White Belt Women: What to Expect When You Want to Kick Ass

BJJ, grappling, and mixed martial arts are all male-dominated sports. This is an inescapable reality. However, grapplers like Ffion Davies, Gabi Garcia, and Nathiely de Jesus, combined with organizations like Girls in Gis and Grrrl, have begun to turn the tides. As more women sign up and climb the ranks, girls can see that this sport is not just for men.

Visibility is important. As we get more female black belts, we will attract more female white belts. However, we also need to create this welcoming atmosphere, which means we need more women to start BJJ. See the vicious cycle? If you’re thinking about it, take the plunge! Be the change we all wish to see.

What exactly should you expect?

1. Not everyone will be your best friend.

Yep, it sucks. You’re the new kid. Welcome to grade school. Smile, be friendly, and look for gyms that have a few women already practicing. No guy wants to look like the guy trying to hit on the new girl, and for this reason they can often be overly cool to the new girl.

2. What to wear.

Sports bra, first and foremost. Probably goes without saying, but I had to say it anyway. The rest comes down mostly to taste, but I prefer full-coverage. Personally, the worst feeling is thinking my shirt is going to slip down and give everyone a collective awkward moment. For this reason, I stick to crew-neck shirts. Once you get going, you can invest in a couple of rashguards, which are basically high-quality crew-neck shirts. Yoga pants are fine, or long biking shorts. I prefer nothing too short, as they ride up throughout class. If you have long hair, tie it back. I recommend a bun, but a short ponytail will suffice until you find your personal preference.

3. Personal hygiene.

Cut your nails, wash your clothes (once you buy one, you should be washing your gi after EVERY class), wash your hair. I recommend Selsun Blue shampoo to kill bacteria that might come from the mats. Pro tip: if you braid your hair before you put it in a bun, it won’t tangle as badly.

4. Don’t be intimidated.

You’re here as a customer. You should feel like one. Don’t expect everyone to fawn all over you, but if you get a creepy or otherwise bad vibe from the coaches and/or the upper belts, don’t be afraid to leave (this goes for long past your first day as well – remember that no one can make you feel less than without your permission).

5. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward.

This is a sport where we simulate murder and dismemberment. Someone, at some point, is going to touch you somewhere that otherwise would be inappropriate. As long as neither they nor you make a big thing out of it, there is no reason it needs to be a big deal (that said, obviously this should not be intentional or malicious, and should be quickly moved away from).

6. Be equal.

Sure, you’re probably smaller and weaker than most of your opponents. But that’s what jiujitsu is about – overcoming that size deficiency. Is it going to be difficult? Yes. Will you get discouraged? Yes. But every win will feel twice as good. Your goal may just be to survive for a while, but nothing is more badass than being a female enforcer. Soon you’ll be looking at the new guys and will be excited to have an easy target to practice on. Don’t expect special treatment, and if you ask people to take it easy on you, you’re only hurting yourself in the long run.

7. Have fun.

This is a hobby, not a battle to the death. Enjoy yourself. Tap when you need to. Grab water when you need to. There’s a lot of stuff online claiming you have to train x times per week to get better – ignore them and focus on yourself. Do what’s good for you.

What are you waiting for? Get on Google, pick a gym, and take a class today!


Looking for help with a BJJ injury? Book an online video consultation with BJJ black belt and osteopath Rosi Sexton.

Rachel Dows

Rachel is a 20-something year old writer and martial arts enthusiast. She works at a desk job all day to afford to be able to spend the majority of her free time at the gym, where she is a blue belt in BJJ. She also sometimes goes outside to run, hike, and enjoy living in small town USA.