Jul 052010

Two things to throw out to the group.  The first is a concern and the second is a genuine point of confusion.

A couple days ago, I posted about how chasing rank can cause problems.  Actually, the gist of the article was that worrying about rank at all can really be problematic.  Well, yesterday, I ran into a  guy who used to train with us.  I’m not sure what kind of terms he left under, but he’s a nice guy, so while I’m pretty sure the school he trains at isn’t very popular round our parts, I’d doubt this particular kid burned any bridges. 

He’s been training for about three years and is a blue belt, which isn’t at all surprising to me.  We talked a little, and I asked him about his angry ear that looks like a purple potsticker.  He seemed pleased that I noticed.  At some point, he mentioned really wanting his purple belt.  He’s a young kid… I’d put him in his early 20’s, although he may not even be that old, so I wasn’t really all that surprised.  It’s human nature, after all.  What really gave me pause, though, is that he equated purple belt with opening his own school.  I genuinely don’t get it.  In BJJ, it’s not… uncommon for a purple belt to run a school, but it’s becoming increasingly less so as more black belts exist.  This was a situation that arose out of necessity, where at one time a purple belt or even an experienced blue were quite literally the only guys around competent to teach. 

I wouldn’t want to do it.  So, when he seriously suggested that he really wanted his purple belt because it specifically (in his mind) equated to being able to legitimately “do [his] own thing,” I had to work hard to keep the shock off my face.  What makes this even scarier is that HIS instructor is a purple belt who has been training for about 4 years total. 

There is a depth of knowledge that a school owner needs to have in order to run a good school. Regardless of how skilled at purple belt the instructor is, he is a purple belt.  There are just things he or she won’t know… and what’s scary is that he or she might not even know it.  So, what happens when a purple belt trains another guy up to purple belt (whether graded by a black belt who visits once or twice a year, or not) that lack of depth compounds. 

Now, as a disclaimer, I haven’t rolled with any of these guys in a long time.  They may completely rock.  But I just don’t know.  My spidey sense is tingling.

Okay, the next one has to do with women in BJJ, and this might get me flamed.  But before I go on, I want to be clear that I’m really just asking for clarification.  I have a genuine respect and admiration for the women who train in BJJ.  But that leads to the question:  Do women want to be treated like training partners or treated like female training partners?

What I mean by that question is, I’ve always found it pretty easy to ignore gender and roll with women just like I would any other training partner.  What that means to me is that I adjust my game and intensity as much as I can so that it’s appropriate for my partner.  I roll with new guys (“guys” in the generic, non-gender specific way)  differently than I roll with experienced guys.   I roll with heavier guys differently than I roll with lighter guys.  And everything in between.  So, a tough blue belt who is lighter than me is simply that, regardless of gender. 

Up until now, I’ve been under two impressions.  First, that this is appropriate in that lighter guys don’t gain technique if they’re not given opportunities to work technique.  Second, that this is appreciated and even desirable for women because they’re not there to be girl jiu-jitiero… they’re just there to be jiu-jitiero. 

I’m beginning to think I have it all wrong, so I’m looking for some help.  Georgette’s posts got things started.  But it’s Leslie’s post on the discussions had at a girl’s grappling mini camp that really threw me for a loop.  I can understand women’s classes and the like.  I get that.  But this post has me baffled.  At one point, Leslie wrote, “Val also mentioned that it sometimes might actually be good for the guys to see that what they’re doing is reducing you to tears, especially if you already have the reputation as a “tough chick,” because if what they’re doing is too much for you, then it’s too much. Maybe nothing else will get through to them.”

I genuinely don’t know how to react to this.  What are you trying to convey by crying?  What needs to get through to them?  After reading that, I immediately thought about how bad I’d feel if I ever made a girl cry on the mat.  Then I began wondering if I had and just don’t know it because they cried in the bathroom.  Then I thought, “would a dude ever cry?”  And THAT led me to wonder, “What the hell is going on here?”  My brain is broken.  What’s too much?  If it’s too much for you, why wouldn’t it be too much for a little dude, too?  Or the other way, if it’s not too much for a little guy, why is it too much for women? 

The biggest question in my mind is what do you guys (and this time, “guys” actually means women) want?  Is it important to remember that you’re women?  Or would you rather be a training partner first? 

So, no conclusions here.  I’m asking for help.  I want to get it.  I’m not challenging you guys on this.  I’m just trying to understand, because I just don’t.

 Posted by at 10:54 pm

  20 Responses to “Couple of thing I’m trying to understand”

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    Hey Steve,
    I am a purple belt, and I have started teaching classes. However, I live in a small seaside town in the South of England. Not exactly a hotbed of jiu jitsu activity.

    I am really aware of my limitations as a teacher and with my knowledge and you’re right… the scariest things are the things I don’t know I don’t know… but I know that I don’t know them!

    It’s strange, you end up kind of prefacing everything you say with some kind of disclaimer.

    I think that training with a purple belt is better than not training with anyone, but obviously can’t compare to training with a black belt. We have just hooked up with a black belt from Check Mat who will do the monthly visit thing, to keep us on the right track. I think the visits are more to keep myself and the other instructor on the right track so that we can keep the rest of them, who are for the most part beginners, on track.

    I am a firm believer, however, in natural ability in jiu jitsu, and the basics. As an example, a guy from our school just got a gold medal in his first comp by submitting three guys in a row. He has been taught by someone who holds no rank in BJJ (but a black belt in JJJ and experience in shooto and CSW), and me.

    He could probably be even better with a black belt guiding him every step of the way, but I don’t think he’s doing too badly at the moment.

    In an ideal world, I’d be training under a BJJ black belt, but we don’t live in an ideal world. If a purple belt is all you can find, then go for it!

    From the other perspective though, I am a slightly reluctant coach. I absolutely love coaching and teaching, but like I said, I am aware of my limitations and I would rather the people I train with had full time access to a black belt…

    There’s a really interesting thread on the European Fight Network here about the difference between belt hunters, sportsmen, martial artists, teachers, etc…

    If my life wasn’t so hectic I’d be able to elucidate my thoughts more clearly on this subject but hey ho, for now I’m just going to be an observer.


      Hey Matt. I’ll check out that link.

      Regarding the rest, I really appreciate your direct experience. I want to make it clear that the claxon alarms aren’t related to the idea of a purple belt starting a school out of necessity. And I also want to be clear that I don’t have a problem with the school. I’m not really all that concerned about the quality of instruction. What worries me is what will happen if that lack of experience compounds. Does that make sense?

      Putting it more in terms of your situation, Matt, the concern I have isn’t that you’re teaching and working out with guys. It would be a little concerning to me, though, if you promoted a guy to blue, and then he gets his purple basically from you (although officially from the black belt at Check Mat) and then he splits to open up his own school right away.


    Belts indicate (or should indicate) performance bracket. By performance I mean leaving your attributes aside and using your technique to get the job done, albeit you can fuel your technique with these attributes. An example is Americana from mount. Technique knowledge tells you that you pin the wrist to the mat, because that’s a long lever. Attributes fueling are putting your weight behind the pin.

    I also say bracket because people’s level will (and should) vary within the belt. This ain’t a linear art. Blue belt A is working on side control escape and will get really good at side control escapes. Blue belt B is working on gi chokes from guard and will get really good at them. Put the two together and rate of success will vary on where they are in the roll. It’s all good.

    More importantly, it has very little to do with teaching skills :)

    Braulio’s instructor for most of his career was one belt above him (blue when Braulio was white…etc.) but he must’ve been a very methodical, disciplined and organised man. Teaching methodology is much more important with an alive art than with a traditional art like Karate where detailed knowledge of sequential moves in the kata is essential for the correct transmission of knowledge. In jitsu, the coach needs to force you to play the different aspects of the game equally and leave your ego and attributes outside the mat…etc. The technique knowledge will come in time and a purple belt has plenty to keep a class learning for years and years.


      Thanks, Liam. I appreciate your comments regarding teaching skills and structure. As a corporate trainer, I completely agree that they’re critical.


    Steve, this purple doesn’t train at Gamebred in Fife, does he? That’s the closest school to Puyallup and I had planned to drop in there several times in August (of course I’ll travel your way as well!). If you don’t want to respond publicly, please write to at rick – at – alohalee – dot – com


      Thanks for the comment.

      I don’t want to get involved in any inter school politics or that kind of stuff, so even if it were Gamebred, I wouldn’t say so publicly. :)

      What I’m really interested in is talking about the role of purple belt as a kind of firm bar for being able to put up a shingle and open a school. My understanding of TKD is that a 2nd dan is legit to open a school. So, if you have zero experience in TKD, you can train for 3 or so years with your eyes on the prize: a school of your own. And based on what I’ve read and heard, this isn’t uncommon. People will think to themselves, I want to open a martial arts business, so I’ll start training now and in a few years I’ll be good to go.

      In BJJ, though, I haven’t run across it nearly as often. While purple belts, and even blue belts, run schools from time to time, my impression is that they often do so reluctantly… like Matt in his comments below. It’s usually a situation where there isn’t any place to train locally and they’re in a position where opening a school is the difference between training regularly and not training at all.

      But, as Liam alluded, the bar is fluid. A blue belt could be a better teacher than a brown belt. So, the concern I’m raising here is whether considering purple belt a more codified, de jure standard for opening a school is a good idea. I’m talking about the difference between “I’m a purple belt and I guess I’m the best person around to open a school” and “Yeehaw! I’m finally a purple belt. I get to open my own school now!”

      Does any of this make sense?


    1) I don’t see an issue with a purple belt teaching, especially if they are the most knowledgable ones “in the room”, but that does not seem the case with this guy. Just because one is “good” doesn’t mean that they are automatically able to teach. Think of all of the pro ex-athletes that fail miserably at being GM’s or coaches of pro franchises (think Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards). But I think that the issue with this guy that Steve is referring to is that his end goal to getting his purple belt is money and “fame”, not to actually teach – I know that I don’t know him, all the more reason to judge him :) Regardless, it is not exactly the best foundation with which to start.

    2) I have followed the recent blogs with all the talk of women and rank and grappling and crying, but I had no idea that it would have garnered as much attention as it has. From my experience with several different gyms, I think there are two basic schools of thought with regard to training with women: a) “they are just a lighter weight training partner” and b) total disregard, resulting in either a total attempt at smashing the woman, or tapping to the woman quickly as to “hurry up and get it over with so I can move on to a guy”. I tend to fall in to the same camp as Steve (the “lighter partner” school of thought), but I know others who really try to get out of rolling with the girls by tearing through them. But then again, these are also the guys that try to run through everyone, as their egos rule their training.

    I have yet to see a woman cry and I don’t know that it would soften any of the “smashers”, had they already decided that a woman’s place is not in the academy.


      Regarding 1, I think you’re dead on.

      Regarding women, rank and crying, I always thought the same as you. Two schools of thought. But I’m starting to think that there’s a third school of thought, from the female perspective. And that’s that women want to be considered women who train who happen to be lighter… not just lighter weight training partners. What I’ve been reading lately is leading me to believe, possibly erroneously, that women who train as a rule want to be considered differently than men who train. And that’s where I get confused. With all of the intelligent, thoughtful and articulate women who train and also blog, I’m hoping to get some insight on this.


      There’s a three stripe purple belt gal at my school in new orleans. I’ve never had the good fortune to roll with her, but I’ve watched her roll with the guys (blues to blacks) plenty of times. They don’t treat her any differently than anyone else and I sense she’d kick your arse if she sensed you even dared to!

      We have a blue belt gal as well. I roll a bit easier with her than guys her size / experience, but only because she doesn’t seem to be nearly as aggressive as most guys her size / experience. Once I thought I was going “easy” on a cross face to distract for deep half escape and she blurted “TAP” due to pressure. I put that much pressure (and much more) on the guys her size without having that effect…sooo what am I to do?

      A number of other gals (white belts) take the self defense course (all shapes, sizes, degrees of raw athleticism). I wouldn’t dare be as aggressive with them as I am with the Blue or would be with the Purple. I just sense that the instructor would kick me upside the head if I applied even 25% the intensity we roll with during sports jiu jitsu class. These gals just seem (and act) – well – fragile.

      Some white belt guys I roll with destroy me, despite my 80-90lb weight advantage. It usually takes a 10seconds into a roll before I realize I’ve got a real fighter on my hands and I shift into survival mode (before getting my butt submitted). Sometimes I roll with a smaller white belt guy and he just feels very soft. I have to give up positions and stop myself from attacking just to keep it fun.

      I don’t know what to take away from this, but it seems natural for me to approach a woman BJJ grappler with a bit of caution until figuring out where SHE is in her journey. That’s basically the same approach I take with any smaller opponent, although, I have to admit, I do approach a roll with a gal with a bit more caution.


    Steve, part of Val’s story that I skipped over was that the guy was a bit too rough to everyone. But no one said anything until what he was doing caused her to break down. At that point, both he and everyone else realized that there was a problem there all along, and it just hadn’t been addressed. She said it has been now, and that now he’s more careful with everyone, not just the girls.

    The point I took away from that discussion was that you can ask guys to go easier sometimes because they’re smashing you (and, probably, everyone else), but they don’t always understand how serious the situation is until they break a girl. (And then it’s, “Oh, crap! Gotta fix this!”) We’re just likely to break first, I suppose, if there’s a larger problem. Like the canary in the mines.

    We were talking about how often we girls are so quick to come up with an excuse and run to the bathroom where no one knows we’re crying, so no one knows we’re broken, and so no one knows there’s a problem. Maybe it’s us, maybe it’s someone else, but no one knows because we’d really rather not let anyone know that we’re crying. (Trust me, we hate it.) Generally, too, if we are crying, it’s more in frustration at not being able to better to handle the situation on our own.

    I think most of us would like to be “lighter training partners”, but I wonder sometimes if we’re always physically capable of that. That’s my problem, I think — I hate that I can’t take as much pressure as the guys and that I can’t just be one of the guys. Maybe it’s just me, though; perhaps I’m not as tough as other girls.

    @Achy Knees and Guillotines: Interesting observation about guys who think a woman doesn’t belong and so smashes her. I almost said I didn’t know any of those, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize that that would explain some guys’ behavior. And yes, they don’t care if they break me; actually, I think they’re trying to.


      Thanks a lot, Leslie. That clears things up, and I hope it’s also clear that I wasn’t trying to take things out of context or create drama. I can be dense, is all. I really like the Canary in the Mines analogy and that makes more sense.

      As an aside, one of the female blue belts I train with said that there’s only one guy at our school she doesn’t like to roll with, and I knew when she said it exactly who she meant and said so. He rolls 100% with everyone at all times, until he starts to get into trouble, and then he gets “hurt.” Thinking about how many people train at my school, I was really happy to hear her say that. We have a lot of big guys, many who are white belts, and she’s pretty petite (but tough!). It also supports your point about how it’s not just a problem for the women… usually it’s just an overt sign of a problem with everyone.

      Regarding guys intentionally trying to hurt the females, that’s a new low. I don’t think guys like that would last very long at our school. At least, I’d like to think not.


    Okay, so Leslie beat me to some of this but I am going to post it anyhow…

    Hi, I am a female white belt who’s been at it for a little over a year, although I’ve only really trained for a little over 8 months due to work commitments and injuries. While I don’t train as much as Georgette I did spend 7 hours training last week, my first week back after two months off due to a broken bone acquired at BJJ.

    I have read with interest the recent posts about crying, and I think you guys are making the assumption that the women who cry are doing it because they are in pain or sad. My guess is that they are crying because they are frustrated and angry. They’ve trained as hard as they can, given their all, and for some reason feel that they aren’t getting it, whether that’s because their partner was going too hard or because they themselves have high standards (perhaps unrealistic) that they are having trouble meeting. But this is just speculation on my part I have never been reduced to tears at the gym, ER yes gym no. Even then I was crying because I was mad.

    As for what do women want from a training partner…? I agree about matching your ability and weight to the skill and size of your partner, unfortunately not everyone is good at this. In fact of the 20 or so guys I train with I truly only trust 4 or 5 of them to not hurt me by accident.

    Other things to consider, just because a woman may be tall she is likely not big, which can be confusing. On top of that, if you took a man and a woman of the same weight who are both in good shape the guy would have more muscle mass than the woman and be stronger, especially in the upper body. As a woman I have a hard time framing with my arms and I tend to get squished a lot (this may be why the woman tapped to pressure on a crossface, she couldn’t push your arm off as well as a man of equal size), but this just means that I need to use my legs more. Further to the difference in the amount of muscle is the placement of it, women’s legs are strong and a lot of our mass is carried below the waist, our chests can be quite bony and it hurts when a man comes down hard and fast on you. It can cause sternums to pop, and ribs to dislocate; this has happened to many a female BJJer. Heck, even one of the guys I trust to not hurt me has popped my sternum.

    As for the comment about the women seeming fragile, they aren’t. They are shy. BJJ demands that a woman act in a way that she has been socialized to avoid. Also, training up close and personal with men can be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t know the guy (I train exclusively with men). That fragility is reluctance; she doesn’t trust you totally so she is trying to avoid getting hurt.

    So, yes I want to be treated like any other training partner but I want you to realize, or take into account, that my body is different than yours. My legs are stronger than my upper body, I bend in ways that would break you (hips, shoulders, elbows, and knees), and I have boobs that I would appreciate you not squishing. And to keep this fair, I will move slowly and carefully when I am bending you in ways that could hurt and I will work to avoid knocking you in the cup, since that is what it means to be a good training partner.


      Hey, thanks for reading the article and commenting! I think you make several good points.

      The only thing I’d say is that many of your points are true for both men and women. We all get frustrated. What I’m beginning to understand is that we react to this frustration differently.

      The only other thing is that I don’t wear a cup when I roll, so intentional shots to that area could be very bad for me, indeed. I appreciate the consideration. :)

      I’m glad you got all healed up. What bone did you break? How did it happen?


        Yes, I think that’s it. Everyone gets frustrated but women cry, which sucks. Just like Leslie says we hate it.

        Well, that’s it the shots to the cup aren’t intentional. It doesn’t hurt me to be hit there, well at least not the same way, so I have to think about not doing it. Which is just plain consideration for your training partner. So, we women have to think about different ways to be ‘gentle’ on our male partners just like we want you to do for us. :)

        I broke one of the bones in my big toe of my left foot, two spiral fractures in a little bone. Luckily the orthopedic surgeon felt it would heal properly without surgery. I was in a cast for 5 weeks and have been working on how to walk properly ever since, on week 9 now. Little toe fractures are not a big deal but the big toe, since it carries so much of your weight, is a different kettle of fish.

        How did I do it? We were drilling hip bump sweeps as part of warm up and my foot got hung up on the mat and as I twisted through the sweep, knocking my partner over, I heard it snap. When I looked at it I knew it was broken, I nearly puked. One of my teammates is a physician, so he helped to peel me off the mats and called my husband to take me to the ER.


          Laura, your are right on the money:

          “My guess is that they are crying because they are frustrated and angry. They’ve trained as hard as they can, given their all, and for some reason feel that they aren’t getting it, whether that’s because their partner was going too hard or because they themselves have high standards (perhaps unrealistic) that they are having trouble meeting.”

          Sadly, I have to admit to “losing it” twice, and both times it was a wave of frustration that caused it. Frustration with myself. Of course then I felt even worse for allowing it to get to me and for causing my training partner concern.

          I guess the guys get just as frustrated in training some days, but it comes out different. Be it they spin the car wheels in the parking lot on the way home or yell at the dog at home. I don’t know, but I’ve discussed it with one of the guys, and he assures me he’s had many days over the years going home feeling disappointed, frustrated, even pissed off. No big deal.

          I think we shouldn’t make too big a deal about the odd cussword or the odd tear, it’s all part of the journey. We are constantly pushing the envelope of what we can handle mentally and physically. Sometimes we push or get pushed too far, and that’s part of the learning experience, as you can’t know your limits until you find them.

          If there is an issue with someone being unduly rough to people, be they lighter, less experienced, less strong or whatever, that needs to be addressed. Preferrably in an unemotional way. And if it can’t be resolved between the people concerned, it should be brought to the instructor’s attention. Nobody should get hurt, and there should be learning and progression for everyone on the mat.

          In the end, everybody has a different pain threshhold, emotional threshhold and willingness to go hard and take risks, and that varies from day to day. Maybe we have to be very clear in our own mind and tell our partners what we are willing to do. Likewise, we need to be willing to listen to our partners and accomodate them.

          Some people need to get into their heads that there will always be time to go hard and with abandon, maybe not this roll with this person, but there will be other opportunities. So they can use this roll with this person who needs to go slow/light to perfect their technique.

          Common sense and a bit of communication?


      Thanks for the thoughts! Hadn’t thought of the white belt gals in self defense course as being reluctant. I’ll keep that in mind. Oh…and I too don’t wear a cup…tried a couple of times, but not for me.


        Well, they’re there to learn self-defense. They may have been scared, or are worried about being frightened/hurt by men. If you look into the stats for sexual harrasment of women you’ll be sick.


    Great post, Steve–not sure I can add much to the discussion, but it’s great you brought the topic up.

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