Jiu-jitsu is still a growing sport, and although it’s becoming more and more popular for women, we still have a way to go before female grapplers are supported and celebrated just as much as their male counterparts. Whether you’re male or female, here’s how you can help women’s jiu-jitsu continue to grow:
Attend female-led events.
How many seminars by female athletes have you attended? How does that number stack up against the seminars you’ve attended by male athletes? For some reason, seminars by male grapplers attract both men and women, while seminars led by female grapplers are seen as being women-only (even when they aren’t advertised as such). And oftentimes, even women prefer to spend their money at a male-led seminar instead of one directed by a female athlete.
Look, I get it — when you have a limited amount of cash to allocate towards seminars, it’s more tempting to spend it to learn from that famous BJJ guy you see all over jiu-jitsu websites and social media, and very few women saturate the media in the same way that Gordon Ryan or Buchecha do (more on that later). But ignoring the benefits that you could get from receiving instruction from a world-class athlete just because she’s female is just limiting yourself and limiting the ability of female athletes to make money in jiu-jitsu.
Push for female inclusivity at competitions.
More jiu-jitsu events are starting to offer equal pay and opportunities for female competitors, but there are still plenty of instances among competitions both large and small that either don’t offer equal prizes for female athletes or don’t offer the same opportunities for them to compete at all. ACBJJ, for example, put out a public call for signups for their European Open, which stated, “Championship is open to all nationalities, all belts, teens, juveniles, & adults. No female.” After one female athlete asked about the exclusion, she was informed that it was due to financial reasons (and that the organization plans to add female divisions in 2019), but that didn’t stop the organization from keeping the youth divisions despite sparse signups.
A major victory for women’s jiu-jitsu happened just recently, when a large number of BJJ athletes rallied behind the cause of adding more women’s Masters divisions to IBJJF events. Previously, only a Masters 1 division existed for women, meaning that a 55-year-old wouldn’t be guaranteed the option to compete against other women her own age. But after a massive push by the BJJ community, the IBJJF added more masters divisions for women to match the men’s masters divisions.
Jiu-jitsu is a predominantly male sport, so it’s no surprise that opportunities for female competitors are still catching up. But at this point, anything less than equality is 1950s-esque. If you run an event, you should be offering the same registration opportunities and prizes for women as you are for men. If your concern is that you’ll have fewer women signing up and you’ll be handing out an equal-value cash prize to a three-person division winner as a 15-person division winner, make it a rule that the cash amount depends on bracket size for both women and men. Assuming that women won’t show up will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, which will hurt both your event and the female competition scene. If you’re a practitioner (especially one who regularly competes in events that offer don’t gender-equal opportunities), make some noise when you see an event that doesn’t give women equal support. Post about it on social media, write emails to the event coordinators, and encourage other people to put the same type of pressure on them.
Promote female athletes.
The lack of female coverage in jiu-jitsu media is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be fighting to make women’s jiu-jitsu more mainstream. Turning female jiu-jitsu athletes into household names is an effort that requires work from both those who produce BJJ media and those who consume it — yes, we should be pushing for streaming and news sites to provide more coverage to female grapplers, but we should also be sharing that coverage when we see it.
Devote more effort to learning about the female grapplers winning big at Worlds and ADCC. Share women’s technique videos. Give other female grapplers the same love that Mackenzie Dern has received throughout her career. Maybe then we’ll not only see more female BJJ athletes being given more professional opportunities, but also more girls and women signing up for jiu-jitsu after they watch it become more commonplace for their gender.
Make your academy female-friendly.
Not all women start training jiu-jitsu for self-defense purposes, but a lot of them do. Many women sign up to train after experiencing or nearly experiencing assault, and the close contact that happens in jiu-jitsu can be a tough thing to fight through for them. I’ve previously compiled a list of suggestions to help make your academy a good environment for women, but the biggest thing to keep in mind is to just make your female students and teammates feel welcome. Invite the new girl to roll with you when she’s sitting on the sidelines. Give your upper-belt female students the same assistant coaching opportunities you give your upper-belt male students. Have a female-only class once a week so that newer female students can get comfortable with the intimate nature of jiu-jitsu without being forced to roll with men from the get-go.
Making your academy a safe and comfortable place for women isn’t giving them preferential treatment — it’s understanding that their needs may sometimes be different than male grapplers’ and making sure that they know they’re valued just as much.
Jiu-jitsu is an empowering art for both men and women, and everyone deserves to get the most out of the sport they’ve dedicated so much to.
Featured photo by Giulliana Fonseca Photography