Up till now, your contact with women has (probably) not involved trying to avoid chokes and joint locks. You’re probably used to exchanging hugs, handshakes, and other forms of non-aggressive contact. But now you’re in an environment where all of that is probably going to happen with the inclusion of avoiding being choked or submitted by a joint lock, and you’re not sure how to handle it. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is getting comfortable in the uncomfortable and adapting to the situation; and for a lot of us, rolling with the opposite sex can be a point of voyaging into weird waters. First of all, that’s a normal feeling, so don’t feel like you’re the only one who doesn’t know how to roll with a female. In this post we’re going to take a look at different approaches, schools of thought, and my advice for getting comfortable with the new situation.
When you’re asked to roll with a female by your instructor, remember that they are pairing the two of you together based on closeness of size and rank. If your instructor feels confident in pairing you with someone (regardless of age, ranks, or sex) you should feel confident in their decision too; and go with it. But what if you’ve never trained/rolled with a female before? Relax. Don’t lose sight of what makes Brazilian Jiu Jitsu work—by design its purpose is for the smaller/weaker person to be able to get into positions to win. Even if you’re roughly the same size as the female you’re working with, as a male, you have more muscle and skeletal mass than your partner—which means you’re going to feel heavy. It also means that while you’re about the same size, you’re probably a lot stronger. That’s just science. In those cases, remember to be fair. The purpose of training is to perfect your technique and not have to use all the muscle anyway.
I’ve asked a few of the women that I train with about some advice they’d offer to newbies (like yourself) on how to train/roll with a female. I wanted to know if they preferred the guy to scale it back and ‘let them work’ or maybe they felt like that was a slight. Maybe they didn’t want the guy to hold back. The answers I got were a mixed bag of both. Again, you’re about the same size anyway, but I think that it’s your job as the (stronger/heavier) guy to keep it even and fair; and if that means holding back sometimes maybe that’s the best option. But don't do anyone any favors, either. Fellow white belt, Rebecca Reuben who trains at Romulo Melo BJJ in San Francisco, says “We are stronger than you think! And [we] will let you know if you are being too rough, personally I don’t mind the roughness; it’s good preparation.” Which is worth considering because taking it too easy on your training partner isn’t helping them get better or learn to help them train against larger opponents—or attackers.
(Rebecca Getting to Work!)
I think the best way to approach a training situation with a female that you’ve never trained with before is to start off my introducing yourself. Even if you’ve been training in the same classes for awhile now, a polite introduction will help you both feel more comfortable. Then ask your partner if there is anything that she’d like to train or drill with you. If so, great! But if not just reassure her that you’re going to do your best not to ‘Hulk out’ on her and focus on technique, but not let her have any gimmies, either. If you’re able to accomplish those simple steps in the time you have between getting assigned the new partner and when the roll starts, then you should be able to expect a good, fun, quality spar with a new friend and training partner.
I’m sure you’re also worried about the taboo topics of accidently grabbing/touching a breast, butt, or any other uncomfortable body part—I am too. It’s something we as male training partners have to be aware of. Accidents happen and our female training partners know that, too. It’s our duty as good training partners to always be considerate, but going back to the previous points, don’t avoid going for a collar grab because you’re too scared of brushing up against a boob. As in all things BJJ,you’ll get better at it with experience. As long as you maintain a high level of respect for all of your training partners, you should never run into any awkward problems. But most of all, treat your female training partners with the same respect you’d give anyone. Otherwise you might end up like homie down here…