Men Rolling with Women in BJJ
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a relatively young martial art and sport with roughly less than 100 years of history under its black belt. Just as is true in many sports and martial arts, the activity has been filled with male practitioners. It has only been about 25-30 years since female competitors have been able to compete on the highest stages. Today, the female demographic is one of the fastest growing in the martial art. With the increased spotlight, provided by grappling promotions like Fight to Win on female grappling with a number of it's headlining matches this past year being held by women, this fast growing sport is going to see more and more ladies stepping onto the mats to learn BJJ.
It's fairly safe to say that females currently make up no more than 25% of the BJJ population across the board. Many academies are adding women's only classes and other groups in an attempt grow the size of their female student population which is a great move.
Though the key to growing the female jiu jitsu population should be the same as for any population, create an accessible environment that is friendly and non-threatening to beginners. But there needs to be special attention to how individuals train with each other when the population is predominantly male. Generally, there will be size and strength differences between the male practitioner and the female. Does that mean that the two genders shouldn't train together? Absolutely not. Jiu Jitsu, unlike many sports and activities actually has built in mechanisms to level the playing field.
If you are a male BJJ student, here are some quick tips to making sure that both you and your female training partner both have a great training session. In these tips, I am making the assumption that the female student is the less experienced. If she is an experienced grappler or even a black belt, I will wish the male student luck.
Focus 100% on Using Technique Over Strength
With the assumption that there is a size and strength difference between you and your female training partner and that they are perhaps less experienced than you, it is crucial that you focus on using 100% technique during your training and not relying on your natural strength advantage to muscle moves like you would rolling with your male counterparts.
There is absolutely no reason to keep a smaller training partner (regardless of gender) in mount or side control indefinitely. Once you've established a dominant position, move to something else, or allow them to begin working an escape. Some of my best training experiences have been with lighter grapplers, both male and female, because in most cases, I find them to be much more technically proficient than me, because in their world, it is imperative that they are perfect. Whereas as an over 200 lb grappler can get away with some sloppiness because of size and strength.
Work Areas of Your Game That Need Work
When I am working with a smaller training partner, particularly a female, I tend to work my bottom guard game, my sweeps and my escapes. This approach can give you a chance to put some reps in to areas that you try to avoid at all costs because perhaps they are weaknesses that you don't want to have exploited by opponents who are your size. This way, you can perfect the areas you need improved, while giving the lighter female training partner a great experience working their top control, guard passing, and their submissions. In this case, both partners benefit equally and the environment is safe, but challenging.
Speaking of females, you may want to check out the newest instructional from one of the most successful grapplers in history (who also happens to be a female), Kayla Harrison! As a multiple time Olympic Gold medal winner in judo, she brings an amazing bank of knowledge to the BJJ Fanatics arena. Check out her series available here.