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So after an enforced retirement from football (the Australian kind) due to being knocked unconscious in two consecutive games I demanded my parents let me take up martial arts instead. Several arguments later I got to try out a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class and promptly fell in love with it!

I think I present some challenges though. I'm 13, I'm a girl and I weigh about 42kgs (92-ish pounds) in my gi. Probably wouldn't be a problem, but my gym (the only one I can get to) doesn't have a kids / teens program, so I'm in with the adults and on an average night I'm also the only girl. And the only person under around 65kgs.

Now I can't complain because the instructor and the senior students have been very helpful, but I also can't help but feel like everybody runs away from me when it's time to pick a partner. I've ended up drilling with the same partner every time and I've only rolled with four different partners because they're the only ones who seem to want anything to do with me.

For the most part I think it's more my size and probably the fact that I'm an absolute beginner that makes people run away, although there's also one guy who very politely mentioned that he won't ever roll with me because I'm a girl (religion is involved I think?) and a couple of younger guys who seem incapable of actually making eye contact or saying hello (probably also because I'm a girl, which may be extremely scary). Those two I'm not particularly keen to roll with yet anyway, because they seem very .. enthusiastic .. and I'd like to keep my arms attached for now.

I'm rambling a bit I think. I'll get to the point!

Firstly, I feel a bit like a liability to the guy who keeps getting stuck with me for drilling. He's been very helpful, but drilling on a partner my size consistently can't be good for him (I think?) and I worry that I'm getting in the way of him getting good training time in.

So question 1, how should I go about getting moved around to some other partners for drilling and what things can I do to make my size less of an issue with drilling in general?

Secondly, what steps can I take to make myself a useful rolling partner? The guys I've rolled with have been helpful and pretty good at not giving me more pressure than I can handle for the most part, but I still feel like time spent with me is wasted time for them, because not only do they have to spend the whole time being careful not to squish me too badly they also seem super reluctant to actually submit me. I've tried pointing out that I'm not going to run away crying if they choke me properly but that didn't seem to make any difference so far.

Still rambling? I'm just looking for advice so that rolls with me are actually useful for my training partners. I don't want to waste people's time.

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Welcome to the site. You have two questions here. It might be better to break your question two. –  Sardathrion Aug 26 at 9:34
    
Splendid question and I really like the way you phrased it. Alas, this isn't an art I practice, so I can't offer any useful advice. –  Mark C. Wallace Aug 26 at 12:04
    
At some point you may want to look around and see if you can find another club that is more welcoming. That isn't always an easy option, but I think we need to recognize that fundamentally this isn't your problem; your training partners aren't behaving in a mature fashion. –  Mark C. Wallace Aug 28 at 11:31

6 Answers 6

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It seems a number of females share your problems. I read a number of female BJJ bloggers, and they have expressed similar feelings. My suggestion is to read what they have to say and maybe reach out to them:

Virtually all of them have posts about rolling with men. From what I can tell, all of them simply persisted and things got better.

But in summary :-

Rolling is never a waste no matter who you are rolling with, there's always something you can work on. I know when I started, one of my instructors said to be aggressive to try and partner with a higher grade even if perhaps they wouldn't of chosen to partner with you. You'll get better faster. Same thing for you, you are there to learn bjj, doesn't how new / little / young you are, be aggressive and go get the training / rolling partners you want as quick as you can. Don't wait for them to choose you.

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ok, I will do that –  Keith Nicholas Aug 27 at 11:45
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Ahh! Blogs! Read allll the blogs! :D Thanks for that. It's probably worth noting that Clearbelt doesn't have a post this year so that's probably not active anymore, but it has tons of links to other blogs, so that made me a happy camper! –  Tussles Aug 27 at 12:15
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I have edited the format of your post. Hope this works for you. Oh, and +1 ^_~ –  Sardathrion Aug 27 at 12:23

I was the only 12 year old in a judo club full of brown/black belt adults, so I can identify with your experience on some levels!

That said, as the beginner and the youth in this situation, the only things you can do are this:

1) Ask questions, ask for help, ask for advice.

"Given my size, can you show me how I could make that technique work?"

"Can you show me what options might work for me to get out of this technique?"

"I'm having trouble (getting their arm around, getting the leverage, etc.) can you help me figure out how to make it work for me?"

2) Train hard.

Social Issues

All that said, the reality of it sounds more like a lot of the people there have issues with gender rather than your skill or the practicality of training with you.

Just because you may not get as much skill training from rolling with someone half your weight doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to make eye contact or talk to someone.

That is unfortunately a real common issue in a lot of martial arts circles - women are often ignored or guys start acting weird when they have to move around with them. I have several friends who have told me stories about this, some of which include some guys who deliberately try to injure women during training to force them to quit martial arts.

Find the people who treat you normally, train with them, learn what you can learn and consider if there's any other clubs that do grappling you can supplement with as well.

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I wouldn't say "lots" of them have gender issues with me. There's the one guy who was polite and said hi but was very firm that he won't be rolling / drilling with me at all, and a couple of other guys who I would guess are about 16 that might well be terrified of girls. All good. Generally I haven't noticed anyone who seems actively hostile or anything and most everyone seems pretty nice! –  Tussles Aug 27 at 12:18
    
There is also the danger of injury due to vast strenght difference. if the guy isnt 100% confident he'll be able to do his techniques without controling the amount of strenght he puts into it, its better he dont practice with you at all , instead of hurting you. (happens to me when I was younger, around 19, I badly hurt a female judoka I was sparring with because I didnt realize I was getting much stronger.) –  Thierry Savard Saucier Aug 28 at 11:46

My experience here is from the other side. I am still a white belt, but I started about a year ago as an adult man. The first time I was paired up with a woman, it was slightly strange. Also, the first time I was paired up with a kid, it was slightly strange. But the opposite perspective may be very helpful in overcoming the situation.

How to get moved around to other partners

How you go about making sure you get a variety of training partners depends on the culture of your school. At the school I go to, the instructor assigns partners for most rolling rounds (we pick our partners for drilling, but for a lot of people that is just turn to your left and keep asking till you find someone without a partner yet). Doing that would largely remove your issue.

I have never yet see anyone refuse to go up against an assigned partner for any reason, but I can understand some reluctance for a man to go against a woman, especially one that is substantially smaller. Against a man, I don't hesitate to press down on their chest to make space when I am on top in guard. I don't hesitate to put my hands on their chest in mount to go for a fast armbar if their arms are straight up. I don't do those things when I am rolling against a woman. I can understand why a man who has never rolled with a woman might worry about doing those things by reflex without thinking about it.

If that is their concern, then there is no complete solution, but a partial solution is to talk to some of the people you think are uncomfortable with you (but that you would feel comfortable rolling with) and explain exactly what you are or are not comfortable with. If you don't want them to go to knee mount because of how much bigger they are, tell them. There will be no graceful way to say it, but I think many men will be more comfortable if you assure them you will just remind them to stop if they touch your chest (for a tactically reasonable reason) rather than making a federal case out of it.

I also think simple time and exposure to you (and hopefully eventually other women) on the mats will make them more comfortable.

Another, smaller issue is the hair. I have gotten my hand tangled in someone else's hair when I went for an Ezekiel choke more than once. I have also had the other person's hair get in my face when they were in low mount, and it can be annoying. This obviously is not strictly an issue with women. Some women have quite short hair and some men have rather long hair (in fact, one of those Ezekiel issues was with a man). But if you happen to have longer hair, please put it up in a way that it will not get in the way while rolling.

How to be a good partner

There will be times when you cannot reasonably expect the other person to learn from the roll. I'm a white belt, and even when I'm heavier the brown belts probably aren't getting anything at all from it when they roll with me. I just make sure I ask them for advice and thank them for their time at the end. And remember that if you continue on this journey there will eventually be times that you will be on the other side, rolling with someone purely for their benefit without expecting to get much out of it.

But when its a bit of a closer call there are things they can do to make you a useful partner, and you could suggest them. They could give you something of a handicap by letting you start in an advantageous position like side control or mount. This gives them practice escaping, and let's you practice being in a top position. They can also limit themselves to some forms of submissions that they particularly need more practice on. They probably don't want to limit themselves to exactly one submission (unless they are much better and just showing off), but if they limit themselves to just a couple and tell you ahead of time then they get practice with those submissions they are presumably worse at while you get to focus on defending those submissions.

Also, this seems relevant: http://www.grapplearts.com/Blog/2011/02/why-men-should-grapple-women-and-smaller-men/

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Thanks for the perspective, very helpful! –  Tussles Aug 27 at 12:21

I agree with very much of what Sadathrion writes in his answer, so I'd just like to add to it ... and, uh, it didn't fit in the comment box.

Mind, that I am from a standup art and don't know a whole lot about grappling, but the same principles should apply.

Take it up with your instructor

Suggest you change partners from time to time. In our school, we often change partners several times during class. Everybody is different, so the idea is to try the techniques on different people. What works on someone, might be useless on someone else – or need some tweaks in order to be effective. Some times the instructor will purposely mismatch us.

When we do sparring, we change every two or three minutes. Everybody lines up in two rows, and then rotates to face a different partner every time. At the end of the class, you have usually partnered up with nearly everyone.

Ideally, you will always be paired with someone slightly better than you, as that is when you learn the most. (Beginners never appreaciate the luxury they have! :) ) In free sparring, the more experienced fighter can choose to focus on some of the things they are not so good at. Or purposely let the junior student have some leverage, and work on defense rather than offense. That way, it will be a learning experience for everyone.

In any case, it is the duty of the senior student to give the junior student a fair challenge (it sounds like some of your classmates are rather intense) and help them become better, as their own senior students helped them.

Now, you can't always just pair up with some random person. If for example we are dealing with a strength excercise involving lifting or carrying the other partner, then naturally it will make sense to find with someone of similar size. Likewise, if some of the senior students would like to practice intensly due to tournament preparations or the like, then you might not pair them up with beginners.

Find out what your strengths are, and utilize them

Not every student is the same, and we all have our strengths and weaknesses. The biggest person is not always the "strongest" fighter. A smaller fighter is usually faster, more explosive and more flexible. Generally speaking, they can learn to do more advanced techniques with greater speed, precision and still avoid being caught themselves.

Find out what you are good at, and then use that against them, so they will be more challenged.

Don't be afraid to ask questions

Your situation is unique, in the sense that you only have training partners that have much greater physical strength – and for now at least, probably also superiour technique. It is possible that many of the things that are shown to the class, needs to be tweaked in order to work in your situation. Ask your instructor and partner for help if you "get stuck".

Recruit friends!

You mention that your friends think it's weird to roll around on the floor with sweaty men – which is understandable, it doesn't sound like a very attractive sell. Perhaps you could persuade some of them to watch, maybe that will open their eyes. Or you can beat up the school bully, that will get you some attention. **

Have you tried asking a male friend? They might be more open to the idea. However, given your age, I understand it might be awkward to ask boys on after-school activities. :)

But definitely get your brother involved. If for nothing else, maybe he in turn can recruit some of his smaller friends. I mean, if he doesn't join now, in a year or two he will be beaten up by his little sister! Embarrassing!

Get out some

When you start to see some progress, have a chat with your instructor again. Hopefully there is a seminar or even tournament you can attend, where you will be able to test your skills against a more equal opponent.

This first challenge might go both ways. Perhaps it will be super awkward and difficult to roll with someone on your own size – their speed might be very different from what you are used to. Or you might completelly crush them, since you are used to heavier guys. :)

Either way, keep at it!

** Attenttion! Actually beating up the school bully is not advised. Society is not yet ready to handle random acts of violence, even from small girls.

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I feel a bit like a liability to the guy who keeps getting stuck with me for drilling.

Don't worry about it. Training with smaller partners is a necessary skill. He can work on his fluid C-game instead of his smashy A-game.

How should I go about getting moved around to some other partners for drilling?

Don't worry about it. Your instructor will pair you with other partners when you and they are ready.

What things can I do to make my size less of an issue with drilling in general?

Nothing except getting really good at jiujitsu.

What steps can I take to make myself a useful rolling partner?

Get better at jiujitsu, particularly breakfalling. Don't insist that your partners smash you, but let them know you're not a flower.

I still feel like time spent with me is wasted time for them

Not your problem.

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Do you have a friend and/or sibling (gender is utterly irrelevant here) that you can bring to the class to train with? Probably they would be of a similar age and thus might be of a similar size. This would be your best option to be honest.

Question 1: Some people might be uncomfortable training with a young girl for whatever reasons. So, don't force them to train with you. Take to however is teaching and pass your concern to them. They should do something about that. If they do not, ask other people after/before the class if they would mind training with you. Show that you are keen to learn.

Question 2: Enthusiasm, more enthusiasm, even more enthusiasm! Learn as much as you can. Try to mimic what is being taught as best you can. Your strength will be in technique and not your physical power. If you can get something working on a full adult (even if they are more compliant than normal), that's an amazing achievement.

In addition to the above, if your teacher asks for volunteers either when she shows a new technique or as a demonstration of what you learned, you should be one of the first ones to get up! Again, this is just showing enthusiasm but will let you feel the technique as your instructor does it. This is a good way to get better!

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My parents have been in the room for all of my training sessions and the owner of the gym space the classes run in is also female, so I'm not the only female in the room, just the only one on the mat. There are also a couple of female regulars, but they usually train on different nights to me so far. My friends seem to think I'm nuts for wanting to roll around on the floor with people trying to choke me. My brother is interested and might come join the fun, but he's also rather huge by comparison. Oh well! –  Tussles Aug 26 at 9:49
    
+1 The sibling / friend idea was going to be my answer. –  The Wudang Kid Aug 26 at 13:16
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By request I've cleaned out some comments as the answer has been edited to remove the contested bullet point (which wasn't pivotal to the answer anyway). –  slugster Aug 27 at 13:01

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