Just a Girl: Tips for Training in a Male Dominated Academy

By Christal Montoya

Over the past couple of years there seems to have been an uptick in the number of women taking up and competing in Jiu Jitsu. This year alone saw the inclusion of additional master’s divisions for women competing in IBJJF tournaments and tournament brackets seem to have more female competitors so that there is a full podium. More women in the sport also means that there are schools with dedicated and robust women’s only programs. These programs are great because they provide female practitioners with an entry into training Jiu Jitsu that on the surface may appear less intimidating than a co-ed class. This isn’t to say that a women’s only class can’t be hard or challenging; this is far from the truth, but they are a valuable resource for someone that wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable or confident in a co-ed class. Even though there have always been female practitioners and there are women’s only programs, the odds of being a woman that wants to pursue Jiu Jitsu and ending up in a gym that doesn’t have a strong female presence is very likely. So what happens when you find yourself one of a handful of women or the lone woman in your gym? How do you survive training with a bunch of drilling partners that are most likely going to be bigger, heavier, and stronger than you?

Play to your strengths: Just because you may be smaller and not as physically strong as your training partner, it doesn’t mean that you are not as skilled or physically capable. You are simply working with a different set of tools. Since the majority of your training partners are more often than not going to be stronger than you, the chances of you out- muscling them aren’t as likely. In general, rather than relying on strength as a tool you will have to focus more on technique. One comment that I run into on a fairly consistent basis from men about women when it comes to grappling is that women have a tendency towards being very technical since they sometimes aren’t physically as strong or big as their opponents.

Be Careful: As mentioned previously in “How Do You Choose the Right Training Partners,” there are several qualities that make a good or bad training partner. One important point brought up in that article is that, “Good partners should know how to hit an appropriate intensity. Pick a partner that can match your intensity.” I bring this up because every now and then you’ll run into someone that for whatever reason cannot “lose to a girl”. This usually happens with guys that are new to Jiu Jitsu and often turns into a round where this guy is doing everything in his power to keep the upper hand in the match, which is often not productive for you and can result in unnecessary injury. You don’t have to roll with everyone and it’s important to keep this in mind. Conversely, you also want to work with partners that are making you work and presenting a challenge and not going easy on you because you are a girl.

Outside Resources: If you ever find yourself needing a break from rolling with all males, there are always opportunities available for you to roll with other women. Be on the lookout for events such as Girls in Gis, women’s only seminars, or women’s only competition classes. There are tons of benefits to training with all or mostly men but I also think it’s important to train with other women because the pace and the intensity are different. You have to approach your game from a different place since they’re just as technical as you!

Lastly, have fun and keep an open mind. Jiu Jitsu is a study in constantly learning and adapting to your environment. If you find yourself training with mostly guys, you’ll adapt and modify your game to the challenges that this situation presents. Are you one of the only women in your gym? What are your tips for surviving?