I’ve been a fan of MMA (mixed martial arts, for those of you living under a rock) for ten years and it actually surprises me that it’s taken me this long to start physically trying out some elements of it myself. I don’t harbor any fantasies about competing (actually I do, but I realize they’re fantasies) but it’s one of the few sports I truly love to watch: it’s exciting, it’s aggressive, and it’s extremely complicated. MMA is truly a thinking-person’s game; lots of people say it’s like human chess in its depth of strategy, adaptation, and quick-thinking. And recently, a few amazing women fighters have found mainstream success and popularity in a testosterone-fueled industry where, I believe, they routinely outperform their male counterparts. But I’m getting ahead of myself—first, I’ll tell you about my class.
After my bodybuilding competition, I was looking for something else fun to occupy my time (the jury’s still out as to whether I’ll compete again). I searched BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) classes in my area and, rather surprisingly, found one that offered women’s only classes. This is still relatively rare as many MMA-style fighting classes are predominately male, but the nature of this particular sport, which to the layperson looks mostly like rolling around the floor with another person in a bear hug, would be a much simpler process in the early stages if you are working with someone of the same sex, and even better, roughly the same size. I’m not particularly shy, but straddling a strange dude while you learn to choke him out, while he’s worried about accidentally hitting you in the boobs…well, let’s just say, it’s easier when you’re both working with the same equipment. Moving on.
So I started attending a no-gi class (most BJJ practitioners practice in a uniform called a gi; the no-gi style is in many ways different, and is the type of fighting you want to practice if you plan to move on to MMA, which utilizes BJJ as well as a number of other disciplines like boxing, wrestling, and kickboxing). At any time there are usually only two or maybe three women in the class. We start our warmups alongside the men’s class, which consists of drills like forward and backward rolls, a movement called shrimping, and even learning how to fall efficiently. These movements warm the body and prepare you for the actual moves you’ll be learning later.
Because my class is ongoing, rather than having an official start/stop date, anyone who joins is basically just thrown into whatever is being worked on that day. My first class consisted of learning the triangle choke, a move where you attempt to cut off someone’s blood flow to their brain by trapping their neck and arm in between your thighs and squeezing (SO badass). The instructor walks you through the movement, giving details about arm/leg placement, how to minimize the space between you and your opponent, and how to avoid injury to yourself even as you’re attempting to injure someone else. Then, you get to try it with your partner, and have it done to you—the latter point is very important, because I don’t recommend trying to choke someone until you’ve had that feeling, even for practice, done to you.
Now, at this point, you may be thinking, “This sounds so awesome, and like such a great workout!” Or, it’s possible you may be thinking, “What is wrong with this person? She’s learning to break people’s arms and wrestle with strangers and she actually thinks it’s fun?” To each their own, but if you’re someone who likes to at least try new things, I really suggest you give BJJ a go before you judge. First, it’s great exercise—it is incredibly physically demanding to spend three minutes trying to keep someone from putting you in a headlock. Second, it’s empowering, for both men and women—you’re learning a new skill, you’re learning self defense moves, and you’re becoming somewhat more comfortable in an aggressive physical situation should the need ever arise to get yourself out of one. Finally, it’s great intellectual stimulation. I’m not sure if the pros are able to go on autopilot, but at least when you’re learning, your mind is constantly racing, figuring out your next step, trying to anticipate your opponent’s, and sorting through the near endless possibilities for victory in any position.
If you’re interested in giving it a try, but you’re a bit apprehensive, just shop around to a couple different places first—find one that seems welcoming and fun. Even better, bring a girlfriend along with you; having a friend makes everything less scary, and you can learn together. I will keep you posted as I continue in my journey – next up, I have my first one-on-one grappling or “rolling” session, and I try a Thai kickboxing class.
Have you ever tried any martial arts classes or BJJ in particular? I’d love to hear your stories!