Monday, April 25, 2011

The New Girls


 Tonight I stepped onto the mat and immediately pulled my foot back. Was I early? It looked like I was walking into the kids’ class. Right in front of the door were three girls, one looked quite young, 9th grade tops. After a second glance I recognized the two women who tried out a class about two weeks ago, and what looked like their younger sister. This is good. Almost half my class had two X chromosomes. So, yea, Team Women, tonight!
After the women tried out a class and did not return, I was disappointed. As the “matriarch,” I felt a responsibility to represent. I thought, Maybe I should have given them my number to call with questions? Did I do a good enough job promoting BJJ to them? But then they did return and since there were three of them, I was partnered with them doing basic drill while my male classmates, some who started after me, learned a new armbar. When it was time for rolling, I again started off with one of ladies. But when the buzzer rang, the guys switched among themselves.
I took this all in stride. On the one hand, I want the New Girls to feel comfortable and welcomed. I want them to continue. But, damn did I want to learn that new armbar! I want to help the New Girls integrate and feel successful. But I want to get my roll on, too. Not only for BJJ’s sake, but I need a certain amount of exercise or . . . else. When I first started BJJ, I ran before class because my mat time was not very vigorous. Since about February, I have given that up because I’ve been getting a great workout. Crazy, Exercise-Addicted Shark Girl’s mind was racing tonight: I’m happy to work with these nice, young ladies, but what if I don’t get my workout in?
It’s ironic that I am feeling these sentiments. As I reflect on my own BJJ practice, I remember being that new person and feeling like I was the “consolation” roll. I know if they stay around, these women will challenge me. I know I have much to learn from them. However, I was thinking, They are looking to me as the experienced one, and frankly, I don’t feel qualified to instruct.
There’s a part of me that feels like I’m losing my place. Will I no longer be the lone (shark) girl in the boys’ club? Then I caught myself saying to one of the guys, “Crap. Now I can’t swear anymore!” Perhaps I’m not the “girl” I thought I was!
I am excited that the New Girls are coming. I am very happy to help initiate them into all this grappling fun. I recognize on some level I am the best person to help acclimatize them to the class. And I look forward to getting to know some new friends. My real concern is that I don’t want this to turn into segregation. I want to learn and work with all the class members. At some point the New Girls will need to cycle into the class. When I walked onto the mat as Lone Shark Girl, I took a deep breath and learned to be fearless as I faced large, hulking men.
This really is all new and I am hopeful that my instructor is savvy enough not to segregate. I hope the New Girls are fearless enough not to want that segregation. And if that’s not the case, I hope I can find a way to get what I need without making the New Girls feel like the consolation roll.
If you have had any similar feelings or experiences, I’d love for you to share them.

13 comments:

  1. Hi. I’ve been in a similar position more than once, and I regret not talking to the instructor about it, because it can be easy for you to get stuck with the “new girl” for a long time. After three weeks of always drilling with the newbie just because she’s a girl, and missing your workout, it gets really frustrating, even if she’s a promising student with a great attitude. The instructor is very important in these cases. It’s on him to make sure this doesn’t happen, but unfortunately, some of them are comfortable letting you end up in this situation. So, I recommend talking to him about it now. With three new people joining in a group, it’s not even necessary for any of the senior students to drill with them. I’ve belonged to a small school with only an all-levels class, and when several beginners start around the same time, the instructor had them drill together for one or two months before they joined the rest of the class. Since the classes were small, he could keep an eye on their technique and safety, and it worked out very well. If your school doesn’t do this, the senior people should rotate their turn with the new people. It would be beneficial for new girls to see you included in the class and holding your own. Otherwise, it will make all of you feel different, and as you know, we just want to be treated like all the other students.

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  2. I concur with Anonymous -- be sure to talk to your instructor. He will probably not realize if you wind up working a lot with the New Girls and so aren't getting your own work. At least there's more than 1 of them, so as Anon. pointed out, they can work together.

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  3. I've kind of had this happen, but it's worked out since the "new girl" is the first female in the school that's my size. We roll a lot (two in a row today, but that could have been because we're both newbies to no-gi), but it works since she's tough (we both go harder with each other than we do with the guys) and big and is a great opportunity to start on the bottom. Oddly, with me and the two newest women, we're on the larger side of the gym.

    That said, I had the same worries you did about segregation...which I don't completely think is a bad thing. I did, however, make sure to keep myself "on the radar" of the guys by talking to them and asking questions. 3 months into her coming and I still get good time with higher belt guys.

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  4. You all always have great advice. I think I'll wait one more class to see if it was a "first night" thing. If not, I'll have a chat with the instructor.

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  5. i feel the exact same way. once i brought two girls from work and spent practically the entire class helping them and i know i sound selfish for wanting to be able to use that night to get ready for an upcoming tournament but part of me was protective over them, i was afraid of what would happen had they wandered to the other side of the mat into the mist of muscly guys just waiting for new prey

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  6. I don't think you're selfish. You had a goal. You were focused on it. But it sure was nice of you to look after your friends. I understand that protective mode--since you brought 'em you didn't want 'em to be crushed. Did they end up staying around?

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  7. SG- I have this happen too. Sometimes with new small guys, or elderly guys (we've had more than one!)... usually what I'll do towards the end of the class/open mat time is look around, catch a mellow teammate, and suggest that the new person might like to "try those techniques on Bill here, since he's a different body type and size, so you get a feel for it!" Now, if it's a timid girl, I might not on their first day... but I try to get a feel for their personal attitude towards it (and usually by the end of our 3 hours-long class, they're more focused on replicating the technique properly and less concerned with the whole "stranger between my legs" thing.)

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  8. That's a great suggestion--and a very smooth transition. Isn't it amazing how quickly the "stranger between my legs" becomes of the least concern? You may just have inspired a post. Of course, you have inspired many, many posts. But here we saw it in action!

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  9. the worst in when myself and the other girl that trains (blue belt) would travel hours to other gyms to train and they partner us TOGETHER for almost the entire class period because we're the only girld there. UGGGH i didn't just waste 30$ in gas money and hours on the road for this WTF!! and then finally i said something to one of the owners of the gym and they were understanding about it but it burnt my ass for a while.

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  10. Oh, that would really bug me! You're there to mix it up. I'm so glad you said something. Good for you.

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  11. They did. Haven't been around much this summer. They mix it up now with the guys without question. I usually start drilling with one of them and then we mix up our rolls first. Then I spar with the guys with time left over. It's been good because since their strength is more of a match for me, I can really practice positions and submissions on them. I don't have a chance to do that with the guy--always fighting for dear life. : )

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