Why I Wrestle Sweaty, Stinky Men
By Penny "Whackowitch" Vialette
Gentlemen, before you get too excited, I would like for you to know that I’d still prefer for you to wash your gi. (Check out this article for why you should practice good BJJ hygiene.
Ladies, if you’ve seen me going at it like a grizzly bear on the mats, then you may have thought that I look like a crazy woman. I walk around with my hair exploding out of the various edges of my hair band, as it attempts to remain in some type of odd, messy, bun. Other peoples' sweat drips down my face until I finally strangle them with my legs. When strange men ask me to roll (which is what we call wrestling in jiu-jitsu), I fist bump them and say, "Sure."
The fist bump is my consent that we will be simulating a fight for our lives. There will be choking, arm twisting, and if they can manage to get on top of me, then they will. The fact of the matter is that if they’re good, then I may not be able to get them off of me. The strategy to escape mount (as we call it when someone sits on top of us) is to buck and shrimp out or buck and roll over. Granted, I tend to avoid letting men get on top of me, but it’s good practice to see if I can escape.
Bucking and shrimping out from underneath large men, as their sweaty arms attempt to wrap around your neck, can be scary. Yet we do it every day in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I roll and I face this struggle daily because it allows me to choose my reality. If there is anything I don’t like about how well I am able to defend myself, then I can change it.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu shows me what I can handle. It shows me whether or not I will make it out of a struggle. It shows me whether or not I will survive... and what I have discovered is that I AM a survivor.
I can apply these skills for surviving and strategizing to every area of my life.
Why do we, as women, need to train?
Many women are afraid of men. We see them in the parking lot at night and we don’t know what they will want. We don’t know what they will try to do, especially as they come closer. The only thing we can know is what WE will do. What CAN we do?
I believe that if we do not find out, if we do not train in martial arts, then we will live our entire lives in fear. We will be traumatized by the times when we were unable to defend ourselves, up until the day when we finally learn to do so.
Can we trust the men we roll with?
By default, I would say no; none of the gyms I have trained at have ever done a background check on me, so why should I believe that everyone who walks into the gym is a safe person to be around?
Don’t put yourself at risk. Keep the training in the gym and don’t meet up with classmates in private. Trust them enough to let them roll with you in front of a room full of people, but never put your personal safety at risk in a private area.
What about our instructors?
Honestly, it’s the same deal here. We’d like to think that all jiu-jitsu instructors are good people, and most of them are great, but there are going to be a few bad apples who weed their way in. It is important to be proactive and find a jiu-jitsu instructor whom you can genuinely trust.
Is it scary to wrestle?
It depends on where you are at psychologically and how comfortable you are with close contact.
Personally, I have panicked before. I have been underneath men and I have panicked. I have also seriously questioned whether or not I was ok with letting guys I didn’t know touch me. Getting on the mats was not easy for me.
In fact, the first few months of my jiu-jitsu training featured a handful of panic attacks. I went home and panicked and I didn’t tell anyone about it. Everyone at the gym I trained at thinks I’m tough, and they probably never would have guessed that I struggled so much at first.
Despite my fear and anxiety, when I saw that I could choke people with my feet... I fell in love with the sport. When I saw that I could weave my legs through their arms to enter into an omoplata or triangle, I fell in love with that move as well.
I fell in love with the creative, intellectually stimulating, combative sport that is Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I love these artful tactics so much, that I couldn’t help but go into class every single day, even if it meant an anxiety attack afterwards. I craved jiu-jitsu so much, and yet I was afraid of it... I was afraid of men touching me.
I fought this battle within myself for three months up until my love for Brazilian jiu-jitsu won the fight. Now I do not panic. Now I am calm.
I see a stranger, and instead of thinking, “I don’t know what they will do,” my five years of martial arts training allows me to think, “They have no idea what I am going to do if they attack me,” because once they get close, they will probably be the one who is scared.
I am not the prey that I was taught that I would be. I have become the predator, and I fear nothing.