Dear BJJ Girl Emma,
I know your pain. I’ve felt it time and time again. Of course, I’ve felt all your pain, but that ankle injury you just got in your 3rd Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class isn’t going to keep you down. Do you know why? Because you remembered why you started. You remembered why you needed to prove to yourself that you could accomplish any task that you set out for yourself. With every ache that you got when you took a step, you remembered the aches and pains of the alternative: failure. Failure, again. From a chain of failures that you led you to your lowest of lows, the strangest thing happened: you succeeded.
I just want you to know that. Success doesn’t feel like you think it should. You expect fanfare and confetti, and someone holding a briefcase full of money, followed by a drive off into the sunset. The cold hard truth is that you don’t recognize success until it has eased its way into your life. It takes time to notice, and even more time to grow, but it’s there. Don’t doubt the little steps you take every day, and don’t spite the even smaller steps you sometimes take backward in order to take leaps in the right direction. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the balance that will guide you through the storm. It just requires putting on your Gi everyday and getting to class. Oh, and those days that you don’t feel like going are truly the most important. It’s when you are feeling your darkest that you need to train the most. I promise that the willpower to make it to training consistently will pay off in multitudes.
It’s going to take some progression. Good schools aren’t easy to find, and being a woman looking to participate in a full contact sport, dominated by men, is a mountain to climb itself. Just don’t expect every teacher to be Mr. Perfect-BJJ-Instructor. You’ll meet ones that will change your life for the better, and pour knowledge into your training that could never have come without them. There will also be ones that you would prefer not to be left alone with after a night-time class; so keep your eyes open, girl!
It’s All About Family
Family is a long story, and you know we don’t like to talk about it. It’s taken a long time, but I’ve finally realized that family isn’t something that is determined by blood. A team of grapplers, wrestlers and fighters can bring you all the happiness and joy of a family. Something you never even considered will come along and change your life for the better. Any missing space you once felt will be mended with the filling presence of a martial arts community and the lovable characters that come along with it.
When families are forged by nature, luck brings together an assortment of quirks and demeanors to make up something that may or may not live up to the TV shows and movies you watched as a little girl; however, when a family is brought together by the need to participate in an activity that is more than just a hobby, but a lifestyle, journey and even complete change of existence, the family is always strong and forever growing. You may have not found this Jiu-Jitsu Family Tree of Life quite yet, but its roots sink deep, and it will be soon grow its way in your life.
Take some time to learn the basics!
Let’s coin something here and now: The BJJ Girl’s White Belt Survival Guide. Sure it could be a bestseller, but let’s reduce it to a few simple do’s and don’ts.
1. It’s hard to get training partners when you are the one woman in a room full of men.
The BJJ Girl Problem: There’s no getting around the inherent sexism out in in real world, and you will experience it in full within this sport. Talk to a married guy? His wife may hate you forever. Ask a question to another white belt? He might use your weakness against you to make sure he doesn’t lose to a girl. It’s a battle that you should just learn not to fight, and instead flow with. Those wives? They are really nice people, but feel weird about their husbands rolling around on the ground with women that aren’t them. That’s okay, because accepting that they don’t understand will be a big weight off your shoulders. It’s when you stop judging others that they will stop judging you.
The White Belt Survival Solution: Be friendly and diversify. No one can fault your innocent attempts at self-improvement, and if they do, just laugh at how silly that is. The higher belts are full of knowledge and always eager to help: don’t be intimidated just because they have more experience. When you are searching for training partners and people to roll with, they will be great friends to your game (and your ego!). Encourage other women to join, and help empower anyone that has the same interests as you. Who knows, you might even write about the women in this sport on a website someday! 😉
2. Jiu-Jitsu isn’t pretty, so it’s up to you to find its beauty.
The BJJ Girl Problem: That beautiful long hair you had? Gone, and it will take a long time for you to accept it too. You’ll worry about your hair to no end but the cutting of it shorter and shorter will finally make you give in and accept the inevitable: you can’t have your hair and grapple too. And that soft, blemish-free skin that lit up a room with all the glow of your unending and tedious hard work? No amount of cleansing, scrubbing, masking, creaming, cucumbering or oatmeal-honeying will bring it back when your tears dry it up even more, mourning it on nights when you notice your dates noticing at your mat-gunk induced acne.
The White Belt Survival Solution: Embrace it or replace it. Since I’m writing this to you, you obviously pull through to this point, but know that the pimples, bruises, questionable gi hickies, blisters, lumps, bumps, rips, tears, nose adjustments, cauliflower ears, and other hideous tribulations are trophies from battle, and the sooner you learn to love looking at them in the mirror, the sooner you will stop the pointless worrying about such ridiculous things not related to improving your technique. Oh, and a little honey and some borrowed Pro-Activ do help out in the darkest of breakout times!
3. You can forget about love for the better part of a long time. There’s no room for getting serious when all you are really serious about is tweaking limbs and cranking necks.
The BJJ Girl Problem: The BJJ Girl is a new beast in the wild, and the hunters have not yet adapted to catch her as prey. It will forever be difficult to take any potential suitor seriously when he doesn’t know anything about Jiu-Jitsu, and you are the one that needs to protect him. Of course, there will be options within your most-beloved sport of BJJ. However, don’t go after men at your school (remember the wives, girlfriends, and drama police are always watching), and good luck with meeting guys at other schools–the gas mileage will kill you getting to where the handsome, polite and non-crazy ones actually live!
The White Belt Survivor Solution: Treat Jiu-Jitsu like high school. No, don’t try to flirt with the teacher for a better grade! Let me rephrase that: Treat Jiu-Jitsu like you are an adult, carefully navigating high school as a wise insider. Like 21 Jump Street! No, wait, that’s not quite right either… As you can tell, this one is tough. You’ll meet guys that you’ll like that you can’t have, and then you’ll get guys that you don’t want, but annoy you to no end to meet them for drinks. To tell you the truth, I haven’t figured this one out yet, so just assume this one is gonna be a rough one. Just know that it will be a fun and interesting ride, and the interesting relationship stories may stack up higher than you thought they could.
On Being a Mom and Walking the BJJ Path
Let’s try not to cry now. Your kids are everything to you, and the balance to keep in making sure you are good mom will be your toughest task. Know that it may feel easier to spend time with the mat rather than building a family as a single mother, but don’t forget that it’s those boys that guided you to Jiu-Jitsu, and are the reason you train every day so that you can be the tough and able momma bear that you always knew you could be. Your children will bring you so much pride, and while their achievements will vary and differ, each of them will not only make you cry tears of joy, but also carry deep pride and admiration for the things you accomplish as their mother :*-).
So there you have it. I’ll let you in on a secret: I got my Blue Belt yesterday! Here’s a great picture of Master Carlson Gracie Junior afterwards too! It’s why I wanted to write this to you. Because it seems so long ago that I started, and was you, so unknowing, unwise and unseasoned, that I couldn’t even do a decent hip-escape! You will be terrible for a long time. Hell, you’re still terrible! But you love it. I love it so much that it’s all I think about. We found what many people on this Earth never get to have, and that is a meaning and a purpose. Ours lies within a combative art where we work to apply pressure and leverage to overcome strength and power through calm and meaningful application of submissions and related techniques. It’s our passion, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us next.
Good luck Emma. I know you’ll do great!
P.S. If you ever need any extra encouragement, here’s some motivation: you’re going to get to train with Clark Gracie!