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Why Should Women Grapple? by Stephan Kesting

Most Brazilian jiu-jitsu and submission grappling students are male, and in most grappling schools females are the exception, not the rule.

My foundation in the martial arts was self-defense oriented, not competition oriented. From a self-defense perspective I think that grappling is incredibly important for women: there is no better way to learn to deal with the stress and pressure of a real attack than trying to apply your techniques against resistance while sparring on the ground. However my opinion in this area may have limited value: I am a 200+ lb male, and my experiences on the mat and the streets are very different from a 120 lb woman.

So I asked the female readership of the Grapplearts.com newsletter why they thought women should grapple, and was overwhelmed by the thoughtful and insightful answers. Without further ado, here is why women should grapple:

Stephan Kesting

Grappling is valuable to women because it shows that you do not have to be the biggest or strongest to be successful at something. It helps show the values of women empowerment, strength through adversities, and sacrificing to succeed at all costs. Grappling does not differentiate between male or female; it just matters if you know the correct technique and can execute them flawlessly.

Cassie Feinstein
University of Iowa Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Club

I think grappling is valuable for women because it teaches them endurance and determination, and also not to consider getting knocked to the ground the end of the fight. Knowing how to maneuver on your back, understanding the physics to use angles and speed versus brute strength and, most importantly, understanding that you DO have options that can turn the tide in your favor if you are alert and willing to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves, can literally mean the difference between surviving and being killed if it comes down to a life-and-death situation.

Jami M. Lynn
Student of Sifu Rick Tucci and Guro Amy Tucci
Princeton Academy of Martial Arts, New Jersey
Why I think grappling is valuable for women in particular: domestic violence, including physical and sexual abuse, is far too prevalent in the US and abroad, and most of the time, the victims are women. Most girls growing up aren’t taught to be tough physically, we aren’t taught how to throw a punch, or to fight back. We’re “supposed” to be sweet and gentle and kind. The source for my facts is here:http://www.datehookup.com/content-domestic-violence-fact-sheet.htm

In addition to all the things that men get out of it, grappling training is great for women because it teaches us how to fight with men, and it trains us to be tough. A woman who can defend herself against a larger and stronger opponent, and neutralize the threat of an attacker, is much less likely to become an unfortunate domestic violence statistic.

Rosie ‘Supervixen’ Fitzpatrick
Instructor: Luis Pantoja
School: Yamasaki Academy

My name is Heather and I have trained in Taekwon Do for years, but I have just recently begun grappling. I am confident in fighting while I am on my feet, but the ground work was a whole portion of my training that was missing. Being a female, and considering that a large percent of all fights end up on the ground, it is important to know what to do should you find yourself in that situation. So whether you train in grappling for sport or self defense it is definitely knowledge I suggest all females should possess.

Heather Richards
Instructor: Ron Dupuis

I feel that grappling is important for women because we should all know how to fight on our backs. I’m not sure of the exact statistic, but an amazingly high number of altercations on the street end up on the ground, and for a woman to be able to think clearly and defend herself on her back is incredibly important.

And as for the grappling itself- from a non-self defense point of view…. It makes you amazingly fit and it’s some of the most fun I can think of!!!”

Kristin Kelly

My name is Deedee Hagar: I am 29 years old and I have trained in BJJ under Tony Torres-Aponte for close to two years now. I can tell you that grappling has changed my life for the better. Not only has grappling given me more confidence in a self defense aspect but I feel like it allows a lot of life’s challenges to be worked out through problem solving skills learned on the mat. Every move is looked at through different aspects, often counter intuitive and this
transfers beautifully into day-to-day life. Also, a lot is to be said for the self control that comes with training, the experience of total power over another or vice versa and the sense to realize that this is training in case a life-threatening attack ever occurred. This knowledge is priceless for women.

Grappling is mentally challenging, physically beneficial and tremendous fun. Tony, my instructor is an incredibly gifted teacher and whole heartedly encourages women to join the art. Hopefully the future will see more women involved and accepted in the sport. Once you give it a try it’s easy to see why it can be so healthfully addictive.

Deedee Hagar
Instructor: Tony Torres-Aponte
School: Urban Jungle Self Defense / Gracie BJJ
Houston, Texas

I think that grappling for women is important for the same reasons as for men…

Grappling (in all its forms) is a challenge to master – and I like challenges. It is realistic in terms of self-defense training, it’s great for building strength, conditioning and flexibility. Grappling has both a technical aspect as well as an athletic side. For those who like to compete I would say grappling offers a variety of quality competition, but mostly for me, grappling (BJJ) is extremely fun.

Personally, I think more women should train it simply to understand the pressure factor. Panic tends to set in when someone bigger is on top…breathing is difficult…then exhaustion…then bad stuff can happen. If one can get used to feeling the pressure…then breathing is better, relaxation can take over and one can actually mentally function under the pressure. After a few months of training I have already gotten accustomed to feeling it . Still doesn’t make it easy to physically escape but I am not panicked and I can breath.”

B. King
White belt
School: Charles Gracie JJ
San Mateo CA

I think it’s important for the sport because it makes it even more appealing to the everyday person to see both sexes practicing MMA. Another reason grappling is good for women because 100% of rapes happen pinned down to the ground so being able to defend yourself is very valuable.


There is an obvious self defense aspect, how many women have a fear of-or have been held down against their will? The self defense is valuable and so is the empowerment. When women realize technique is based on leverage and not strength and that they can do this, they learn quickly and feel good about themselves. I think all women should grapple!!! Oh, and what a way to stay fit!

Suzanne Ramsden
Maverick Training Center
Huntsville Alabama
Helio Soneca Bluebelt

First, grappling is an important way to learn to apply techniques in different combinations and orientations, which is important to remembering precisely how to use them. Women are unlikely to wrestle with friends – unlike guys maybe – and so lack opportunities to apply techniques. Also being generally smaller/less strong than most guys, we get knocked down more easily, especially in sexually motivated attacks. At 105 lbs, I’ve experienced (in street situations) the ease with which I can ‘become airborne’ and end up on the ground, even if the attacker (of whatever gender) is not very big.

Many women are unused to groundfighting which may seem undignified or ‘unfeminine’. Being used to practicing grappling can reduce/remove the psychological intimidation factor, freeing you to deal with the more important physical aspects of the attack better. Finally, grappling is fun, and there is no better workout!!

Teacher: Leon Vu
Budo Shin Jujitsu

Grappling for women is important because it gives you more confidence in yourself and makes you less afraid to face everything – attacks on the street and even life decisions. My first competition was frightening, but I’ve learned to remain calmer in situations and be a little stronger and more confident. Grappling also gives an alternative to rougher sports that they may not otherwise do, such as boxing.

Christina “Dolly C” Fraquelli
Roger Gracie Academy
Mentor (my Mr. Myagi): Felipe de Souza
Coach: Jude Samuel
Surrogate Dad: Mauricio Gomez (Roger’s Dad)

Grappling is good for women for the same reason it is good for men: It is a great exercise, sport, self defense and its fun.
Grappling is especially good for female self defense since few women can strike nearly as hard as men (of course there are exceptions) and the ground is where an assailant would probably try to get a women anyways.
One problem I have is that normally cool guys don’t want to get beat by a women so they go all out every time making it difficult to ever practice new techniques (but I still beat them).

I am 51 years old and have been in BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) for one year. I teach at the Virginia Military Institute and we offer a combatives
course. Among the reasons I practice BJJ is:

It is a great work out,
I love the technical work
The self confidence it has given me is profound!!
BJJ has also given me a ‘sense of presence’. My first reaction to having someone mount me was to bite! Now, I am better at not panicking and I can think more clearly through the movements. A great metaphor for life!

Holly Jo Richarson

Because it is like no other martial art when you have to defend yourself. The moves and techniques of BJJ are all a woman needs to know. Once you take down your opponent – you can ground and pound, choke, or armbar and have them TAPOUT!

Linda “Da Pounder” Salas
“It’s all about your JAB (Jiu-Jitsu, Armwrestling & Boxing)!”

Training BJJ has really changed me, inside and out. There are so many benefits of regular training (aside from the obvious physical benefits such as increased strength and agility), from clarity of thought, to self confidence, to increased concentration, to a better understanding of your body, and also strength of character, that will give you an edge not only while fighting, but in everyday actions such as working and problem solving. BJJ is also a wonderful way to relieve stress. It has done wonders for me.

Syble Abshire
Blue belt under Mike Ellender
Lake Area Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Lake Charles LA

I started grappling and a bit of stand-up two and a half years ago. Here are my two cents worth regarding your question why grappling is valuable for women:

As my instructor pointed out, if a situation were to escalate to a physical confrontation, I’m going to end up on the ground sooner or later, most probably with a much heavier and stronger person. Good idea to learn to what to do.
Also if I have encountered the feeling of a heavy person squashing me, trying to choke me, etc. I’m more likely to keep my wits about me, panic less and hopefully remember something from class.
Fitness, looks and vanity. It is the best work out imaginable, keeps my mind engaged so I cannot think about what stresses me, exercises just about every muscle in my body (even the ones I didn’t know I had), instant strength training by trying to push against another body, increases my flexibility, and is a cardio workout galore in every class.
General awareness and pain tolerance. I have noticed in myself a greater awareness about my environment, the body language of people around me. Instead of having mental images supplied by Hollywood, I think about the people in class. I’ve never played any competitive sports, I’m certainly no athlete, so having experienced a few bruises and sore muscles, I have now more tolerance for discomfort than I’ve had before. It’s very applicable to my daily life.
Michaela Wolfert
Trained by Pete Tremblay and Tanya Vlahac