My Women Only BJJ Class Experiment – One Year Later

Four women recently made it to their one-year anniversary in my women’s only BJJ classes. It’s been a great ride.

The numbers in my women only Brazilian jiu jitsu class have been slowly, but steadily, growing. So far, four women have made it to their one-year anniversary.

To mark the occasion, I asked them what impact BJJ has had on their lives this past year. I was so inspired hearing the stories of my male teammates in my article, The Life Changing Benefits of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I wanted to see if the women had the same experience.

That’s me, getting choked, along with some of my students.

Self Confidence

Kelly Pittman began the women’s program in November 2013. I don’t think she said a word for the first couple of months, but she has since emerged from her shell and is a dedicated member of our team. Regarding her experience in training with us, she said:

I joined BJJ for exercise and to learn something new. I didn’t know that I would love it so much. It has given me a lot of confidence. I have never had anyone in my life ever use the word “assertive” to describe me until recently in class.

Pittman didn’t join for social reasons, but we have all now been to her house on several occasions for epic holiday parties. “I have met some wonderful people who I otherwise may have never crossed paths with. I didn’t expect to meet new friends when I joined.” This year, Kelly plans to compete in her first tournament and she has been coming to our co-ed open mat as well. Last month, Kelly earned her first stripe.

Expanding Your Comfort Zone

Like Kelly, Sarah Kolybaba was also shy at first. Before her first class, she sat outside in her car for fifteen minutes, trying to get the courage to come in. Times have changed, according to Sarah:

As I approach my one-year anniversary of first walking into Titans, I’m amazed by the changes jiu jitsu has brought to my life. I’m so thankful I was able to push past my anxiety and stick with something that was once so far out of my comfort zone, but has now become such a key part of my everyday … from training multiple nights a week to recognizing how crappy the fight scenes are on television shows.

Though I’m not at all religious in any other aspect, I think it’s fair to say jiu jitsu has become my religion. I train as often as possible simply because I want to and find it difficult to stay away. Jiu jitsu is both humbling and empowering. It has made me physically fitter and more comfortable in my mind and body than I’ve ever been. I’ve become far more keen, swift, and confident. Best of all, I’ve made solid friendships built on the equal parts trust and humor that come with practicing this art.

Sarah has changed a lot since beginning BJJ, but she still hates Thug Life. For her first stripe, I had to go for Hug Life. Check out her promotion in the video below:

Living the BJJ Lifestyle

I met Colleen Blake at a local MMA event, where one of our fighters had just won his fight via arm triangle. A mutual friend introduced us, telling Colleen she could learn how to choke someone like that in my class. I’m not sure whether she had ever choked anyone before, but now she can choke people in a variety of different ways.

Colleen’s choke repertoire isn’t the only thing that changed. She explained to me:

I love the art. I talk about it at work and with my friends, I move my schedule around it, I get my ass off the couch well into the evening to get out for class (no small feat), I have started going to the gym because I want to be a better jiu jiteiro. I guess, in short, I’ve started living the BJJ lifestyle.

Although Colleen has gotten in better shape since starting BJJ, she pushes herself to get into even better shape off the mats. What keeps her motivated? Her teammates:

I’ve met a great group of people, especially our women’s class. When I’m feeling tired or discouraged and consider giving up BJJ, one of the things that always pulls me back is those women and the sense of community in our group. It’s brought some much needed discipline into my life. I’m more confident about my ability to protect myself if I need to.”

Colleen’s hard work has paid off and she recently earned her first stripe:

The Swagger Factor

I remember the day in May when Sarah Murphy sent me a message on Facebook to say she was interesting in trying BJJ. I knew Sarah from working at a local drug store years ago. Since those days, Sarah got married and started a family, and the pregnancy affected her body in ways she didn’t expect. She explained how things were for her and how training BJJ has helped:

After I had my son, my core was so weak it was basically crumbling under the weight of my upper body. I had chronic lower back pain for months. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been now, and haven’t had any pain since I started training. My energy levels, cardio and flexibility have all improved and my balance has improved ten-fold, which surprisingly comes in quite handy.

Releasing pent-up energy has also improved Murphy’s relationships. She said, “The time to myself, doing something I enjoy genuinely makes me a happier person, which makes me not a surly asshole. You can imagine the benefits that has on my marriage.” Jiu jitsu has also increased her swagger:

Jiu jitsu makes you cool. Whether anyone else believes that doesn’t matter. You feel confident, and a little bad-ass when you get a chance to tell someone you train in jiu jitsu. And let’s face it, perception is reality. So if I think I’m cool, thank I am cool. Plus, my son is going to grow up thinking his mother is a ninja.

I’ll tell you a secret: Murphy has always been cool. But now she is a one-stripe player for real.

We’re All In It Together

Starting a women’s program at Titans was hard and discouraging work at first. There were months of no one showing up to train. But the effort has definitely been worth it. Not only do I now have a variety of female training partners, but I have also made some wonderful and inspiring new friends. Sarah Murphy said it best:

The friendships you make are some of the best kinds. The two most important qualities in a successful relationship are trust and respect, both of which are demanded in this sport. It’s a recipe for awesome bonds.

Introducing these amazing women to jiu jitsu has strengthened my enthusiasm for this martial art, and now we are all in it together with the rest of the Titans team, trying to solve the endless puzzle of jiu jitsu.

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