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July 06, 2018

This is how we really ‘roll’: busting myths and learning the (fun!) truth about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu


“It’s actually really fun”  is my usual response when someone is surprised to hear that I practiced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) – a martial art based on grappling (all groundwork, no punching or kicking here) and submission (holds or positions that win you the fight).


I understand the surprise though. There was a time when I remember thinking “I could never do anything like that. Why would I want to get beat up?” To the average spectator, BJJ can easily be perceived as a rough activity: the fighters are tumbling around, reaching for limbs, perhaps even trying to choke their opponent. Most times when people are surprised that I trained in the sport I think it comes from being intimidated by the activity. Women, in particular, seem especially hesitant to tie on a gi (the traditional garment you wear in BJJ) and hit the mats. But read on, ‘cause it’s time to bust some myths about the ‘gentle art’ that is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Trust me, your self-confidence and physique will thank you for giving it a try.


The 3 Biggest BJJ Myths – Busted


Myth 1: You’re going to get punched and kicked

I’ll begin by addressing one of the biggest misconceptions about BJJ: there is no striking. Zero. Unlike kickboxing or Muay Thai, you don’t have to worry about taking a fist, elbow, knee, or any other limb to the face. No one is trying to knock you out on a BJJ mat. True, you are in almost constant contact with your opponent but you do not have to worry about protecting your face or body in the same way you would if you were in a kickboxing fight.




Myth 2: You’re going to get beat up

It looks ferocious but, speaking as an athlete who has participated in many different sports, fighters are some of the most respectful people and athletes you will meet. It is also a martial art. BJJ is in fact all about the technique but we’ll get to that later. When you train with legitimate Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners, your training partners will ‘roll’ (a BJJ term for training your drills and moves. Same concept as the term “sparring” in the kickboxing community) at a level that is respectful of your skills and knowledge. A good training partner wants you to learn from your roll so they will challenge you but you should never feel like you were someone’s play-toy and just dominated on the mats.


Myth 3: It’s only guys who do BJJ

Nope. Since the sport has been growing in popularity, a lot of gyms have actually seen a lot more ladies come out and join. Some even have enough females to run women-only classes. I can’t speak to every class at every gym but it is unlikely that you’ll always be the only female in your classes. And besides, you will eventually become more comfortable training with guys and your own skill-level will improve from practicing with a variety of partners and styles.

Still not convinced? Well, we’ve dispelled the biggest myths surrounding BJJ so let’s talk about some facts.



The Truth About BJJ: What You Should Know


Technique is king in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The martial art was designed for those with the better technique to win – you don’t have to be the biggest or strongest fighter to win a BJJ match. You’ll hear BJJ referred to as human chess: you want to strategize and have a game plan. You’ll also want to formulate a contingency plan. Part of the beauty of BJJ is that you can go from a vulnerable, defending position to one that can win you the match if you know the proper techniques and have the right tools in your kit.



BJJ is great for self-defense. My former gym, World Championship Martial Arts, has hosted training seminars with the local police force because the techniques and positions in BJJ are a lot more useful in a real-life situation than kickboxing techniques. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to know how to throw a good punch, but an attacker is not very likely to follow proper kickboxing rules and maintain the appropriate distance. Knowing how to finagle yourself out of an attacker’s grip seems a lot more practical.


This focus on technique and ability to overpower a stronger opponent is why you see so many professionals, men, and women, who are turning to BJJ for self-defense compared to a martial art that focuses on striking, such as kickboxing.



It’s about respect. I speculate it is learning all that technique and focus that makes trained fighters so respectful of one another. Yes, you will likely train with men in practice but ladies, any male who is a worthy training partner should not be threatening in any way. Yes, you’ll still be ‘rolling’ with a male but as previously mentioned, a good training partner, male or female, will not use their strength or size to win. Just like you don’t actually learn when you cheat on a test, a training partner who squished you for a five-minute round really didn’t learn anything either. True martial artists respect the sport and their opponents’ hard work.

Still with me? I’m trying to cover a lot because I honestly can’t stress enough how much I think you should at least give the sport a try. I feel the need to address any concerns you may have because I want you to reap the benefits. And these benefits I speak of are pretty darn great...



It’s an awesome workout. For starters, as a workout, oh my word, ladies, you will work muscles you never knew you had! It might look like BJJ practitioners are lolling about on the mat but I can assure you the cardio you’ll need to get through a training session is very different from the cardio you get from running. It’s almost like weighted, full-body cardio. Okay that might sound terrible and exhausting but you’ll learn to love that tired ‘I just had a super hard roll’ feeling when you lose body fat and see muscles develop and define. And honestly ladies, when you finish a good hard roll you will feel like a straight-up BADASS! You’ll be tired, sweaty, and your hair will be a fright but knowing what you are capable of with your body will make you feel incredibly powerful and strong. You will be Wonder Woman in a gi.



Getting Started


So BJJ doesn’t seem so scary anymore and you’re willing to give it a try (insert my enthusiastic applause here). You’ll be proud of yourself for getting out there and doing the scary thing - which we already learned isn’t so scary. But before you head out to just any martial arts academy, I want you to do some research.

  1. Find a ‘school.’ Stevie Yhap, a professional mixed martial artist and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor at World Championship Martial Arts in Peterborough, says to start by seeing if any gyms in the area are affiliated with a school of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In the world of martial arts, the term “school” will refer to the founder/instructor of that style. It’s not imperative that a martial arts gym be affiliated with any BJJ schools but it is an indicator to the quality of the instructors and the standards the gym has. Think of it this way - anyone in the weight-room can tell you how to pick up a dumbbell and put it back down but when want you to learn and train seriously you hire a certified personal trainer.
  2. Check the academy out and know what to look for. Next, check the gym out. Is it clean? Do you feel safe? Yhap recommends checking out the gym and main instructor’s credentials. Done that? If you’re satisfied by what you learn then take a trial class. Do you feel comfortable with the instructor and the flow of the class? Sure, there’s always some discomfort when you’re trying something new but you shouldn’t feel like you were put in an unsafe situation. “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You’re going to do things you haven’t done in forever, such as moving around on the floor. It can feel very foreign but don’t be discouraged if it feels different,” explains Yhap. And don’t be surprised if the gym won’t let you participate in ‘randori’ (the BJJ equivalent of a sparring session) at your first practice – this is to ensure not only your own but your training partners’ safety. Fret not, your time will come, grasshopper.
  3. Find out what to wear for a trial class. Ask the gym what they recommend you wear to your trial class if you can’t borrow a gi. They’ll likely ask you to wear loose (but not baggy) athletic wear, to leave all jewelry at home, and remove any visible piercings. In addition to jewelry, clothes with pockets, zippers, and buttons must also be avoided on the mats. My personal recommendation would be to wear a long-sleeved shirt made out of athletic fabric (or a ‘rashguard’) and leggings/capris that go past your knees. I say this because mat burn is a real thing and the more exposed skin there is the more places you have to potentially get “burnt.” Hygiene is also super important when you’re that physically close to your training partners so shower beforehand if you need to.
  4. Talk to members. And while you’re still at the gym talk to its members. “You’ll get a feel what the gym will be like based on its membership,” says Yhap. “Are they respectful and looking to help each other out? That’s a good indicator. And trust your gut.”
  5. Ask about start-up packages. If/when you’d like to sign up, a lot of gyms will offer start-up packages that include your membership fees and kit, such as a gi and nogi apparel. If you’re left to your own devices for a gi don’t worry, there is an increasing number of resources where you can buy a gi and nogi clothes both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. Again, just ask the instructor where you can get a BJJ gi in your area. 


Warning: No-gi (or 'nogi') apparel might make you feel like Catwoman. Prowl at your own risk. 


You gotta wear something under your gi - I recommend something super light and comfy.


Most gis come in blue or white. I love the pink flowers and details on mine. 


So there you have it, ladies. I know martial arts, particularly those of the grappling variety, can be quite intimidating but I know you’ve got that fighting spirit in you. Even if you don’t stick with BJJ, you’ll be so proud of yourself for trying something new. Give it a chance. Who knows, maybe you’ll have that mental shift like me and go from “no way dude” to “when’s the next practice?”  I know the superhero in you is waiting to give it a shot.


Resources for BJJ


The Ontario Jiu-Jitsu Association


Brief History of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu


BJJ Heroes – “The BJJ Encyclopedia”


BJJ action photos used for this article were taken during weekly programming at York Judo & BJJ. A sincere thank you to York Judo & BJJ for allowing us to photograph their Adult, Family, Teen and Dog Pack Programs in action.  Find more posts from and about York Judo & BJJ on our Martial Arts activity page. 




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