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.