When you sign up for the open weight division at a tournament, you go in knowing that you may be up against someone whose body type is significantly different than yours. Generally, if you’re not comfortable competing against someone who’s 30 lbs heavier than you, the solution is easy: stick to your weight class and don’t enter the open weight division. But if you’re a woman who weighs more than 175 lbs, you don’t really have that option under the current IBJJF system.
The IBJJF’s current weight class system caps all limited-weight classes for women at the “heavy” category, which allows a maximum weight of 175 lbs. Competitors over 175 lbs are placed into the “super heavy” category, which carries no weight limit. For many female competitors, this relatively low limit presents problems, and blue belt Sherah Brickell is leading the push to change it.
At 6’0” and 187 lbs, Brickell has been competing in IBJJF tournaments since she was a white belt. “I was a bit floored when I read that 175 was considered ‘super heavy,’” she says. Her first match had her competing against an opponent who was nearly 100 lbs heavier than her, and she says it made her reconsider if she even wanted to continue competing anymore. However, she refused to give up and signed up again as a blue belt for another IBJJF tournament… only to have to go against a competitor who was 50 lbs heavier than her. “Being a taller woman that has muscle, cutting down to the ‘heavy’ division just isn’t something I feel I should have to do to be able to compete against women who are in my weight range,” she says.
While the issue of having to cut weight when you’re already lean isn’t exclusively a female problem, it’s worth noting that the men’s division offers an additional weight class (“ultra heavy”) and caps the weight limit for “super heavy” competitors at 222 lbs: 47 pounds more than the highest weight limit for female competitors. For Brickell, this disparity is what transforms her issue from an unpleasant inconvenience to a true problem. “The last time the weight divisions were changed for IBJJF was back in 2014 when they added the rooster and super heavy divisions,” she says. “Times have changed since just four years ago, and there are more women of all shapes and sizes filling the brackets… I believe even more women would compete if there were more realistic and safe weight divisions for women not only in IBJJF tournaments, but in smaller local tournaments as well.”
Krista Ferando, another IBJJF competitor, has also experienced drastic weight differences in competition and believes that adding another weight class “would encourage more females to compete.”
“I have been paired up with girls 100 pounds more than me in IBJJF competitions… when I weighed close to 190 pounds,” she says. “It would be nice to see the same number of weight classes for women as men.”
Kathy Butler, another blue belt, says that the limited weight classes have affected her five-year competitive career. “I compete at the lighter end of super-heavy in IBJJF, and it is intimidating. I am definitely not ‘big’ in that division. But dropping into heavy would be a real challenge. I am not only small for my division, but always significantly older as well. I just want somewhat of a fair match-up. I consider stopping competition constantly, but I still want to do it. I have faced much larger women and it is frightening to face the added potential for possible injury due size differences. It is challenging being a female in jiu-jitsu, and even more so if you want to compete.”
A petition has been created to add a female ultra heavy division and, at press time, had nearly 600 signatures. Brickell hopes that it’ll create the same effect that the inspirational Master Women’s campaign did last month. “There needs to be another weight increment added or else they are going to be losing myself and others as competitors.”
Butler shares Brickell’s concerns. “We are losing ground if women become too discouraged by the whole situation and then stop competing, or never start. Not that competing is everything. But we should have an opportunity, if we want to do it.”
You can view and sign the petition here.