1. You will be friends with everyone in your gym like a big happy family.
There are so many different personalities on the mat so there is a good chance someone will not like you, just like you don’t like certain people for whatever reason. It is normal that you develop stronger bonds with some people and others get a nod and a mumble of a hi, how are you. Same hobby will not guarantee immediate and lasting friendships. You will avoid training with people who have hurt you, give you creepy vibes, don’t click with you or are generally terrible training partners. It is possible that you are the annoying person to someone and they avoid you. There is no need to worry too much about it and go out of your way to make someone like you. If it happens naturally, great. If it does not, don’t force it. Gym, like workplace, will have some conflict and some camaraderie. Some people simply dislike you. You cannot change your personality to please someone, but you can always try to be a good training partner and not roll like a bonehead.
2. People outside of the gym want to hear about your training all the time.
No! Please, no! Not every birthday party, wedding, baby shower or family dinner night wants to hear about your awesome, incredible, amazing omoplata. Yes, we know you train. It’s your hobby. Don’t be that person who has nothing else to talk about at a social event. What was the last interesting article you read? Tried out a new recipe you saw on Instagram? Won a BBQ competition? Please spare other people from your constant BJJ euphoria, we see it daily on your FB page.
3. Everyone will be great at jiu-jitsu.
That’s a tough one. It is a struggle for anyone to admit that they are average or a slow learner. Training can be fun even if you are not a world champion caliber athlete. It’s a hobby, enjoy it. Learn and accept that you are getting better at your own pace. Some people compete, never win anything and it’s fine. Some people never compete and are happy if they can finally do a backward roll. Comparing yourself to someone else on the mat and having unrealistic goals is a guaranteed path to negative thoughts, resentment, frustration, and general dissatisfaction.
4. When you start training you must only wear BJJ related clothing and accessories. Everywhere.
Remember before you started training jiu-jitsu? You had clothing that didn’t have BJJ, jits, jitz printed on them and they weren’t white-blue-purple-brown-black-belt design? Yes, find that clothing again. It is great to wear them every now and then.
5. Black belts in BJJ are also black belts in life, and they are qualified to give advice about everything and anything.
Some BJJ black belts are great motivational speakers with a huge social media following. Some. A lot of black belts are not that great at teaching, finances, relationships or time management. Be careful what advice you are seeking. Again, BJJ black belt does not mean they are black belts in all aspects of life.
6. Expensive gis are the best.
No gi brand that has their gis made in Pakistan or China owns a textile factory or a manufacturing facility. All men’s and women’s gis come from the same source of fabric. All brands have their gis made in a factory that someone else owns. If only we could tell you how many brands are made in the same facility, by the same workers, using the same fabric… but we can’t. If you like the design and the fit of the gi, buy it, but don’t assume automatically that it is better because of the price.
7. You must train a lot, even when injured and observe class by taking notes when not training.
Oh dear, how many times have you seen this? Someone posting online: I broke my wrist last week, and the doctor said to stay off the mat until it heals. Majority of advice given is total opposite to the doctor’s: Oh no, just tape your hand to your chest and roll. I had 5 broken ribs and a dislocated jaw and still went to class 8 days a week. Why would you not listen to your doctor who has spent years in medical school and instead follow a group of strangers’ advice? What’s the rush anyway? Heal the damn injuries. It’s your body, the one and only you have. They are not giving out medals for bravery. Taking notes while injured? Well, if you must. If you have nothing else to do, then by all means, go sit and take notes. You won’t remember any of it later anyway.
8. Every black belt is a great instructor.
Some black belts are great competitors, some are great instructors, some are both and some are none. It doesn’t take much to open a gym these days. As long as you have a small space, mats and sign on the door, you are in business. No teaching experience or certification is required. Warning signs of a not so great instructor: holds back information, punishes students by holding back belt promotions if student has asked about a belt promotion, ridicules students, makes crude jokes, intimidates students who want to leave, is vague or lies about his own black belt lineage, doesn’t allow cross training or going to open mats. You are not married to the gym you start at, you can always change and find an instructor you really enjoy learning from.
9. You must take private lessons.
If your instructor tells you that he has some secret techniques he only reserves for private lessons, stop and think. Wait a minute, I pay my monthly dues to learn, why is the instructor holding back information, and why is he making me pay extra to learn those special secret techniques? Does it make sense? Not at all. If you want to take private lessons to work out some snags in your game and have one-on-one time with the instructor, that’s fine. But don’t ever be coerced into taking private lessons with the promise of a quicker promotion or a special secret technique. It is shady and fueled by greed.
10. You must roll with everyone.
This is troublesome especially for brand new students who think they have no voice, and must accept any rolling partner no matter what size or shape. They believe they are not allowed to say no. Always remember, it is your training, your body, and you will be paying the medical bills (not the gym, not the person who injures you) when you get hurt. You can and should choose your training partners. A great instructor will never let brand white belts roll with each other anyway. They do more harm to each other than anything else. Be vocal and if you are being forced to roll with people who are reckless, you may want to reconsider if this place really is for you. Lots of injuries, few familiar faces, and a huge turnover of new white belts is a sign of a gym that does not take good care of its students.
11. Women must always be paired up with another woman when there are even number of women on the mat.
Just because you two are both females, doesn’t mean you should be training together. A 120 lb and a 190 lb woman paired up is not a good match. You are better off pairing up with a male of a similar size. You don’t see a rooster and super heavy males paired up for drilling so you should not either. Find someone who benefits your training the most. Training with women is great but don’t let yourself become the “female white belt sitter”. It sucks being paired up with new females all the time while guys are improving their game by rolling with higher belts. Speak up!
12. Quitting is never an option.
This has to be the crown jewel of all BJJ myths. If you promote the slogan that there is no quitting in BJJ, why do so many people quit? Why do we not see a waiting list on the door of each gym because they are at max capacity? Try to remember the names of the people who started training at the same time with you. Look at the gym group pictures from years ago. Ah, there is this dude, I remember him. He always wore a gi one size too small. I wonder what happened to him. Oh, and this girl, she was so good. Right when she got her blue belt, she got married, had a baby and we never saw her again.
Lots and lots of people quit for all sorts of reasons. Quitting is always an option, you can do whatever you want in your life. It is your time, your money, and your body. Jiu-jitsu is for everyone but not everyone will like it. If BJJ no longer interests you, choose something else to do. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad or inferior because you decide to move onto something different.
Queens of the Mat is a women’s jiu-jitsu group that was started by Keri Wittekind in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a three stripe purple belt at Club MMA, and recently began teaching women’s jiu-jitsu classes at NKY Martial Arts Academy. Keri kindly agreed to answer a few questions about her life and her Queens of the Mat project.
1. How did the Queens of the Mat get started, and how did you come up with name?
It all started with a casual conversation with my coach Jeff Robison about three and a half years ago. I mentioned that I had gone to an all women’s open mat at a particular gym he was asking about. He told me that if I ever wanted to do something like that I could but he said I had to name it.
From that conversation Queens of the Mat was born. I think jiu-jitsu is a game of chess, and the most important piece of the chess board is the queen. As women, we are queens of our own domain, and my selfish take is that Cincinnati is known as the Queen City.
Queens of the Mat was founded on three pillars. First is the open mat, a free non-competitive environment for girls and women to train together. Second is that we always benefit a charity by collecting goods as a way to give back. Third is that we go out to eat after open mats as a way to just do life together off the mat.
2. What do you do in real life?
Right after high school I went to college. I did two years of school but ran out of money, and I decided to enlist in the Army. A recruiter told me I could get paid to jump out of a plane so I said yes! For two years I packed parachutes, followed by two years of admin work. At the end of my four years I came back home to Cincinnati, and joined the Ohio Army National Guard driving a dump truck, and went back to school. I stayed three years in the National Guard before getting out for medical reasons. I miss the community of the Army. The jiu-jitsu community has been the closest to the military community I have ever experienced: a melting pot of people. For the last few years I’ve worked in various roles within the pharmaceutical industry.
3. What has been the hardest part of your training? Which belt level has been the most challenging?
The hardest part of training is finding a balance between training, and the rest of my life. It took me a long time to realize that it is okay to miss class sometimes but also that it is okay if not everyone agrees with my involvement in jiu-jitsu. It is not my responsibility to make sure they like what I do.
I think each belt level has had its own challenges. Blue belt was particularly rough because of crazy life events like a bad break up, an injury that required surgery, job loss but also having to find a new gym. Purple belt is rough right now because I’ve hit my first big plateau in a long time but teaching has really helped.
4. Do you ever feel like quitting? What can you tell women who are struggling and can’t find the desire to train any more?
A lot more than I care to admit! But I know it’s not a real, lasting feeling. When I start feeling that level of frustration, I’ll take a couple of days off training, and refocus by doing something random like an aerial yoga class, and go back fresh. I would tell women to take a step back, take a day off or a week off, and get back in the gym. Don’t give up. Work thru it. If you are hitting a plateau, quit focusing on what is not working, and instead focus on another part of your game. But also training with other women is incredibly helpful whether that is in your own gym, an open mat or seminar.
5. Do you go to any other women’s jiu-jitsu camps and open mats?
Absolutely! I love going to camps, seminars and, open mats. It is always good to learn from, and work with women. For me it is also nice to just be a participant sometimes.
6. Who is your BJJ idol?
I look up to a lot of people in jiu-jitsu, especially the women who have paved the way. I had a chance to train with Emily Kwok shortly after getting my blue belt in 2014 at Groundswell Grappling Concepts. I was in the midst of a huge plateau, and had not figured out how to get thru it. Those of us attending the camp went out to dinner as a group at the end of the day. It was an informal Q&A, and I asked Emily how she overcame plateaus as a lower belt. She shared a story about baking cookies that completely changed how I looked at my plateaus. Her openness and vulnerability to share that with me has been one of the biggest lessons in my journey.
7. How many events have you held so far and what plans do you have for the Queens for 2019?
We have had 14 Queens of the Mat events, of those three were on the road. We average about 25 women but have up to 40. The best part is when a new jiu-jitsu lady comes to a Queens of the Mat event. I love that she gets to see so many women on the mat together, and our amazing community so early in her journey.
It is hard to pick a favorite event but two have special places for me. The winter open mat is special because it benefits Shriners Hospital for Children, and it also represents our anniversary. The other open mat that is special to me is our fall open mat which benefits the Fisher House at the Cincinnati VA. As a veteran myself, I wanted a chance to give back to the other community that I love.
I’m working on 2019 as we speak. We will definitely be at Ohio Combat Sports Academy in Columbus, Ohio on March 30th. We have been invited to Indianapolis but no date has been set. Of course we will have open mats in Cincinnati as well. I also want to start looking into new merchandise if the women want it. I know I do.
8. Tell us something interesting about yourself that not many people know.
I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals, and their soundtracks. I even have a “Wicked” Pandora station, and the soundtrack to “The Greatest Showman” is currently in my car cd player. And yes, I sing along quite loudly!
Girls in Gis is celebrating six years of successful women’s jiu-jitsu open mats, sisterhood, and happy rolls. What started in Houston in 2009 has now spread throughout several states. Three locations: Denver, Edmond, and Houston, are holding anniversary open mats this month with record number of participants expected; please register ahead of time to save your spot.
We are making beautiful 12×3, woven patches for Girls in Gis as our continued support for the cause. Get one for you, one for your friend, and pretty up your gis!
Getting older is all about how you get older. Some women decide to slow down but others put on a gi, and learn jiu-jitsu. We asked Renee and Dawn to talk about their training, and how it has changed their lives.
Renee is a 50-year-old mother of three, ages 19, 16 and 14. She has been married for 20 years; lives in Arlington, TX, and owns a soap business, Mansfield Soap Co, that makes glycerin soaps designed for athletes. Dawn is a 46-year-old mother of two, ages 21 and 12. She is a married stay-at-home mom, and lives in Middleton, NJ.
How did you ladies find jiu-jitsu?
Renee: I found BJJ through my kids. They started training 7 years ago in judo, and transitioned into jiu-jitsu. We ended up at Alvarez BJJ after leaving the judo school in December of 2009. After many years of cheering my kids from the sidelines, and photographing their tournaments I just had to get in there myself. The problem, however, was that I was so overweight, and out of shape. About a year and a half ago I had a knee surgery, and bariatric surgery so that I could do jiu-jitsu. While that may seem extreme, it was just what I needed. Six month later I stepped on the mat, and I’ve been training for about a year now. I typically train 1-2 days a week but recently have recommitted to three times a week as my goal.
Dawn: My son started training in 2010, and my husband followed him a year later. I sat through many classes really wanting to get on the mat but thought that I was too out of shape, and too old. It wasn’t until the owner of the school, Mike LaSalle, convinced me to try it. I trained in his boxing, and MMA classes in the mornings. My first class I was so nervous but at the same time instantly hooked. I started in 2012, and train at LaSalle MMA in Staten Island, NY. I train as often as I can, 2-3 days a week, and also any time my husband and I just pass each other in the house we take it to the mats aka our living room. I also do kettlebell workouts to help with my overall strength.
What has been the hardest part so far?
Renee: The hardest part of training has been getting my body to do the moves. At my age things don’t always bend like they should or the cardio isn’t always there but I keep going, and as time has passed I have gotten a lot better. The occasional injuries have slowed me down a little but I don’t let them stop me.
Dawn: The hardest part of training is finding women to roll with who will stick with the sport. I am a very strong person, and it has been a challenge not to use my strength when rolling with other jiu-jitsu women because it tends to scare them away from even training with me. My friend Rosemarie and I started together. She was 43 at the time. Together we had so much fun learning. Sadly she had to leave the school due to work obligations. I feel like I owe some of my success to her.
Do your training partners treat you differently because of your age?
Renee: Well, my kids could not wait to choke me! That’s special. 🙂 I train with several world champions, including my instructor Danny Alvarez, and they have been extremely gracious in helping me improve my game. Our gym has an environment conductive to massive amounts of learning, and I feel like I’m just like any other person on the mat, no special treatment.
Dawn: I have to say that I am treated like everyone else on and off the mat. My training partners are a great bunch of gentlemen. It’s the environment that Mr. LaSalle has created that allows everyone to feel uninhibited, and just train. The people at my gym are my family.
What do you like the most about training?
Renee: I love it when a move I have been struggling with finally comes together. That is the best feeling! When I can successfully land said move while I’m rolling, that really brings me joy.
Dawn: I love rolling with anyone at any level. Some days you are the hammer, some days you are the nail. I love how incredibly accomplished I feel after every roll, especially when I am the hammer that day. Being the nail is always an opportunity to fine tune things that need correcting.
Has jiu-jitsu changed your life significantly?
Renee: Absolutely! I’m more fit, my clothes fit looser, and I’m slowly transforming my body from fat to muscle which is cool. I’m considering competing later on down the road. I still have plenty of room to improve, and I’m always thinking of how to overcome the moves that get me in trouble.
Dawn: BJJ has changed me in a few ways. I have lost almost 60 pounds since I started. My body was feeling old, and run down. Now I feel like I can do anything but by Sunday my 46-year-old body does need some serious rest. The most important change is how it has taken an already wonderful marriage, and bonded it even more. Our love for jiu-jitsu has brought my husband, and I closer together.
Do you have any tips for women over the age of 45 who want to start training?
Renee: I’d say, find a good reputable school! I developed relationships with folks over the years at our school because of my kids, and now it is even better because I’m the student. Understand that it is not easy but it is not impossible either. It takes perseverance. It is a journey that will be easy one day, and complicated the next day. Some days you will be the dog, some days you will be the bone. Just don’t quit! It’s worth it.
Dawn: All I can recommend is to find a good academy, and just get on the mat. Jiu-jitsu is for everyone. If you are told otherwise, you are not in the right place. I invite all women on Staten Island to come train with us!