5 Things Women Need To Know When Grappling With Men

image of a woman in a blue gi submitting a person in a white gi with an arm bar

When I started jiu-jitsu, I knew that my hair would always be a mess, my nails would be short, makeup looks bad after a sweaty grapple session, and I’ll have to roll with the guys. It’s just a fact of life (well, jiu-jitsu life). I knew my partners would be sweating in my face (sometimes in my mouth…..) and I’ll probably stink after every class, not all of it my own.

What they didn’t tell me was how challenging rolling with men can be, especially as a woman. They have size and strength that I just don’t possess so I have to be more efficient in my technique and movement.

Here are 5 things I learned about grappling with men.


1. Some men don’t know how strong they are

As white belts, we’re still learning technique and tend to substitute with strength and speed; especially in the early phases. We also haven’t learned body control or sensitivity to our partner’s movements.

Be in control of your training and watch out for your own safety. If you’re uncomfortable with a specific person (male or female), let your instructor know. It’s possible that a person isn’t aware and your instructor should address it with them. Class is not a proving ground, so train smart and safely.

Seek out upper belts when you can. Higher ranked individuals have body control and partner sensitivity that can only be learned through experience. It will give both of you a chance to work technique without being crushed and allow you opportunities for “smaller wins”. They are also more likely to give you feedback if they find you’re struggling somewhere.

For me, it has been a rare occurrence that I run into an upper belt that doesn’t have self-control (though it does happen).


2. Size matters, be smarter

I only weight 165 pounds. I roll with a guy that has about 70+ pounds on me. It really sucks being stuck under him, suffocating because he just wants to bully me. The suffocation causes me some anxiety (you can read my post about this here). However, my biggest asset is my size and flexibility. So I work hard to gain and maintain a dominant position. This allows me better movement and less anxiety.

Switch gears and my husband is 30 pounds heavier than me and a foot taller. My strategy is going to be drastically different with him than the guy mentioned above. With him, I like single and double leg takedowns because it’s harder for him to get that low. I avoid his legs when we’re on the ground because they are his biggest asset, and I’m playing to my strengths.

As a woman, I’m smaller, lighter and but I can’t rely on brute strength. I think about my strengths and use leverage to take advantage of my opponent’s weak spots. It’s also important to be aware of my weak spots. Keep everything close and tight to protect my ribs, belly, sternum and the girls (we all know how painful that can be). Making sure your hands and feet are accounted for is a top priority, and I try not to be flat on my back ( still struggling with this). My game will be different than my male counterparts as my body move differently and I had to learn to work with it and not against it.


3. They want to help you get better

I ask TONS of questions. At the end of class, if someone repeatedly took my back, I’ll ask what I was doing to create that opportunity for them. I’ve never had someone not willing to help.

This also opens an opportunity for me to make adjustments while it’s still fresh in my mind. There’s nothing more annoying than leaving class thinking, “I need to remember to ask about that”, then coming in next class and I completely forgot my question.

Also, write it down.

We have a few students that keep a spiral notebook in their bag and after every class, they write down what we covered that day, questions, and what they want to work on. Then, during open mat or a private lesson, they review their notes and decide what to focus on. Honestly, I should have done this as a white, and should probably be doing it now.


4. Men can get weird around you

I’ll be the first to admit that the first time I rolled with a guy that wasn’t my spouse, it was really weird. Flip that around and a guy is rolling with someone that isn’t his significant other. Where does he put his hands? Is it okay to be in mount? Is it okay to be in guard?

Some men, especially in the beginning, saw me as a woman first, training partner second. Eventually, this goes away (most of the time), and they roll with me like everyone else. They just have to work through it.

I’ll be honest in 4 years, I haven’t met anyone that wasn’t willing to train with me, male or female. The only exception was an amateur MMA fighter going pro training for a fight. We literally looked at each other with a mutual understanding that neither of us was comfortable with this pairing, so we sought different partners.

If you’re not comfortable being close quarter with a guy, seek out a female partner instead.


5. You’re not made of glass

If my partners and I are training right, we’ll train hard and walk away without injuries. Most experienced men treat me like they would any guy my size and skill level. This is how it should be. If he’s hurting me, that’s one thing, but I don’t shy away because someone is particularly difficult. I’ve learned to embrace it. They have a lot to teach and every session offers something new.

If you’re struggling in this area (I still do), privates and open map are great opportunities to to work through this. You can control the flow and speed of your session to gradually work up to a more assertive (not aggressive) flow. I say assertive because I feel there is a big difference between assertiveness and aggression. Assertiveness if being confident in your moves where aggressive is making an all-out effort to win.

I know that many don’t see a distinction between the two, but roll with a new white belt, then a seasoned brown belt and you’ll definitely see the difference.


In a nutshell…

  • Some guys don’t know how strong they are.
  • Size matters so train smarter.
  • They want to help.
  • Men can be weird around you.
  • You’re not made or glass, don’t train like you are.