Some clubs do women-only training sessions for either beginners or open to all levels. Generally those are taught by a senior female instructor.

Personally, I dislike the idea. I find it much more inclusive to have a mixed session where everyone trains together. I think that all-women sessions reinforce the idea that women are weak and cannot cope with training with men. That is clearly one hundred percent pure manure.

However, I am happy to put this opinion to the test and hear about the benefits of such all-women sessions. Because any opinion that cannot survive in the marketplace of ideas, is a bad opinion and should be discarded.

My long term goal, and the problem I am trying to solve, is that I want my club to be more inclusive1. Currently the adult classes have about one-third women to men ratio. We have more girls (two thirds) than boys in the junior classes. I did ask the women in the adult class what they thought about recruiting more women and the idea of women only classes came up. However, there was no consensus as to why those would work or whether they were a good or bad idea.

Pretty please, with sugar on top, use Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. Unless an answer is backed by concrete evidence, it should be downvoted into oblivion.

PS: The many good answers here have changed my mind. Thank you.

1: This would make an over broad question thus why I did not ask it.


5 Answers 5


Nobody cares if a man likes the idea of women-only classes. They're not for you. They're for women.

With some historical perspective, poo-pooing the idea of women-only classes becomes even more ridiculous. In my lifetime, women were banned from many karate and judo dojo. To turn around so quickly and say that women must train with men, not on their own, should set off alarms in your head.

Some women want to train with only women. Women-only karate clubs follow this concept and add women-specific self-defense concepts. There is even some evidence that single-gender school environments improve academic achievement.

BJJ brown belt Sally Arsenault has specific reasons to run women-only classes: they allow her women student athletes to progress faster, in a safer environment, without harassment.

I can’t say that if I could go back in time, I would choose to start BJJ in a women-only beginner class over a co-ed class, but I think I would strongly lean towards it. I had some shitty experiences as a brand-new white belt training with brand-new male white belts.


...Brand-new male white belts (BNMWBs) are dangerous to themselves and others. Some BNMWBs are clueless. They don’t understand that it’s better to try and match your athleticism, strength, and technical skill to your opponent’s during rolling in order to help each other get better. They just want to get that submission.

How many times has one of these fucking idiots injured me? I can’t count.

This aspect of size is so incredibly strong in sparring-based arts that many lighter men will only train with similarly-sized men. This is seen in boxing, where finding sparring partners of appropriate size is critical, as well as in grappling arts (for instance, Felipe Costa's lightweight-only group). Having a time set aside to train with people closer to your size, temperament, and background can be tremendous.


On several occasions my bottom was groped during rolling or drilling. I have been greeted with the term “slut,” [and] been bullied in front of others for show

You can pretend that this would never happen at your club, but an instructor can't be everywhere, and plenty of men are fine with men but inappropriate with women.


You and I might know martial arts as an inclusive, welcoming place for women. But the general public doesn't. Lots of people who don't train have a view of martial arts schools--yours, mine, anyone's--as a machismo-drenched chest-beating show of militarism and brutishness. Women-only classes and seminars can alleviate these barriers, thereby bringing more women into the practice:

Having a women’s only class, seminar, or open mat is a great way to introduce women into the world of martial arts, especially if they have had no prior experience in sports or martial arts. Starting something as awkward and hands-on as jiu jitsu, can be intimidating. It can be even more intimidating when you see guys bigger than you armbarring and choking each other out. However, seeing a class full of women training can be more inviting and put a beginner more at ease. This gateway also promotes growth.

  • 1
    Besides, I am more than happy to change my mind and your post goes a long way in providing evidence shaking my opinion. If an opinion cannot survive in the market place of idea, it is a bad opinion and should be discarded. Thank you, it was just what I was looking for. Mar 24, 2016 at 9:41
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    @bluehallu If those men legitimately felt safer and more comfortable, then I would be swayed. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Just blindly flipping the genders ignores facts like physiology and culture—women tend to be smaller and have less sports experience. If 90% of martial arts schools were women-only then my opinion would swing back the other way. But they're not. Mar 24, 2016 at 15:06
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    @bluehallu That's a weaksauce analogy. The foundation of your argument is that women shouldn't feel threatened by men, or that such a feeling is invalid. When you get groped or called a "slut" in class then go ahead and ask your instructor for a you-only class. Mar 24, 2016 at 16:09
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    I agree with this - the simple fact is that some women are more comfortable training without men around. If your club dislikes that you're welcome not to run female-only classes, but equally they're welcome not to show up to your mixed classes.
    – Jon Story
    Mar 24, 2016 at 21:34
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    @DaveLiepmann No, I'm not saying their feeling is invalid as there is no such thing as invalid feelings. I acknowledge them but the best course of action is to show them that such fears for men in general are unfounded rather than validating it by telling them they don't allow men for their protection.
    – bluehallu
    Mar 24, 2016 at 21:40

Just as a women that trained in both women-only and mixed-classes:

  • Body issues - I feel more confident when I'm surrounded by women. In my gender-mixed training I always make sure I wear long pants.
  • Strength - I can't do push ups, which is totally accepted in women-only class but less accepted in classes where there are mostly men. This is of course even more important if you have to directly fight with other people in the training. It can be scary to stand in front of very trained men.
  • I just like to be surrounded by women sometimes. It feels a bit more relaxed.

Other reasons:

  • Believes - In my women-only class there were some women who prefered to not been seen in revealing clothes by men.
  • Welcome to the site and thank you for your answer. I slightly edited the format of your post to make it easier to read but otherwise should have left the meaning unchanged. Mar 24, 2016 at 14:41

I agree the desired end-state has men and women training together, but it can be difficult to start there.

People do not always voice complaints. I suspect this is because complaining is viewed as a form of weakness. In judo, which involves close-contact grappling, I have seen men (instructors even!) get inappropriately cozy with young women; they create extra contact while practicing or maintain contact long after a drill is over in a way they do not when practicing with a man. I, as a man, have never seen a woman complain about this. If a man or woman did the same to me, I would be offended.

I have trained with a woman who refused to wear judogi pants because she thought they were not flattering to her appearance. This idea may seem silly because everyone else is wearing the same pants. Nevertheless, this is how the woman experienced mixed-gender training; part of her experience was that she was on display.

It's hard to train in an environment where everyone is bigger than you. This is a factor for injuries as Dave has already covered, but it also creates a disparity in perceived progress. Bigger people can make up for technical deficiencies with muscle and "win" while training, but this is not possible for smaller people. Even if a smaller person is actually developing their technical skills at a faster rate, they may experience falling behind their peers and being the class dunce. What do people do when they feel like they are failing? They drop out.


In the following report from the Martial Arts Studies Research Network Engaging Women and Girls in Martial Arts and Combat Sports: Theoretical Issues and their Implications for Practice (2016), the issue of female-exclusive classes is discussed. They note primarily that many women find training with men intimidating, and that providing such classes can provide a more welcoming environment:

3 – Segregation and Integration

Building from the questions raised over differentiated coaching, the seminar delegates questioned the relative merits of ‘women-only’ training sessions. A common feature of some MACS clubs’ programmes, as well as a regular element in many fitness centres and sports clubs, it was argued that creating the kind of welcoming, inclusive, safe spaces discussed earlier could be handily accomplished by providing exclusive places for women and girls to train.

While it is tempting to write off such an idea as a kind of ‘reverse sexism’ because it excludes men and boys5, the fact that many women find physical training in the presence of men to be intimidating needs to be seriously addressed. In so far as this form of provision does not significantly impact others’ access to clubs, it can be a positive means of securing wider engagement. Furthermore, it was noted by one group of delegates that a sex-segregated environment can be particularly beneficial for women who take up training after having suffered from male abuse, as close physical contact and the experience of sparring a male partner might be potentially traumatic in such cases.

5. In our experience, this is a common complaint from (some) men whenever female-only spaces are created – either in sports or elsewhere. What this criticism fails to register is that far greater opportunities exist for men in spheres where female-only spaces are needed, most often shaped by intangible cultural forces as identified earlier in this piece. As such, we reject the majority of these claims over their limited appreciation of the wider realities of gender-based exclusion at work today.

They specifically address your concern of women-only classes reinforcing negative stereotypes, recommending that they be used alongside regular integrated lessons, and that the way female-exclusive lessons are marketed be carefully considered:

However, some meaningful criticism of this kind of provision emerged around the notion that women-only sessions risks creating a condescending atmosphere, with the implicit status of being ‘second class’ club members becoming attached to it. While by no means a guaranteed outcome, this possibility nevertheless raises the question of how steps taken to ease the process of inclusion might backfire in certain ways. As such, those in favour of women-only sessions argued that they are best used alongside regular, sex-integrated training sessions, to ensure that women still retain access to all of the same benefits enjoyed by their male club mates whilst also providing the aforementioned ‘safe space’ to ease their entry into participation.

A similar, connected issue arose towards the close of the plenary session, concerning the tendency for MACS to be marketed to women in specific, supposedly ‘female-friendly’ ways. Several delegates were particularly critical of the assumption that, as women, they must train for reasons connected either to self-defence or aesthetic, fitness-related goals – such as weight loss. While there is certainly no reason to disparage purposeful self-defence training or exercising for body management, women who want to become competitive athletes, or train for any other reason within their respective disciplines, are not well-served by the assumption that these reasons alone are why women train. Simply put, this feeds the belief that certain types of engagement (i.e., competitive fighting) are only for men, thereby silently working to deter women from the full range of participation options.

In this respect, it was suggested that marketing efforts aimed at attracting women into clubs should not disproportionately emphasise self-defence or fitness management, but also highlight other reasons for training and/or draw attention to the competitive achievements of women fighters in high-profile competitions. This was thought to be a positive step in challenging persistent stereotypes that place limits on how women and girls think about what is and isn’t appropriate for them within MACS. While common-sense beliefs about apparently ‘feminised’ forms of practice being the best way to recruit female members to clubs may endure, it is important that instructors consider their impact on women whose goals and ambitions extend beyond them.

They additionally recommend a number of resources, the final one being particularly relevant to the issue of women-exclusive classes:

... we conclude this report by pointing towards several useful sources that can expand upon this discussion and open further important topics of debate. These are likely to be of interest to instructors and practitioners, and also academics and students, for whom improving or simply better understanding women’s and girls’ engagement in MACS is of interest:

  1. Martha McCaughey’s book, Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women’s Self-Defense, is an excellent starting point for researching this phenomenon. Her ideas are frequently used by other researchers in this field, and her blog (with Jill Cermele), See Jane Fight Back, offers frequent commentary on the politics of women’s self-defence training.
  2. Kai Morgan’s blog, Budo Inochi, includes several thought-provoking posts and helpful resources related to women in martial arts. Her ebook, How to make your Dojo more Female-Friendly, is free to access online and provides more depth on many of the practical points that are touched on here, addressing several more besides.
  3. L.A. Jennings’s recent book, She’s a Knockout! A History of Women in Fighting Sports, tells a detailed story of women’s competitive involvement in boxing, wrestling, MMA, and other combat sports. Her blog Total Knockout (with Alissa Rudloe) discusses fitness, fighting, fashion and feminism.
  4. Our own most recent contribution to work in this area can be found in the edited book, Global Perspectives on Women in Combat Sports: Women Warriors around the World. Many of the individual essays can be sourced for free from the authors with a little online searching (our introductory chapter sits here).
  5. Eileen McDonagh and Laura Papanno’s book, Playing with the Boys: Why Separate is not Equal in Sports, discusses issues around integration and segregation in sports in much detail. While not concerned strictly with MACS, their arguments are well worth reading to follow up on the topics touched on briefly here.

On the wider issue of engagement with women in martial arts generally, note that the full report goes into detail about multiple additional approaches to increasing inclusivity and engagement.


Women's only classes are a fantastic tool for recruiting women and girls in jiu jitsu, for many of the reasons already discussed in detail. In this case, where the school has 2/3 girls and 1/3 women, recruitment is not as critical for you. Most schools have a drastically different ratio as per this discussion. BJJ also has unique problems as an engaging grappling sport (grabbing, squeezing) compared to martial arts without as much engagement (karate, TKD).

At my school Ralph Gracie BJJ San Jose, we are hosting a monthly seminar/ open mat for women to increase membership. This even starts with some men filling up spaces, with the goal of having only women at some point.

  • This does not actually answer the question and reads like an advert for your club. Jun 7, 2019 at 6:53
  • As stated, this reads as an advertisement, perhaps you could provide more details/background? Also, you have disclosed that it is your school. This is ok in some instances, and you are free to link to your school in your profile. However, too much of this in answers is not allowed, and acn lead to your posts being labeled as spam or excessive self promotion.
    – JohnP
    Jun 7, 2019 at 15:22

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