Reader Question: I was wondering if you have any advice for me. I’m a girl and a white belt I started to jiu jitsu in february. More often than not I am the only girl in the classes and i feel like sometimes some guys don’t want to roll with me because of that especially higher belts. I want to roll with yhe hugher belts so that I can learn how im doing technique wise with a more skilled opponent. Most of the guy are pretty welcoming theirs only of few I have this problem with. Should I say something or should I just ignore it and stick to the guys who will openly roll with me?
Jiu-Jitsu Times: This is one of the most common problems for women in jiu-jitsu, regardless of rank or experience. I’ve asked a lot of my male BJJ friends about this, and most of them give me two answers: they’re either afraid of making their new female training partners uncomfortable, or they don’t realize they haven’t been rolling with them. But every now and again, you’ll come across someone who’s still stuck in the 1950s and believes that women simply don’t belong in jiu-jitsu.
As much as it sucks sometimes, the truth is that you’re going to have to work a lot harder to earn respect in this sport as a woman than you would if you had a Y chromosome. It’s not a matter of self-pity — it’s just a fact. The good thing is that it’ll turn you into one of the toughest people on the mats if you stick with it, but it’s going to be a rough journey, and the training partners who refuse to roll with you aren’t going to make it any easier.
One of the best things you can do is to show up, keep putting the work in, and prove that although you’re “just” a white belt, you’re willing to put forth just as much effort as the people who have been doing this for years. A lot of higher belts avoid rolling with white belts not because of their gender, but because they now think that they’re “above” rolling with beginners. Honestly, it’s their loss — you’ll hear lots of world champion black belts say that they can learn from anyone, even if it’s their opponent’s first day on the mats. But if you prove through your actions rather than your words that you’ll be sticking around, you’ll find that even your more selective training partners will start picking you out to roll with.
If that doesn’t work, start calling them out yourself. Not everyone is cool with lower belts calling higher belts over to roll, but unless your gym has a specific rule against it, I don’t see anything wrong with asking a higher belt if they want to roll with you. Everyone I train with is more than fine with being called to roll by both black belts and first-day white belts alike, and personally, I think that’s the kind of culture every BJJ gym should have.
If these guys absolutely refuse to roll with you, it’s fine to ask why they won’t. You can’t force them to roll with you, but you can at least ask them what they have against it. I’ve had to do this a few times, and I’ve gotten a pretty wide range of answers that include, “I’m just a big guy and I worry about squishing you” to “My girlfriend doesn’t like the idea of me rolling with other women.” No one, however, has ever made me feel like I was whining for bringing it up. You should be able to trust your teammates, especially after almost a year of training with them. If they make you feel bad for asking a simple question, that’s a reflection on them, not you.
Should you not feel comfortable with talking to these guys about it yourself, go to your instructor. A good professor will take your concerns seriously and sort the situation out. In fact, some instructors would prefer that you go to them first. Tom DeBlass himself has said that he would want his students coming to him if they were faced with this situation, so trust me: your professor can make the time and effort to hear you out.
From what you said, though, the majority of your male training partners seem to be fine with you practicing with them, and those are the guys who are going to help you out the most in your BJJ journey regardless of how experienced they are. I attribute much of my success in jiu-jitsu to a guy who barely outranks me. He knows a good deal less than some of my other teammates, but he was the one who encouraged me to keep showing up to class when I wanted to quit and had patience with me when I thought I’d never learn a technique. The teammates who want to roll with you are the ones who will be invested in your success. If those other guys can’t be bothered to train with you no matter how much you try to convince them to, don’t lose sleep over it — you already have plenty of teammates who are willing to take that journey alongside you.