How can BJJ become more inclusive towards women?

Marit Tyssedal Gabrielsen
Credit: @MaggieLeft

“Women are the most important people on the mat” is something you hear in our academy often, and is taught to every beginner. Our Coach, Dr. Jason Shields, has a simple logic: BJJ is first and foremost a system of self-defense and second a sport, so it is important that every club welcomes women and treats them with respect. Stopping women’s progress in training is actually indirectly participating in assault. 


Tuesday this week my Instagram feed all of a sudden blew up with news that a well known BJJ club is opening up their gym again after Covid-19, but they will no longer have mixed gi or no-gi classes, although female classes may be opened in the future. My initial reaction was “are you f***ing kidding me?” and my second was “this will be a shit storm and we need to address this now.” 


In my experience as an officer in the Norwegian army and in BJJ, being a woman in a male dominated environment is challenging but also rewarding. Lately I have discovered that my female side and my emotions are my most powerful qualities. But I had to accept where and what I was before I could progress. Everyone has different limitations and qualities. I’m short, so spider guard may not be my best choice, but as I become more skilled my size (and the fact that I need little space to move) becomes my biggest advantage. In the same way our discussion, regarding male and female politics, has to become more skillful and nuanced. As we progress our differences will not separate us but makes us as a community more powerful.


After the news about this club excluding women from the mat became public, many started to repost and comment; “Things like this just takes women’s BJJ steps backwards”. I do not agree; if a gym closes their doors to women, it’s not a step back for women’s BJJ but BJJ as a whole. It’s not “us” against “them”. The whole industry and community will suffer from this kind of attitude. It’s not women that need to step up and speak against this, it’s everyone. We need to stop pitting the genders up against each other. I’m all for female empowerment but that means being the most powerful you, not to get even or be the same as a man. The idea that we are the same is ridiculous, as both genders have strengths and weaknesses. There are good and bad people out there both male and female. Our goal should be to become the best person we can be, not the best woman or man. 


Women also need to stop diminishing themselves. The idea behind Go-rillaz Upgrade, the company created by Dr. Jason Shields and myself, is to have world class black belts like Gezary Matuda, Ffion Davis and Samantha Cook hold a mixed jiu-jitsu camp. These women are highly skilled instructors and benefit the whole community. I believe that seminars and camps for women only are a great opportunity to grow, exchange experiences and build a network that is necessary but we do not have to limit ourselves. I had dinner with a purple belt world champion and she said that she would love to be a female instructor for a women’s only class. My reaction was, why not just be an instructor for everybody?


The community has to acknowledge that a woman’s Jiu Jitsu may have some details that men don’t have, after all they have survived training with people 30-40kg heavier than themselves since they were white belts. However most importantly women have to acknowledge that they have so much to offer the sport, not just for women, but for everyone.


I understand that statements like “no female in gi and no-gi classes” may make your blood boil, and when I read it, I had smoke coming out of my ears. But that energy needs to go into taking a stand for jiu-jitsu, not for women’s jiu-jitsu. I have accomplished a lot in my life in multiple areas and I’ve had good, strong men by my side. Men are not the enemy, they are our partners. What we need now are leaders in our community. Leaders that can stand up for what jiu-jitsu is; an inclusive, strong family that stands up for each other.  Remember that when you are on the mat you are not male or female, your ethnicity does not matter and what you work with is no factor, you’re just a kimono. 

Marit Tyssedal Gabrielsen and Jason Shields
Credit: @sverrehjornevik​
Marit Tyssedal Gabrielsen in class
Credit: @sverrehjornevik​