The Unfolding of My First Year at Jiu-Jitsu

The following is a guest article by Kathryn Kos.

We can take the plunge. 

One year ago, I came into the male-dominated sport of jiu-jitsu training as a small-framed female. I embarked on this journey after watching my boys train for some time. I remember watching adult classes and the warm-up movements alone—with the break falls and hip escapes looked ridiculously awkward and intimidating to me. Never mind the actual training positions. 

But, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to defend myself— and I was also intrigued by the personal growth aspect of jiu-jitsu. So, one year ago, I took the plunge. I won’t lie; the first few classes I attended were some of the most awkward and uncomfortable moments in my life. But I was told to push through and just keep showing up. 

We must do the things that push us away from comfort.

Resistance and procrastination are two powerful forces that keep us stuck in life. We aren’t here on this short trip to remain stuck in our conditioning and patterns. Discomfort forces growth. The first several months were intense in that I had to face some mega fears. I felt entirely exposed. Raw. Vulnerable. Embarrassed. Nowhere to hide. Then there is the close physical contact—the sweat, the raccoon eyes from makeup melting off, and crazy hair. I’m used to keeping myself put together well. But there is no “put together” on the mat. 

At first, I used minimal pressure on my partner—and I kept apologizing and fearing that I would injure someone and possibly get injured as well. I felt dainty. A shell. Like this breakable little person that just didn’t belong there with these strong and aggressive people. I lacked some of the body awareness it took and the ability to understand the chain of movements and put it all together. It just didn’t seem to want to click for me. I left in tears almost every time, feeling like I was failing. But, in actuality, I was growing. I just didn’t know it yet. 

We can be both soft and strong. 

We all carry masculine and feminine energy, but one is always much stronger than the other at our core. I have a deep feminine essence—I’m an emotional, passionate, loving, highly intuitive, creative, sensual, hip-swinging, often ungrounded female. So I was fearful that jiu-jitsu would somehow impact my feminine flow. 

Jiu-jitsu has components of male energy structure and discipline. Yes, we are attacking, submitting, and choking each other. Yes, we are pushing each other to some painful places. But I’ve discovered there is so much more to jiu-jitsu than two aggressive people rolling around on a mat trying to destroy each other. 

A gentle flow takes place—a dance and art, creativity, problem-solving, a puzzle. There is a surrender. You’re feeling the slightest movement from your partner and learning how to respond appropriately to that movement. It takes skill over strength. It’s about learning the right amount of pressure for discomfort without injury.  It’s also knowing when to tap. It’s also pausing and breathing, meditation, laughter, and a hefty dose of playfulness. It’s, in fact, my daily trip to an adult playground. Lots of silly bantering takes place. 

Jiu-jitsu is a place that helps me get physically stronger, but also mentally and spiritually stronger. You are fully engaged and in the moment, with no other distractions. While the combination of flow and unpredictability support my feminine energy, I am learning I can remain soft in my femininity yet powerful and protective at the same time. Jiu-jitsu shows my body what it’s capable of—and it’s so much more than I ever imagined. I am the strongest I have been, and my journey is just beginning. 

While on the mat, we all play nice. 

On the door of my gym, it says, “Jiu-jitsu Is For Everyone.” Jiu-jitsu is indeed where people from every walk of life come together. There are traditionalists and rebels, quirky people, playful people, and serious people. All ages. People with developmental disabilities and physical limitations. Athletes. People with complex and strong personalities. There are all different skill levels. Some people come in with a background in wrestling or other martial arts. Others come with zero experience. Some people generally don’t like each other. None of this matters. 

For a brief moment, we all play together on the same team. Yet, underneath these layers of humanness, there’s an unspoken understanding: While on the mat, everything gets put aside, and we all play nice. This requires a level of acceptance of the human condition, which carries into other areas of life. 

When you’re on the mat, you can no longer self abandon.

The mat is where my ego has been tested—actually crushed. It’s a place where I can’t hide from anything, and my weaknesses are fully exposed. Every split decision I make is fully seen by my partner and impacts how the roll will unfold. This is a metaphor for allowing yourself to be seen in life as well. When you expose yourself like this in an art, you become more capable of being truly seen by people, the good and the bad. This transitions me to the spirituality component and shadow work. 

Jiu-jitsu has helped me face some of my shadows, those parts of myself that I pushed away and avoided. When you’re being pushed in uncomfortable ways, deep, dark, “ugly” things may surface from deep inside that ego. Damn, this part is hard to even write about. Shame. Past traumas. Insecurities. Jealousy. Fear. All those emotions we try to stifle through distraction. Yet through this process of growth and learning, I’m beginning to understand (and, dare I say, give love to) all those parts of myself. And as I accept them as parts of myself trying to protect, I experience less of an impact from them. 

Many women get into self-abandonment patterns and make themselves “smaller” to keep everyone around them happy and comfortable. When you’re on the mat, you can no longer self abandon. You must protect and defend yourself, all the while communicating (often without words) with your partner. When you stop self abandoning, you start showing up for yourself in all other areas of life. You begin to sift through bullshit easier because you are more in tune with yourself and your needs. 

You will never stop learning. 

I’m a humble two-striped white belt continuously getting crushed, with so much more learning ahead. But my confidence has skyrocketed, and in this year, I’ve experienced much growth. Each time I retain a new skill, it’s the best high ever! I’m no longer afraid to be aggressive when I need to be. The sequences of movement are beginning to click in a real way, and that feels awesome! I still doubt myself at times, and when I do, my professor will look at me and say, “you know what to do.” I love that. There are so many more ways that I anticipate growing as a person through this journey, and I realize the learning process with jiu-jitsu is never-ending. I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Jiu-jitsu has become a healthy addiction for me. My only choice is to continue showing up and watching myself unfold in continuously new ways—to slowly become the best version of myself every day. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here