How to Roll Around on Mats With Men

All this conversation about rape has got me thinking. And before we begin, let me be clear. This post is not about rape prevention, or god forbid about what an unfortunate  rape victim could have done differently. On that point I tend to agree with BJJ black belt Karen Miller who said  "We must instead understand that there’s nothing a woman can do to avoid rape because a rapist is going to act, whether a woman is naked, wearing a burqa, or is a whore." This post is just some insight from a woman who has stubbornly insisted on being a part of the very masculine martial arts world for most of her life.

Yeah I mean me.

I started karate when I was thirteen, which is a good age for a female to begin learning an art form designed to build discipline and self confidence. I was small and shy, but had been a competitive gymnast since the age of nine so I was no stranger to sweat. Even though the idea of a kiai (spirited shout) embarrassed the hell out of me and I was terrified of contact sparring, I grew to love karate. Eventually it took the place of gymnastics (a sport meant for 5 year olds and preteens who dont like food) as my main form of exercise. And, unbeknownst to that timid thirteen year old, it would ultimately become my livelihood.

Most of the time my being a woman was not really an issue. Being barely five foot two and 110 pounds yes, but not my gender. I have a few good stories, though. There was the man who when he sparred with ladies would lean in and grunt suggestively into their ears. There were the black belt men, tournament champions, who sauntered around the dojo like kings while lower belt women followed; little ducklings, fight groupies. . They would date for awhile, then break up and inevitably the women would quit. But as far as I know there were no rapists.

Sparring is very intimate. You are in close quarters, breathing hard into each others faces while exchanging a flurry of frantic techniques. There are occasional clinches, momentary pauses in the action where you grab your opponent in a desperate attempt to stop them from hitting you. Sweat goes everywhere.

I started practicing BJJ about two years ago. And if karate sparring is intimate, jiu-jitsu is x-rated!

Just this morning I was working on a drill which involved my very nice male partner wrapping his arms firmly around my back and putting his face right up next to mine as if he were whispering sweet nothings into my ear. Closed guard is a page right out of the kama sutra. And dont even get me started on north-south!
Lets face it, jiu-jitsu is awkward for us ladies, especially in the beginning. We all know it, we joke about it constantly. And I am not a man (not the last time I checked anyway) but I imagine it is kinda wierd for you dudes too. It must be very tricky to roll with us without accidentally putting your hand somewhere you shouldn't.

This wierdness fades with time and it all just becomes about training. Which is why trust amongst partners is so important. After all, you are sitting directly on top of me with your arm pressed against my throat! And I volunteered for this. So I kind of have to trust you.

The necessary comfort between training partners is why that whole Lloyd Irvin rape thing is so awful. BJJ is all about trust. Whether you are a man or a woman you have to believe that your partners are going to protect you, that they are going to let go when you tap, and that they are going to treat you respectfully at all times. Otherwise we could not do what we do.

And now here is the part where the ladies get angry with me. So let me point out once again that this is not about preventing rape, rather it is simply about being a good partner. It is about showing respect for your teacher, your school, your teammates, and most of all, yourself.

1. Ladies, please wear something under your gi top, and not just a sports bra. This is jiu-jitsu! There are entire moves devoted to grabbing your collar and pulling it open. A t-shirt, a leotard, a rash guard- anything! Most of the guys are trying really hard to take you seriously. Having your tits hanging out is not helping.

2. Its cool if you joined the gym to meet men, but please save your flirting for the bar stool after class. Dont make goo goo eyes at the dudes on the mats. I know a good looking guy with a half open gi top is sexy as hell. (I married one!) But please be appropriate. Some of us are trying to learn something.

3. Jokes are fine. Jokes are necessary when you suddenly find his balls on your face. Just make sure everyone knows you are kidding. Unless you aren't, in which case see number 2 above.

4. Tell guys when they are going too hard. And when they are going too soft. And when they have that bored look in their eyes like they cant believe they got stuck rolling with the girl again. Communication is the key to good training.

I am sure there's more but ya'll probably already hate me enough.

As for you dudes, just respect us as athletes. As partners who may or may not push you to your limit every time, but whom you can always learn something from. Make us feel like there is a place on the mats for us too.

Oh and I hope this goes without saying but...
dont rape us!
There, was that so difficult ?


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