While women and men are definitely equal, we are different, and nothing can bring that home more than a combat sport like Brazilian Jiujitsu (BJJ). That doesn’t mean women in the sport can’t kick butt, we can and we do, but especially when starting out, men have an advantage in weight and muscle. The result is that if we women are going to participate in a male-dominated sport there are some things we need to keep in mind in order to avoid injury and to perfect our skills.
One of the biggest hurdles is size. If a huge 300-pound dude lays on little 115lb (52kg) me, I’m going to feel crushed no matter how good my jits skills. So lesson number one is don’t let a 300lb dude lay on you. When starting out, the only way to avoid this is to either not roll (wrestle) with the big guys or, only roll with the ones who let you play top-game. As you get better you will be able to better avoid getting stuck on bottom. It is always a possibility though so pick your partners with care. Only roll with people who you know will take care and not crush you.
One gender difference that’s hard to get around is body fat percentage. A female athlete will have 14-20% of her body made of fat while a male athlete will only have 6-13% body fat. What this means is pound for pound, a man will have more muscle than a woman. Even if you get to the very bottom of the female range you probably won’t be rolling with many men your weight so they will still out muscle you.
What this means with jiujitsu is you have to learn to avoid situations where men can use their muscle against you and instead learn to use their muscle against them. Use their power and momentum against them. If they jerk you to them, use the momentum to get yourself into a good position. Get good at sweeps by learning to recognize when their weight is unbalanced and taking them in that direction. This will help you to not get stuck on the bottom. Don’t try to resist their movements and power plays, that’s a recipe for injury, instead redirect them. Finally, tap early. If they have a submission locked in don’t wait until they crank it and hurt you.
Even rolling with the right people you want to keep their weight off of you as much as possible. Ideally, you want to fight to stay on top. If you do end up on bottom, your job is to always get a leg in between you and your sparring partner. As the smaller person, you will probably have increased speed, mobility, and flexibility on your side. Use that speed to shrimp, face your partner, get at least a knee between you, and then work yourself into closed guard. Then pay attention to their position and look for them to give you an opening to sweep or submit. If you can find someone to drill with, have them try to pass your guard over and over, while you use your legs to stop them. You won’t have injuries, like bruised ribs, if they can’t get past your legs. If all else fails and you feel you are having the breath crushed out of you, lift your hips off the mat. That will make space for your ribs to expand behind you and let you breathe easily while you wait for your opponent to give you an opportunity to escape.
A general rule of thumb is white belt women should not roll with white belt men. We white belts are spazzy and tend to leave limbs in vulnerable positions. A bigger, stronger white belt, with a much smaller one, is a recipe for injury. Upper belts have learned to control their movements. They know how to maintain their balance and not slam you. They also don’t crank submissions in the excitement of actually getting one. The higher the belt, typically the more control they will have. There are exceptions to this rule though so ask around your gym who the beasts are and then avoid them.
I hope these tips will help you to avoid injury and discover a love for BJJ. Jiujitsu is an awesome sport with numerous benefits from physical fitness to empowering self-defense skills. As a woman, the freedom of knowing I can defend myself is very freeing and something I wish all woman could feel.