now, I would think nothing of it – it’s just par for the course. It was something I needed time to adjust to. Our feelings and reactions are valid, but it’s also possible that they’re precisely that – reactions, and something that we will learn to control.

Other aspects, however, fall under a different category. They’re often related to sexism and gender issues, but other things as well. I don’t think anyone, male or female, should have to “get used to” things like:

  • gendered insults
  • a sexually charged atmosphere
  • retaliation for perceived slights
  • poor hygiene
  • dismissing your ideas/questions because of looks/character/self-esteem
  • comments about your attractiveness
  • suggestive comments
  • cultish behaviors

I think the one that bothers me the most is when Internet Dude calls BJJ “a man’s sport” and acts as though women have somehow spoiled things for him, and that somehow this sport belongs to him and I should shut up because dang it all – I should be grateful I’m allowed to train at all. Hyperbole! To put it less sarcastically, “This is a man’s sport – you have to expect certain behaviors.” My way of thinking is that it’s a sport, belonging to neither gender.

Jiu Jiu’s Question: What do new folks need to learn to be comfortable with, and what should be addressed? In other words, when is it Your Personal Problem vs A Larger Issue?