Girls Who Grapple: Tips for women who want to train Brazilian jiu jitsu

     So, you want to learn Brazilian jiu jitsu (or BJJ), huh? Well… YAY!! You’re in for a great adventure. I’m still a beginner in my experience and skill set with BJJ, but it has taught me so much in a short time. I began training in early March 2017 after toying with the idea for years. I’ve never been athletic and was always that kid in school trying to get out of gym class. While waitressing at a sports bar in college, I dreaded any playoff games or Superbowls. The UFC pay-per-view matches were the one thing I couldn’t take my eyes off of, though. I may or may not have spilled a few beers and wings while awestruck at watching my first arm bar EVER….

     Thanks to things like the UFC gaining popularity, more and more women are becoming interested in mixed martial arts. BJJ is particularly appealing to women because knowing proper technique can easily beat brute strength against a larger, physically stronger opponent. Even if you’re up against an attacker built like a lumberjack, they’ll crumble if you know how to throw them in a hip toss or catch them in a shoulder or wrist lock. While it’s getting more common to see females on the mat, it’s undeniable that BJJ and most martial arts are still male dominated. If you’re like me and you’ve never done ANYTHING like it before, walking into an academy can be downright terrifying! Check out my tips below on how to finally take the plunge.

Find an academy

  • First, find an academy. Depending on where you live, you could have a ton of schools to choose from. Look for reviews or online directories like this one to help you get started. Try sticking with a school dedicated to their discipline. The last thing you want is a crappy class by going to Bob’s Discount Boxing Fencing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Jazzercise Academy Emporium. Places that try to “do it all” probably won’t give you the best learning experience or know the more detailed aspects of the sport. I don’t care if Bob charges $19.99 and throws in free tanning sessions or protein bars. Go to a real school.

Watch a class

  • Okay, so you’ve nailed down a school you’re interested in. Next, check it out in person. Most academies offer a free class or allow you to watch one. They might charge a small fee (I paid $10 for my first week), but it’ll let you to get a feel for the place. You might be surprised by how many females you see! Knowing the basic class structure is great to ensure you don’t wander around like a lost puppy your first day. I had no clue my academy lined up according to belt rank when I first joined. When a purple belt asked me to move down to the end of the wall at the beginning of class, I thought he was hazing me or something! Oops. Pay attention to the instructor. Does it seem like they’re not paying attention to students or making corrections when needed? Find another place. Especially in a beginner’s class, where you don’t quite have the hang of things, it’s all too easy to get injured or let your ego keep you from tapping (guilty).

Bring a buddy

  • Have a friend, coworker, significant other, WHOEVER, come along for the ride. It’s way less intimidating when you know another person. Even if they don’t join with you, at least helping you take your first step is huge! If they do join, you can keep each other motivated throughout your training and some academies offer discounts to married couples or family members that join together. You might get discouraged if you don’t catch on as quickly as you’d hoped (again, guilty!) and the buddy system will help you stick with it. Plus, instant training partner!

Practice some basics at home first

  • Shrimping? Break falls? Back rolls? Full guard? Whaaa-? It can be embarrassing enough not knowing the basic movements in BJJ, let alone giving your training partner a blank stare when they tell you to get in their guard. Most academies have a fundamentals course that will go over the basics. However, it’s a good idea to look up some videos on YouTube so you at least know what they look like. This goes over the basic break fall pretty well and this is a longer, but detailed video on a lot of the basic attacks in BJJ.

Try an all-women’s class

  • Most academies will have at least a weekly class, if not an entire curriculum, exclusively for female grapplers. When you’re a beginner female walking into a class full of guys you don’t know, the thought of voluntarily getting choked or triangle’d can definitely freak you out!  I’ve heard from a lot of women that they don’t pursue martial arts because they don’t think they could hold their own against a larger or stronger male. Many are also worried not being taken seriously on the mat. I could wax poetic about why women should train with anyone and everyone, but that’s a post for later. 🙂 Women’s only classes ARE awesome in that you build a great camaraderie with the other ladies at your academy. You eliminate some of the initial awkwardness people can feel when getting REALLY up close and personal in someone of a different gender’s space. Because you’re less likely to be out-sized or overpowered, you might feel less anxious when the time comes to practice attacks or being in someone’s guard. I’ve rolled with partners of all sizes and genders and each has provided a great learning experience. However, I’ll admit that rolling with a female closer to my size does make me a bit more confident in trying new moves. I’m less concerned with my partner quickly overpowering me and me not getting a real chance to execute a technique.


  • Easier said than done, I know, but the best  thing you can do is bite the bullet and go for it. Brazilian jiu jitsu can seem intimidating to anyone, but there’s something about being outnumbered that makes it particularly nerve-racking for females. It’s only by taking that first step will you discover what it can truly teach you. Even if you ARE the only female in your academy, embrace it! Use your presence to motivate other women to try it out, too. Take the fact that most of your opponents might be bigger or stronger than you as opportunities to sharpen your technique until all the strength in the world couldn’t save them from your arm bar or Kimura. If you ever decide to compete, you’ll have an advantage in knowing that you’ve gone up against bigger opponents and someone your own size won’t seem as scary. To get more women into jiu jitsu, we have to BE those women in jiu jitsu.

I’d love to hear any of your tips for someone who’s hesitant to try jiu jitsu! I have lots of women’s gi reviews coming up, as well as looks into how I prep for a class, what I bring, beauty tips for before/after class, and whatever else my mind cooks up. Let me know if there’s any requests and happy rolling! 🙂

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