Self Defense is a topic that has been on my mind since a young age. I grew up in rough neighborhoods and always had a healthy understanding of danger. In my adult life I’ve made a conscious effort to carry myself with confidence and make smart decisions in regards to safety.
I started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the young age of ten. We started in our garage, (as a lot of people did at that time) and it began as a fun way of roughhousing with my family. I started learning the techniques more seriously when my Dad opened an MMA and BJJ gym. My parents always encouraged my sister and I to take BJJ as a means of Self Defense and they eventually deemed it our ‘PE’ class. I quickly learned that my size and flexibility as a small girl could actually work to my benefit. When I sparred with the boys, they often had a hard time keeping me trapped because I could wiggle out of bad positions, and i could slip into good ones. (Turns out little arms fit really well around necks.)
I wasn’t very competitive, so I only participated in tournaments a couple of times. One of the few times that I did, I won a match against a wrestler boy. Jiu Jitsu seemed to be the great equalizer of the sexes.
I found things to be a bit different when I returned to the sport as an adult. My size and flexibility had changed dramatically and I felt I had to learn a whole new approach. As things came back to me, I realized that despite being bigger and less flexible, I was generally still smaller and more flexible than the men I was rolling with. Every high-ranked female BJJ player that I’ve spoken with has said a similar thing. We have to use our strengths against men (or any bigger, stronger person). We will never win if we try to fight the same way as a man. Generally men are going to be bigger and stronger, so we need to utilize leverage and movement. We have to be smarter. We have to predict their reactions and plan accordingly. There’s a very good reason why BJJ is said to be like a game of chess. If you’re doing right, it is.
My recent certification as a ‘Girls On Guard’ Instructor highlighted these same points. Women’s Self Defense is not an arm wrestling match, it’s about utilizing our strengths and being mindful of men’s weaknesses, in order to get out of bad situations. The techniques I learnt in my certification class came very naturally to me, and I have to thank my BJJ background for that. If you practice something enough, the instincts stay with you. Because of this, I would recommend BJJ to any woman looking to learn self defense.
The other key element to Women’s Self Defense is, simply put- street smarts. I have the neighborhoods I grew up in to thank for this. How you carry yourself, how you assert yourself, your awareness of your surroundings. Women are socialized to be apologetic, to shrink themselves and be submissive. Predators of women count on these things. They choose women who are distracted (on their phones, headphones in, etc) and/or women who look unsure or lost. Generally speaking, men aren’t going to target women who are aware of their surroundings, confident, and look like they’ll put up a fight. I joke that ‘resting bitch face’ is actually blessing, and I’m only half kidding.
BJJ built my confidence up in a way that helped me walk around feeling less scared. Feminism helped me to find my voice and challenge myself to be more assertive. I began to notice all the times that I chosen someone else’s comfort over my own, and I made a conscious decision to stop doing that. It’s something I still need to work on, and girls/women of all ages have said the same thing to me. We need to start trusting our intuition and to stop second guessing ourselves when something feels off.
Ventura County feels like a reasonably safe place compared to others, but the reality of being a woman in this world is realizing that we need to be aware and prepared for anything. I don’t walk around scared of what could happen, actually it’s the opposite- I walk around knowing that if something did happen, I am prepared to deal with it to the best of my ability. So when some creep does decide to approach me, I have no problem telling him to back off. And if there’s a creep that decides not to listen, I have the training to make him regret that.