Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Why do the ladies get their own sub only tournament?

This was asked by a facebook friend of mine today, after this past weekends mat militia women's sub only event. 

In this case, it was because they had a guys version a few months ago and wanted to give the ladies a chance to showcase their skills as well.    It was free to compete in, and they collected donations to support a breast cancer charity.  All very cool and I am sad that I missed it. 

But, the question still stands and has been talked about by many.  Why do we need / want ladies only camps, classes, tournament and what not?

There are many many reasons, and they don't all apply to everyone and I doubt every reasons would apply to a single person, but it all comes down to community and not being an outsider.

Have you ever walked Into a  room and been the only young person? Old person? Have you ever taken a course and upon surveying the participants felt completely out of place?  Do you have a hobby that society or your friends and or family think first suit you?  Do you wish you had friends you could talk to about your favourite things but can't because none of them have a clue?  If you answer yes to any of these, then you have a slight idea what its like being a lady in the Bjj world. 

It's not abnormal for their to be zero or one girl in a typical class at moat schools. There are some that have more, and because they have more, they attract more, but that is far from the norm.
It's not abnormal for womens divisions in tournaments to have less weight classes(if any) and less belt division. But, even with these accommodations, empty divisions and combined divisions that leave huge disparities in size and skill level. 

Let's be honest when practicing Bjj, we get close, far closer then most people are comfortable with.  It's weird, its awkward at first, and as they say in all the memes "its only gay if you make eye contact".  Shit like that does NOT inspire anyone to try jiu jitsu, and most certainly not women!  Comments like "that's what I came here to see" when a fighter almost has a wardrobe malfunction are equally damning to the sport and don't really make us girls comfortable training or competing with or around guys.  

I've been lucky in my martial arts career, I started judo young before I even thought about how awkward some positions are, so it was normal and not weird for me from day one. Adults coming to the sport don't have that luxury.   I've also trained at schools that always respected me and didn't make me feel like an outsider.   That being said, I did choose to not train at a club because I was told "the guys wouldn't be comfortable with me in the class and that I should try cardio kickboxing". That was a few years ago, the club now has ladies in their classes, and will remain unnamed.

I've also been lucky because I am not an average build, I'm tall, and not exactly built like a model. Years of working with my dad in the tire business, martial arts, and Dutch genetics have made me not exactly petite.  So I don't have the troubles a lot of smaller more petite women do.   That being said, I'm still female, and. While I am not petite, I don't have a guys body either and still struggle with being less strong and having the lovely issues that come with the hormone roller-coaster that is our lives.  (water retention, mood swings, joint issues, ect, higher body fat ext). 

So you say, "really small, and really big guys have to deal with some of these problems to"!  It's true, and I feel bad for them sometimes, but the fact of the matter is, there are minimum 3 more weight classes for guys, and there are also masters and sometime senior divisions and most tournaments.   If. Guy had no one in their division at a small tournament or they are on the extreme ends or in an alder weight class, they will, almost Guaranteed have to chance to move down to adult or up one weight class.  For us, we don't have different age categories, and chances are, there is no one up a weight class, or two, or you are already in the top weight class, which is 50 lbs lighter then the guys.

Here in Ontario, tournament promoters are pretty good about supporting women in the sport.   A lot give us discount registration fees, which some of my male counter parts complain about.  But, as I have explained it to them. With the average division size for women sitting at 1 or 2, of 3 if you are lucky, and the average male division at somewhere between 8 and 16,  if they win, they get 3-5 fights, if we win, we get 1 or 2.  So, it's fair that we pay less right?  Also, many tournament give out prizes for absolutes or specific divisions,  it used to be the norm that the guys prizes would far far far outnumber the ladies, if there was prizes for the ladies at all.  This is also improving greatly, with the Ontario Open giving almost 1/2 to the ladies, and grappling industries committing to always having at least 1 trip for the ladies.  

I've had conversations with masters guys athletes, with them complaining and stating that they should have trip prizes or other prizes for their divisions to, because there are more of them then their are women.  My argument was, and still is,  they have the OPTION to compete in the old guy division, we don't have the option to compete with the guys (not normally anyway, grappling industries has allowed it, in some cases, when there was 0 competition available).  So, they choose to be in the smaller divisions, so I feel like they aren't actually being discriminated against.  That being said, saying the women are discriminated against is not really true either.  It's business plain and simple.  Should there be big trips for divisions/absolutes that have 1 or two competitors in them?  Hardly seems fair to the promoter!  It's not really the promoters fault there is no competition, and it's not the fault of the athletes that did show up either.

It's tricky to balance, and even talk about without someone getting offended.  I think it's totally fair that there are LESS trips/prizes for women, but we should get the chance to compete for a trip if our male counterparts get the chance.  What I mean by that is:  if there is a white belt guys, blue belt guys, purple+ guys, and blue and up girls trip, then the while and blue belt ladies should either have a trip for themselves as well, OR the opportunity to compete up in the division that does have a trip.  Sure, they probably won't win it,  but then, neither do all but 1 of the guys in their respective divisions.  It isn't fair to the promoter to expect them to have exactly equal prizes when the competitor pools are so insanely different in size.

So, why do we need our own classes/camps/events?  So we can complain to each other about all this.   So we can work together to try to fix all this, and so we can roll with some one who isn't either afraid to hurt us or trying to fix their ego by simply overpowering us. and so we don't always have to roll with smelly boys who have cooties. haha.  You think I am joking, but seriously,  boys are smelly.  But then, sometimes girls are to.  PSA to everyone, wash yourself, wash your gi.

For competitions, we need /like our own events because if we have our own events, we can plan them and work together to all get to them.   It's nice to have our own thing.  Also, because we are excluded from events sometimes. Like the gracie nationals, the 32 MAN showdown, and other things.  Most tournaments do have divisions for us, but they tend to be combined weight/belt classes with less prizes and whatnot, which, in most cases I am fine with. But I'm not fine with events that disclude us completely and that is why we "NEED" to have our own sub only event Kofi :P

This blog post really is all over the place isn't it?  Whatever, this is how my trains of thought work.  I am not your typical woe is me, poor me, I am a girl in a boys world type person. I've been lucky with who i've trained with, and the community around me.  I've got a great gi sponsor who supports me, even though I don't give him nearly as much exposure as the guys do(smaller divisions, lack of divisions = mess mat time = less advertising time). I'm also sponsored by grappling industries, who really are trying hard to help the women in the sport.  By being sponsored by them, I compete at their events for free.  This generally means, that any other girls who show up, have someone to fight. I think doing things like this really helps build the sport.  I know a lot of people don't want to register and waste their time/money when they have no one to compete with.  (of course, I am on the side line with this useless shoulder injury, so the theory isn't quite in practice at this moment).

So, ummm, yea.  Girls only events are cool. I wish we had more of them.  Co-ed events are even better.  Guys only events already exist and on one even blinks or notices.

If you are a member of the female half of the population, there are a bunch of facebook groups where there are open mats organized and stuff.  Ontario has one, Boston has one, There is the Women's Grappling Network,  the Grappling Camp group, and I am sure there are many more.  If you are looking for opportunities to roll and train with women they are out there!!


  1. Kevin McGivern11 July 2013 at 10:30

    Hi Patricia,

    I'm the father of two girl who practice BJJ. Like yourself, good athletes, strong competitors, but still "girls in a boys world"
    So your issues resonate, I'm sure with them, but also with me, as a Dad.

    Your ideas on fb groups, open mats etc are good. But some of the issues you describe are fundamental.

    I don't really know any panaceas but it does seem to me that the one thing we can do to address the needs of such girls is to look beyond the superficialities of where a girls train to the actual character and attributes of the folk who set the tone at the club.

    In our case we choose carefully on the basis that the tone is set from the top! So we looked for owners/instructors who weren't merely perfunctory or who simply went through the motions.

    Its like the workplace. There can be "rules and regulations" which people nominally adhere too. And yet, the workplace can be uncomfortable.

    In the typical club simply acknowledging that "girls are different" is good, but only a first step

    So what is needed from your top instructors is a more genuinely proactive responsiveness and copacetic attitude combined with the basic intelligence about differences in physiology and the differences in the dynamics of communication. But you want your coaches and the environment they create to be properly challenging also, while recognising these differences.

    A tall enough order but far from impossible.

    My suggestion is that if any female BJJ practitioner is getting less than that in their club , then they should take time and look around critically, bearing in mind the attributes you are looking for as. Focus on those things first.

    Good luck

    1. Thanks for the great insight Kevin! You raise some very excellent points.