"Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time."— Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
As we step into October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we think a little more fondly about our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters. We will see pink ribbons left and right, but in all fairness, a pink ribbon does not even begin to represent the amount of inner strength required for being a woman.
This weekend we were put on the edge of our seats at the sight of multiple, world class female jiujitsu athletes battling it out at the last Third Coast Kumite. In a few weeks we will witness incredible female talent and so many rising stars at the First ever All Women’s Submission Hunter Pro card in Houston, TX.
Flashback to just a decade or two ago, and these events would have maybe never been
possible. Back then, women’s jiu-jitsu was only beginning to make an appearance. A female black belt was as rare as a unicorn, and belts were mixed in together at championships because there simply weren’t enough women in the sport to make multiple divisions. Just a few years ago, a petition was made for the IBJJF to create more masters divisions for more mature women in jiu-jitsu to compete in their respected age groups. The highly debated and controversial ‘head gear ban’ imposed by IBJJF, left a large portion of Muslim women outside the sport’s main tournaments due to their ‘hijab’ custom. But was changed in 2014 after Caroline de Lazzer led a movement that pressed for IBJJF to allow headgear in competitions. Outstanding women athletes like Leticia Ribeiro, Kyra Gracie, Hannette Stack, Luanna Alzuguir, and Leka Viera paved the way for the future generations of women to be seen and heard and taken just as seriously as the male athletes.
As women in a predominantly male sport, we know more than anyone that there are challenges we face. But we signed up for those challenges. We signed up for the early mornings, late nights, the ripped hair, the chipped nails, the sweat, the blood, the constant tears in the gym bathroom or in the car on the ride home. These are the things that, while yes are difficult, we LIVE for them. They give us a sense of purpose and fulfillment, a feeling of pride in overcoming daily hardships, and an understanding that we can accomplish anything with the right amount of passion. What we did NOT sign up for is belittlement. Most women in the sport are scared to speak out on this subject, because we are treated differently once we do. The majority of the time, we are targeted from the moment we step on the mat. The more inexperienced practitioners will seize the opportunity to satisfy their ego with the smallest in the room, and will fail to respect the difference in size and strength. Or in the worst-case scenario, the combat sport scene is seen as an opportunity for some to sexualize and harass their female training partners. Which creates a world of misery for those who joined for self-defense or have been victims of an attack.
Multiple-time world champion Mikey Musumeci once wrote on his Instagram a very well applauded post on training with women. He wrote:
“Something I would like to talk about that many people don’t is women’s Jiu jitsu. Since I was a little kid, my main training partner that would beat me up and push me every day has been my sister Tammi, who is [the] current world champion in the black belt female division. She is still one of my hardest and best training partners today, and I always tell people, which is true, she is tougher training for me than most of the guys I even compete with! I feel many guys get annoyed training with girls or even don’t really show them as much respect as the guys get on the mat, and I think this is completely wrong. Girls actually provide some of the best training opportunities! Why? Because unlike guys who rely most of the time, without them even knowing, on using strength, girls can’t depend on strength, so they have to depend more on technique. It is how you train with the girls! I have seen two popular different approaches guys use when training with girls: 1) they either go super super hard, using full strength, afraid to lose in training to a girl, which not only can hurt the girl, but makes it that both the guy and the girl don’t get good training, or 2) they go super light, out of fear that they will hurt the girl, or that they are so afraid to lose to a girl, due to ego they literally don’t try and play dead which again causes both the guy and the girl to get horrible training. The way to train with girls is how you should train with everyone, and it is to go hard technically, not trying to overpower, but going technique for technique. You will be amazed by how great training you get, and how much you can improve technically. Like I said before, my sister is honestly tougher training for me than most of the guys I fight and train with, and I really have a lot of respect for women’s Jiu jitsu!”
It is no surprise Mikey gained an ever bigger fanbase after this.
So, what can we expect for women’s jiu-jitsu in the years to come? We can expect the new generation to be more exciting and hungrier than ever. Killer Brown belts like Jessa Khan, Elisabeth Clay, and Alexa Yanes are getting ready for the challenges ahead at black belt. Phenom purple belts like Jessica Crane and Emily Fernandez are leaving their juvenile years behind and taking the adult world by storm. But we must also work towards creating a community in which women feel powerful and fearless, and not another way for them to feel silenced and undervalued. Whether your school is women-owned, or has a strong women’s team, those are already enormous steps for women’s jiu-jitsu.
Jiu-Jitsu women have shown us time and time again that they can continuously break barriers and molds through their perseverance and technical ability. They have proven that in Jiu-Jitsu there are no ‘weaker sexes’, just one very powerful martial art capable of changing the life on anyone willing to cultivate the resilience necessary.