Training at Nova Uniao with some of the boys from Connection Rio
Being a girl in a man's world has never been an easy feat. I realized this six years ago when I first started kick boxing. Every sparring round was proceeded by my coach yelling across the whole gym, "GO EASY ON HER SHE'S A GIRL!". As if I wasn't trying to compete like everyone else, as if I didn't need to be pushed as hard as any other guy before stepping into a ring with another girl ready to take my head off. Most guys avoid pairing up with me, in both kickboxing and jiu jitsu, and when they do they expect an easy 5 minute rest round before going back to work with the "bigger" guys.
This has happened consistently for the past six years with one exception, my boxing coach Matt, from Renzo Gracie PA. On my first day sparring at Renzo's, seconds before the bell rang, he called out from the ring to my partner, "Punch her in the face hard! I don't care if she's a girl, HIT HER IN THE NOSE!!!". I have nothing but love and respect for that man for treating me like one of the guys. There is nothing that frustrates me more then sparring with a guy that won't hit me hard or, even worse, well spend a whole round without throwing a single punch because I'm a girl. Fortunately for me I don't come to the gym to play, and most will give up their chivalrous attitude, especially when they're getting beat in the face by my pretty pink gloves. Never the less, there are always a few people that insist on wasting my precious sparring time by re-enacting a punching bag round after round.
Despite the fact that this is hands down the most frustrating thing I've experienced while training, I must admit, I often find myself treating new girls the same. Its rare to find a lot of girls in this sport, so I try not to scare them away man handling them. After all, it takes some time to find joy in a thorough beat down without getting discouraged.
I've been in Rio for a week now, and training at Gordo BJJ has not varied much from my normal experience. Being new to the world of BJJ, I am generally always the lowest belt and the smallest person in class. On the bright side, this generally means that who ever I partner up with does nothing but try to help me. I do all the drilling and they do all the correcting, which is good because any white belt needs all the drilling they can get, especially considering the number of higher belts and skilled athletes in Rio. There is only one other girl that consistently trains at Gordo's, and she is no where near my weight class or skill level. As a matter of fact, she is one of the black belt instructors wife, so needless to say, she can whoop me at will. However, I was somewhat dismayed to find that she was scared to "machucarme" or crush me.
Weber and his wife Camila (center) at Copa Ciclone with their son.
Lucky for me I was saved from being treated like a little doll for two reason:
1. I actually understand Portuguese unlike most "gringos" that come to Rio.
2. I used my broken Portuguese to tell a joke to Master Weber about how I've heard that he destroys my fellow Gringos on the mats.
This immediately got me in his good graces. Nothing feels better then a sense of belonging in an unfamiliar place, so I was very happy after finishing my second class and having Master Weber come up to me and TELL me that I needed to be there training EVERYDAY with him. This also meant that he was not having it when his wife Camilla was too scared to crush me.
One of the boys from the house training with Mario Sperry as he prepares for ADCC.
At Gordo's BJJ in Barra Da Tijuca
"She's not going to break!" he told her as he slammed me down into a knee on belly, "She's a fighter, she can take it!"
Its reassuring to know that someone is going to make sure that I get some proper training while I'm here. Eventually all this "babying" that I'm getting from my rolling partners is going to help me to develop all the technique I need to tap out some of the bigger guys (not the Weber sized guys I'm not that delusional).
The view of Rio from Pedra da Gavea (ship rock) which is
in front my house.
The view of Pedra da Gavea from the beach which is
right behind my house!