Huge muscles, tattoos, 220, bearded, gruff to the max.
6"4', pot belly, overly aggressive, but nonathletic.
Older, out-of-shape, but with years of experience.
Short, quick, technically savvy, unemployed, overly trained machine.
New, white belt, spastic, moves unjustifiably and makes up for lack of technique with muscle.
These are my mat partners.
I'm a 5'2, 118 lb, female. On the mat I look like a lost child. A midget amongst monsters. Or a frail fish amongst sharks.
People seem to think that as a female in bjj, wrestling or judo you need to be tough. You need to be able to take falls, thrive on physicality, and not flinch at bumps n bruises. But it is rarely discussed the mental fortitude and chess that has to be played every time you walk onto a mat. As a 5'2" tiny woman, I not only am trying to better myself on the mat but a large portion of my training is focused on not getting injured, which basically means learning how to read and interact with the other, often larger, sometimes misogynistic, people in the gym.
My husband has to deal with the same principle of non-injury on a basic level. Knowing that he needs to control spastic white belts to ensure they don't inadvertently injure him. Understanding that certain techniques shouldn't be used with larger partners or you can put yourself in a precarious position. And knowing when he needs to change the pace as to not anger a hot-head.
But my husband never has to deal with the female part.
The unspoken distaste that many men have at the idea of being scored on, taken down by, passed by, or put at a "losing" position by a female. As a woman on the mat, you see it immediately. This heated look. A deep vengeance stare. A disbelief at themselves for being bettered by a female. It's in that moment that I immediately have to turn on a charm that men never have to utilize on the mat. A smile. A joke. Something to ease their frustration. Anything to ensure that their next action isn't something to deliberately cause injury to me.
This is not to say that a larger partner ever intends to train with a woman differently. And many of my favorite long time partners are dudes. This is usually a phenomenon that occurs when you are new to a gym. When the males do not yet have a comfort level with you. It's something that I have to feel out anytime a new member joins a gym, a visitor is in town, or I am visiting a new place. It's an unspoken dialog that every female has with herself prior to working with a new dude - "How do I stay safe with you? Will you react like a jerk? Will you use too much strength? Will you roll using only technique? Are you someone that will be pissed if a girl does ok? Are you super chill and will aid my development while just working on your technique?". Recently a good friend and I had a great conversation about this- reveling in the fact that we have this secret super power that needs employed at practice.
It's an unspoken conversation that every female has every time she goes with a new man. It's a chess game she plays with herself to ensure each round is completed with her body remaining in tact. It's an avenue of the game that most men are immune to, not attuned to, and will never be able to fully comprehend.
Props to all my partners over the years who have put personal male pride aside. Who have spent their rounds with me using minimal strength. Who focused on sharpening skills, enhancing new techniques, and fixing details while working with me. Thanks to my plethora of male counterparts who because of this have enabled my development, while I provide a body for them to attune specifics in their game. You are the reason I have comfort rolling with the 250 lb gigantor, the 6'2" newbie, and the pot bellied 49 year old. Your acceptance of my size and non-ego about my skill allow me to have partners, gain strength, improve speed, and accept new partners.
Props to all the coaches I have had that encourage men to roll appropriately with us little ladies. Who remind the potential troublemakers that I am half your size. Who drill as a leader- showcasing how to work on your technique despite your partners size. To the coaches who set an example of excellence and acceptance in their gyms. I thank you.
After training the other night my husband and I were discussing our rolls with a newbie and it was the first time in his 20 years of training that he realized how much must be considered prior to any roll I have with a new dude. He hinted at a new level of respect for me. And then, as if on cue, immediately changed the topic.
So to all you women super heroes on the mat- I see you. I see the super power you have prior to each roll. I know the mental game you must play to ensure your own safety. I know the mental strength and inner power you posses. Congratulations on knowing how to fight anyone. I know you are playing a bigger game of chess than anyone will admit. Keep it up. Keep yourself safe. Warn the other ladies of the rougher guys. And keep spreading the education to our amazing training partners, on how to properly, safely, and beneficially train with the midgets.
You may be a tiny fish amongst sharks - but you are powerful beyond words.
Believer that everyone is special.