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There was this guy who used to spar with us on Fridays, many, many years ago. Lets call him Bob. Bob was a black belt. He was very fast and super strong and I used to watch him knock the other students around the floor, terrified of when it would be my turn to fight him.

When I finally faced off in front of him, I was pretty pathetic. I basically stood there with my hands up, afraid to throw anything for fear of getting killed. After about 30 seconds of this, Bob gave me a look of utter disgust and said, ''I am not going to hurt you." Apparently the idea that he, a big, male karate black belt, would attempt to kill me, a five foot two, relatively inexperienced lady, was incredibly insulting to him. "Just throw. Move around. It will be fine."

It was fine. Ironically, Bob ultimately ended up being one of my favorite people to spar with. That was later, when I switched from being timid and sloppy to being that tiny aggressive girl who really loved the hard rounds. Bob was great for pushing you, for making you exhausted. He had super fast punches and a spin kick that had knocked many a competitor unconscious. So yeah, it was fun. In a weird, masochistic kind of way.

But as I got older, and more experienced, I became less interested in all that aggression. I wasn't afraid, I just wanted something different out of sparring. I wanted to learn. I wanted to work on strategy.

I wanted to be able to walk the next day.

I thought of Bob again when I started taking jiu-jitsu. There was this new white belt guy, we'll call him not-Bob. Not-Bob was typical for a new white belt. He rolled fast and hard and spazzy. His limbs often seemed to have minds of their own, flailing out in awkward ways. There were head butts, elbows to the nose, a way too fast transition that crushed your windpipe. He, like many newbie's who have not be taught otherwise, assumed that there was only one way to grapple: hard. Not-Bob seemed to forget that his partners were actually human beings, ones who were there to also work on jiu-jitsu. He had no idea how to roll light and he had no idea how to roll with a tiny woman like myself.

I had been wrong in my assessment of Bob back on those scary Friday nights. But I was not wrong about this white belt dude. When I stepped on the mat in front of him I was absolutely, one hundred percent without a doubt going to get hurt. The question was just how badly.

I have been doing karate for 28 years. I have only been doing jiu-jitsu for a little over 6. But yes I am often the smallest person on the mats/ sparring floor (other than the children) and I am often one of only a few women. And while most of the men I train with now are wonderful, there certainly have been a few bad eggs over the years. There was "stand there with his hands down and his chest wide open and tell women to just hit him" dude. There was "whisper something inappropriate and suggestive in your ear whenever he gets close to you" guy. There was "my ego truly cannot handle being tapped out by a woman so I am going to give you unnecessary advice for how to complete the submission instead" guy. And then there was of course, not-Bob, the guy who doesn't care that you are smaller, or a woman, or more experienced, because he isn't really paying attention to you anyway. He is too busy trying to rip your arm off as fast and as aggressively as possible.

Sometimes new women can be super aggro too, but it is mostly the dudes. I guess I can't really blame them too much though. Maybe they just never learned any differently. Maybe they had a bad teacher, or at least one who decided that controlling the pace of the room was not necessary. (AKA, a bad teacher.) Maybe they just needed someone to tell them how to do this with women. Someone like me.

So lately I have tried to become somewhat of a "white belt whisperer." I am the gal who teaches all the newbies how to relax. Ok now, breathe, move, keep moving, you are supposed to flow, you know, like water, breathe, slow down, no really, slow down, see how slow I am going, its like molasses, good, now breathe, I said breathe, great, really great, now get off my face. 

Most of the time it works.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, all of the teachers I am fortunate enough to train with now are perfectly willing and capable of keeping their room under control.

Also, in case you were wondering, my roll with not-Bob hurt my rib cartilage. I was out of training for a couple of weeks and after that I made sure to be nowhere near him when partners were being chosen.

That was at least two years ago. I am sure he knows better by now...


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