Society has a way of telling women that we are dainty, weak and defenseless. But I believe that women have always been great warriors. From Tomoe Gozen, who was so skilled at the sword that she fought alongside her male Samurai brethren on the battlefield, to Queen Boudicca, who commanded 100,000 troops and pushed Emperor Nero out of Britania, warriors who just so happen to also be women are plentiful throughout history. Women have always been capable of being fighters.
So why, exactly, should women train how to fight? And why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu specifically? Any martial art will fan the flames of the warrior incubating inside of you, but BJJ has a special place for the modern woman. There are countless reasons BJJ will change your life for the better, but here are the top three.
1. You can learn to take down giants.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is absolutely how David could take on Goliath (and get him to frantically tap to a deeply sunk-in heel hook). Most women, on average, are far smaller than their male counterparts; so how does one shift this seeming “disadvantage” and use it as an advantage?
Where in most martial arts, the bigger opponent can usually knock you back through space and time, BJJ is specifically developed to compensate for discrepancies in size and weight. One of the martial art’s originators, Helio Gracie, was a sickly and small boy who adapted his fighting style to learn how to use leverage and wedges to his advantage. Jiu-Jitsu helps you appreciate what your body can do, instead of what it can’t do. You don’t have to be huge and strong to be good at Jiu-Jitsu. Through this martial art, you learn what great things your body is capable of.
Because of Helio Gracie, a key component of BJJ manifested. In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you don’t have to match another fighter’s weight in order to clobber them on the mats. Jiu-Jitsu is a highly cerebral sport, where one’s creativity and intellect play just as important of a role as their brute strength. Jiu-Jitsu has many ways to use your opponent’s power to their detriment.
Yes, in the beginning, you are just learning how to survive. But this “initiation” is important because those trials are where you learn grit and determination. Once you learn the leverage points and how to manipulate your opponent’s body to make them weaker, Jiu-Jitsu becomes an entertaining chess battle of how you can adapt your specific body type to each situation.
Some people have shorter legs, making armbars tighter and harder to break out of. Others have longer legs, making triangles easier to sink. In Jiu-Jitsu, each body type comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and it is up to the student to adapt the martial art to their own body in a creative manner. There are positions in Jiu-Jitsu, like taking the back and leg entanglements, which are considered “great equalizers” in regards to size disadvantages. BJJ is the sport where you’ll see a 140-pound woman throw a 200-pound man to the ground because she knows exactly where his body is weakest. Once you feel the effectiveness first hand, you’ll be hooked.
Once you learn how to submit opponents who are 40, 50, 60 pounds heavier than you, the advantages of BJJ really make themselves clear. Jiu-Jitsu teaches you how to break someone’s arm when you are seemingly in a disadvantaged position; like on your back, or with them stacked between your legs. These are the positions that women who are attacked are most afraid of finding themselves in. Because of Jiu-Jitsu, these positions become your advantage; your weapon. Being pinned down and dragged away are notoriously two of the biggest fears women have during an assault, and Jiu-Jitsu teaches you exactly how to escape these positions. It is, by far, the most effective martial art for a woman to know to defend herself from a bigger, stronger assailant.
While you learn how to defend yourself, flexibility, strength, and coordination are enormous byproducts of Jiu Jitsu. You’ll find yourself developing strength rapidly and even figuring out various configurations that make your body stronger than it actually is. You’ll gain coordination with muscles you forgot even existed as your body is moved and contorted into strange but effective ways. Your flexibility grows exponentially as you move into these contortions. Overall, BJJ makes your whole body stronger and more capable. What used to be an inflexible, stiff and crowded physique becomes a powerful, confident body that moves like water.
2. You’ll do battle with fear and anxiety… and win.
After continuously putting yourself in situations where you are in disadvantaged positions, and not only finding your way out of them, but using them to take down and strangle your opponent, confidence begins to grow. Every woman I see step onto those mats, steps off of them with her head held a little higher. When you are taught day in and day out that you should live in constant fear because of your “physical disadvantages,” Jiu-Jitsu teaches you that you are strong and capable.
When you know you can defend yourself, you can walk through life without fear clouding your every move. BJJ teaches you how to keep calm under pressure. That there is always a way out and you can find it with patience and mental fortitude. This skill can be transferred to literally every other situation in your life. From work to social struggles, keeping your cool and determination under pressure will always give you the advantage. How could an interview or disagreement with a friend dishevel you when you’ve been pinned under a 200-pound trained purple belt and escaped? Jiu-Jitsu teaches you to believe in yourself.
As a person who has dealt with anxiety my entire life, I found solace in Jiu-Jitsu. When I can practice my worst fears and learn how to stay calm enough to escape them, my anxiety begins to dwindle. I learn that each situation in the real world is exactly how we practice it on the mats. BJJ allows you to calmly assess situations, instead of letting the onslaught of potential future disasters take the forefront. It teaches you to live in the moment so that you can not only survive the moment but dominate it.
Jiu-Jitsu also strengthens your problem-solving abilities. When you are constantly put into situations where you have to think 2, 3, 4 steps ahead of your opponent, your mental makeup begins to shift. You’re not paralyzed with dread because of a powerful move made by your opponent, in any arena of life. Instead, you are already thinking of how you can use this move to your advantage.
The fact that you exert a lot of energy in Jiu-Jitsu comes with its advantages as well. This exhaustion allows your body to relax, and it also teaches your body how to move and be effective in a state of exhaustion. The feeling of a hard day’s work and your ability to get through it is another huge confidence booster. Jiu-Jitsu helps you relieve stress from your day; from your life. You let it all out on the mats, and you walk off of them with a lighter heart.
Jiu-Jitsu teaches you that if you don’t give up, you will grow stronger. Things begin to click. What you thought was a situation you could never get out of, shows its true colors. When you are feeling like you are trapped in life, Jiu-Jitsu teaches you how to find the open window. The obstacle becomes the way, and you learn that the lies you tell yourself can be smashed time and time again. Fear is no match for Jiu-Jitsu.
3. Get ready to meet your new family.
You’ll love your teammates more than life itself; and yep, that includes the men. One of the greatest things I learned in Jiu-Jitsu is how to have healthier relationships with my male counterparts. I learned that they will be there for me, they will teach me exactly how to clobber a guy who is trying to dominate me, they cheer me on in my victories and cheer me up after my defeats.
The bonds that I have developed with my male teammates really helped me heal a lot of trauma from my past. I believe it’s also eye-opening for the men to get to see women actively work through their trauma and anxiety. When 1 out of 3 women has experienced physical or sexual assault in their lifetime, learning to overcome these experiences is tremendously powerful. Men getting to see this first hand can really shift a lot of perceptions.
The bonds I’ve created with my female counterparts run just as strong. We all know first hand why we are all here; whether it’s to get stronger, relieve stress, or overcome our traumas and learn how to fight back. When you are a group of women in a male-dominated sport, you absolutely learn that it’s not a competition. You are there to help each other up, to help each other get stronger, to help each other succeed. You get to share special knowledge and techniques that you can’t get from the men in your life; you are sisters struggling together to learn how to rise above that struggle.
Just as it is an advantage for adults to practice Jiu-Jitsu, children have a lot to learn from the sport as well. If you are a mother, having your kids watch how strong and capable you are and how you won’t flinch at a challenge is incredibly empowering for them. Even if you don’t have your own children, the kids you’ll see in the academy watching you from the sidelines are more inspired than you could believe.
As adults, we don’t get very many opportunities to play anymore. We also don’t get very many opportunities to make new and lasting friendships. Jiu-Jitsu provides all of that. Whether it’s the brotherhood of the boys who would fight anyone for you or the sisterhood of women who help you up whenever you’re down, the strength you find in a Jiu-Jitsu community is like no other. Not to mention that people of all walks of life do Jiu-Jitsu! Do you need a lawyer? A respiratory doctor? How about a plumber? A chef to help you learn how to cook the perfect brisket? You’ll find them in your Jiu-Jitsu community. The diversity of people in this sport is like no other. And once we all put on our gis, we are all the same. We are all a warrior family.
So, what do you say? Want to give it a shot?