Monday, August 8, 2011

Shark Girl Rejected!

I am taking a break from narrating my first tournament to bring you a special Brazilian jiu jitsu news update.

Some of you may remember the last time I cheated. I had been practicing jiu jitsu for about 3 ½ months. I was going to an out-of-town conference. I found a gym near my conference and sent them an e-mail request to visit. I thought the gym might raise their eyebrows at an e-mail from a woman. I sent it from FirstInitial LastName, so my sex would not be divulged. I knew, of course, that the recipient would think I was a guy. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t want to reveal my sex. Was it because I was afraid they would reject me? Was it my own feelings about being a woman in a male-dominated sport? For whatever reason, I went to the gym, eyebrows were raised, but in the end everything worked out very well.

Fast forward to August. Shark Girl is vacationing. I have been without jiu jitsu for almost a week. I found a place near my rental that has BJJ classes. I e-mailed them and asked if I could visit. This time, feeling confident that I have some jits cred (heck, I’ve competed!) I proudly announced my femaledom. Their BJJ classes were listed as men’s, but they had other women’s martial arts classes. I asked if it would be possible to visit, and if it wasn’t, could they recommend a place nearby.

I received no response. I waited three or four days. I decided to call. No answer. I left a message. I said I would call back. Tonight, I called and here’s what happened.

“Hello, Mixed Martial Arts School, Guy speaking.”
“Hi. I left a message yesterday about your classes.”
“Oh, yeah. To be honest, where do you train? We don’t really train women here.”
“Yeah, there’s no interest. We haven’t had any interest from women.”
“That’s interesting.”
“Yeah, and we have, like, classes every day.”
“Well, I guess I was the first woman at my gym. I’m comfortable training with men. I noticed that it says you train only gi. Is that true even in summer? I only brought stuff for nogi.”
“Yep, only gi.”
“Okay, well could you recommend a place nearby that would be able to accommodate me?”
“Hmmm . . . there’s a place [too far away] . . .”
“Okay, thank you.”

I am going back and forth in my head about how I feel about this.

Should I feel:

·         Annoyed that he didn’t take a request from a female seriously
·         Pissed that he doubted my jiu jitsu commitment
·         Upset at a missed opportunity to train
·         Disappointed that I didn’t push further; he could see that women can really like BJJ
·         Cowardly for giving him an out with the gi
·         Relieved—I dodged a bullet; obviously women aren’t welcome there for BJJ
·         Other:                                                                                      ?

I suppose the answer is that I should feel what I do feel, and that is all of the above. Plus I feel a little dirty. In his tone of voice there was something that said it was wrong for me to want to train. We haven’t had any interest from women. (Ummm . . . you’re getting interest now, Guy.) It was like he thought I had some creepy ulterior motive. Like I got my kicks from having strange men in my guard. Like I was some kind of deviant.

Sigh. This will be a good time to rest my joints and tendons. But the truth is, I don’t want to.


  1. Oh wow. That is crazy. I'm not sure how I would react in that situation. I think I would try to convince myself of the value of the "dodging a bullet" aspect. Obviously it is not a good place to train. Their loss.

    But more so it gets me thinking: WTF is wrong with some people?

  2. You should name and shame this gym: perhaps I've been sheltered, but I've not heard of a BJJ club being that blatantly sexist before.

  3. I think you should march in there, and start kicking ass and takin' names. Anyway it's Shark Week on Discovery Channel.

    I know you are a woman of the Lord and I vote for a tactic of shining some needed light for these gentlemen.


  4. When I sought a gym to start training at, some instructors were skeptical because no other ladies were training. They raised concerns, mostly about my comfort, but ultimately saw potential for a new market. One even offered to start a women's class and see if any of his other female clients would want to join.

    @Dag: Shark Week!!!!!!!

  5. Wow! An unbelievable throwback to the dark ages. It makes me angry just thinking about it. Is this a well-known gym or just some rogue group of bjj sexists?

  6. You might have dodged a bullet. In my experience, just because the guy who runs the place welcomes women doesn't mean you'll have a good experience with the guys in class. So even if the guy who runs the place doesn't welcome women, there might have been one or a few guys there who are open minded. Would you have felt any better if he had just said, "Women aren't welcome to train here?" Because, he did.

  7. @Anon: You are right. I think that the demeanor and level of acceptance of the instructor can set a tone for the group as a whole, though.

    Hmmm...if the guy had said "Women aren't welcome," that would have been harsh. I've thought about this a lot since it's happened. This would have been "more palatable": "It's advertised as a men's class. I don't know how comfortable the guys will be training with a woman, and since you are on vacation and will not be here long term, it's not something I want to get into." But, that supposes that the guy is okay with training with women. Given his reaction to me and that he specifies that the class is men's when he has had no previous interest from women leads me to believe he does not want to train women. Megan @ Tangled Triangle had a post on this a while back (If I weren't so lazy, I'd link it.) about whether it was "ok" for guys to refuse to train with ladies. Sometimes I think it is fine, and other times it really pisses me off. I haven't come to terms with that yet.

  8. I think some clubs have more passive-aggressive ways of discouraging women. At least he was up front... ;P

    I figure you probably dodged a bullet AND they lost an opportunity - both.

  9. I suppose it was preferable to going there and feeling really awkward about the whole thing. Many people have said it is the instructor that is supposed to set the tone. Given that he clearly was uncomfortable, he was most likely incapable of setting an appropriate tone. I'm bummed I lost out on some jiu jitsu--I vacation there a lot.


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