What we chatted about is nothing new to me, I’ve been through this experience a million times and it is probably one of the most common conversations I have had being a female brown belt instructor.
‘I just feel like I am not doing very well’ she said.
Why did she say this? For me to help you understand I must explain the different types of training partners us females face on a daily basis (She was wrestling round after round different versions of Mr. Muscles).
There are three types of guys we wrestle with:
- Mr. Muscles. This guy goes insanely hard, has no brakes, and crushes me like he has something to prove. I have always thought this to be incredibly odd when he puts such pressure on a female (especially a lower belted or sized female). ‘Good for you bro, you just tapped someone you outweigh by over 20 kg and are way stronger than her. Have fun boasting this to your group of friends, I am sure they will be super proud of you’.
- Mr. Patronizer. This guy goes incredibly soft, and coaches through the whole round, giving advice and correcting technique but not to success and development of the female he is wrestling with. But to make himself feel better, stronger, and more knowledgeable. ‘Good for you bro. You act like you know everything but in reality are so insecure and have so little knowledge you have to build yourself up by making your training partner feel belittled.’
- Mr. Perfect. These guys are few and far between, usually higher belts. They have control, are genuine, are knowledgeable and helpful in a constructive way, and wrestle according to the benefit of both training partners. ‘Good for you Mr. Perfect. How do we find more of you?’
It is a challenge to be a female in a male dominated sport and to show up to the training sessions. To put it into perspective, Jiu-Jitsu is one of the few sports in this world where males and females train together. For us girls this requires perseverance, mental strength and a lot of heart and passion.
The hardest is when I am doing my absolute best it feels like it is not enough.
My male training partner is either stronger than me, more technical or both. Perhaps I even know what to do in the situation but can’t execute it because lack of strength, or maybe I am scared to lose position and don’t execute the technique – in turn lose opportunity. Maybe my muscles are so tired they are shaking and just won’t do what I need them to do. This can be from the constant pressure and defending against the strength of my partner. Sometimes they have a dominant position and just overpower a submission.
Some days I wonder why I am even doing this sport, and why I keep coming back to the mats every day.
It is important to remember that all of the above doesn’t mean failure. It doesn’t mean I am a failure and it doesn’t mean my Jiu-Jitsu is a failure. If I lose a good position or can’t execute a technique due to my partner being bigger or stronger this doesn’t mean failure.
All this means is that men are strong, and we have yet to understand and learn how to use our strength.
Simple, not easy.
Takes time, energy and patience to understand and implement, but we all know the harder the battle, the sweeter the victory.
We always perceive the world through our filter. This filter is influenced by many different things (some examples are our experiences, our knowledge, or even our even our mood that day). The only constant about this filter is change. It is constantly changing and evolving as we add to our life experiences.
What did my white belt student see?
We were working on mount escapes today. She felt she could not escape mount, was overpowered.
What did we talk about?
Concept #1: Hidden Victories
That sometimes the victories aren’t always about the obvious ones of winning. Sometimes the victories are hidden. It is naive to think that we are going to be rockstars and always escape, dominate and submit. There will always be someone technically better than us, stronger than us, bigger than us. The question is: how are we going to handle that situation? I explained it in levels (I like ‘levels’, it seems to simplify things).
Level 1 is just surviving. Maybe this time you get subbed in 30 seconds instead of right away, maybe next time it takes 1 minute.
There are two things that can happen in this round. Either you can become super frustrated, however – this tends to cloud the mind and doesn’t allow for clear thinking. Or you can stay calm, do your best, and learn. Learn how to move maybe just a little faster, a little better, keep those elbows tighter, keep that choke off a little longer. As crazy as it sounds, try to become comfortable in the bad positions. Because if you are comfortable you will begin to see the small movements the partner makes when they adjust to attack, and these small movements mean there is a small inch of an opening, and sometimes you have to fight to take that inch and turn it into opportunity. But that inch is all you need. I promise. Maybe you can just become 1% better this round, 1% closer to escaping. Because over ten rounds that is 10% better. Over a year, that could easily be 100% better.
Level 2 is our ultimate goal of surviving the whole round without getting tapped, escaping a bad position, or better yet maybe even tapping our training partner. We have to survive for quite some time in ‘Level 1’ world and that is okay! There are two important concepts to remember: Keep getting that 1% better (like we talked about earlier), and believe in the ‘one in a million rule’. Everyone is human, and everyone makes mistakes. So every time you wrestle someone better you have to believe that maybe this one time you could potentially catch them. It might take a million rolls, but you need to have faith and do your best every single damn time, because if you don’t, you’ll miss your one time opportunity. How do I know this to be true? Because I have experienced it (the good news is it didn’t take a million rolls!)
Sometimes, you feel like you did everything right in your wrestle, but despite that – the training partner stiff armed, overpowered or stalled. Listen, if you are attacking him enough to make him stall, stiff arm, etc – that is actually a hidden victory! This means you threatened him enough to provoke an extreme response. Which leads me into my next point:
Realistically men are stronger than us, and they can also be potentially more athletic than us. This doesn’t de-value us in any way. It is just the reality of the situation. Okay, so we can blatantly see they are strong. But a question that I constantly ask is, why do we try to match up to them head on? Men are strong, women have strength.
How do we find our strength? Through being incredibly tight, technical and maybe even faster if the situation calls for it. We find our opportunity (the chink in the armour, this could be a mistake made by the training partner, or it could be just a weakness the training partner currently has in their game), and we capitalize.
For example, if I get the male training partners in my guard I am technical by knowing exactly what grips I want to set up my favourite technique. Usually they won’t let me get those grips, and don’t fight them because they are stronger than me. So I move to a secondary attack to pull their focus to what I am attempting to do. While their focused on my second attack I move back to my first attack.
This is how we find our strength. To be like water, instead of fighting head on, we need to find a path of least resistance and if we can’t find the path we create it.
The above points are all part of the journey.
The thing is, for the higher female belts it isn’t any easier for us. We just understand the frustrations of the journey more than the younger belts, and we become familiar with the situations and how to navigate through them.
We still get tapped by stronger lower belts. We still get squished by those who are bigger than us. We still take rounds off due to catching our breath because we are frustrated and or overwhelmed. But the important thing to remember is what we do with those situations. They aren’t failures unless we decide they are. And we should never decide they are.
Find the hidden victories, find the path of least resistance, fight for those inches, and through this become minimum 1% better every day.
Because if were not moving forward and growing through the challenges were falling behind.
And life is meant to be lived forward.
Sarah at Yoga For BJJ