This past December I posted the first of my articles on Older Grapplers because I felt their needs were not being properly addressed by the BJJ Community as a whole. This post is not just meant for Older Grapplers. Rather I am directing it to all members of the Community.
What I want to address here is the very real issue of sexual harassment of women during their training at their academies, or in connection with that training either after or before class.
1. Real Problem
I recently was made aware of an apparent problem that had existed for a long time at a large local school. I had no idea it was an issue. I had not heard anything about it until it became public knowledge.
However, in the past I’ve heard of situations that arose at various schools involving some well respected instructors.
2. My Background
I was raised by my Mom, and my two older sisters, since my Dad left when I was six due to a love of the bottle and other women. With no support coming in, Mom took difficult jobs to support us, with financial and emotional support being added by my sisters.
Mom always told me “Tommy, you can do anything you put your mind to if you give it your all.” During the course of my life, her words have proven prophetic.
When I started BJJ at age 65, I didn’t think my age would stop me. Mom’s words came back to me. Mom and both of my sisters are gone now, but I dedicate this post to them.
To this day, when I hear of women going it alone with children, I have nothing but Respect for them!!!
3. The Special Role of Women in BJJ
Until fairly recently, there was not much publicity about Women in BJJ. Now, we are all aware of how well some of the top competitors have fared. Yet the role of Women in BJJ goes much deeper than mere competition.
One only has to read Reila Gracie’s excellent book “Carlos Gracie: The Creator of a Fighting Dynasty” to discover that. The Gracie Women were the glue that held the clan together.
Moreover, my Professor, Master Marcio Stambowsky, is married to Carla Gracie, daughter of Robson Gracie, and granddaughter of Carlos Gracie. Carla provides very strong support to my Master in all of his efforts. Their daughter Deborah Gracie is a black belt in BJJ and an outstanding instructor.
The Ladies earned their place at the BJJ Table a long time ago! Their dues are fully paid, and they deserve as much Respect as any other student attending a BJJ academy, perhaps more!!!
I recently had someone tell me that the problem of sexual harassment wouldn’t exist if women were not permitted to train in mixed classes. Are you kidding me!
So we should exclude the victims to protect the perpetrators. Not if I can do anything to prevent that; not on my watch!
As a husband, and the father of three daughters, I’ll be damned if I will let anyone prevent the members of my family from having the opportunity to reach their full potential, whatever their chosen fields of endeavor may be!!!
4. Some Contact Will Happen
Because of the nature of BJJ training, some physical contact during a roll with a woman is bound to occur that might not normally be appropriate in other situations.
Several months ago, I was rolling with a very skilled woman during a class. This lady has a great closed guard game. I am not ashamed to note that she has caught me in an arm bar from closed guard in the past.
On this particular day, I was starting my attempt to open her closed guard when my hand slipped up on to her breast. I immediately removed it and apologized. She told me not to worry about it, it was a BJJ roll after all.
I believe most women are keenly aware of the difference between situations like the one I just described, and those where some oaf is just trying to “cop a feel.”
Accordingly, don’t use fear of harassment as an excuse for not rolling with capable women. Just show them the Respect they deserve during the roll!
Perhaps, such occasions present opportunities to focus on skill rather than strength. Think about it!
5. Acts of Cowardice
Sexual harassment, in all its forms, is nothing short of cowardice. In an activity founded by the Gracies, and the Japanese before them, on concepts such as honor, respect, and the ability of the weak and vulnerable to prevail against the strong, there simply is no place in the BJJ Community for such acts of cowardice.
6. Going to Church or Temple
To me, when I enter my BJJ Academy, it is though I am entering a church or a temple. It is a sanctuary from the world outside its doors; a place where I can engage in an activity that I love, and so enjoy!!!
Every student is entitled to experience those same feelings in a safe and supportive environment!!! As a Community, we need to take a stand that we have no tolerance for sexual harassment or those who engage in it.
As always, I wish you all the best in your training and in your life.
BJJ Brown Belt
2018 World Master Champion