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Gender Roles in Jiu-Jitsu Valerie Worthington Talks Gender and Respect in Jiu-Jitsu

For many years I believed that jiu-jitsu was a force for good. I believed that jiu-jitsu had changed my life and I believed that the jiu-jitsu community was an open, welcoming place that accepted people from all walks of life.

Recently, I learned I was wrong about all of these things and Valerie Worthington helped me see that.

Valerie Worthington is a jiu-jitsu black belt and one of the principals behind the quickly growing Groundswell Grappling Concepts (GGC). With the likes of Worthington, Emily Kwok, Hannette Staack, and Lola Newsom at the helm, GGC is best known for running women’s grappling camps, though recently they have begun to offer co-ed camps as well. For her part, Worthington humbly credits GGC’s success to the work of her collaborators, but Worthington is a force in the sport in her own right. She has traveled the country to train with dozens of instructors, she runs a popular jiu-jitsu blog at Breaking Muscle and her individual seminars are in high-demand.

I met Worthington through my female training partners. They had become rabid GGC devotees and praised the experiences they had at GGC events. In these conversations, I learned that my home gym spoiled me into naivety. Not all gyms are as welcoming to women as ours is. In fact, many of the stories I heard were outright disturbing. Not long after I heard these stories, news began to break about a slew of high-ranking black belts that alleged everything from sexual misconduct to sexual violence against women, as well as children.

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From Left to Right; Lola Newsom, Emily Kwok, Hannette Staack and Valerie Worthington.

The stories continued to trickle out of the jiu-jitsu community to the point that I could no longer champion my idealized notion of jiu-jitsu. Our community was far from perfect, especially with regard to how we treat women.

When I spoke to Worthington about these issues, she recalled a story about a woman she had met through one of GGC’s camps.

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“Her training partners made an issue of her being a woman,” Worthington said. “If someone was bigger than she was, training in a way that she thought was reckless or disdainful, they would say, ‘That’s what you signed up for. This isn’t tiddlywinks.’”

The experience of feeling as though she was not respected, valued and cared about wore on this grappler. She was falling out of love with jiu-jitsu, and the stress that her situation caused her visibly affected her, Worthington says. Worthington attributes some of these situations to a basic misappropriation of gender expectations, but it goes deeper than that.

“At large, men are more congratulated and encouraged in expressing aggression, despite the fact that we are all human and have a tendency toward wanting to test and best ourselves,” Worthington said. “There is a competitive streak inherent in people regardless of gender. There is also a self-preservation streak. Even though it sometimes comes out in different ways, they are a natural part of being a person.”

In addition to her teaching resume, Worthington is an accomplished competitor. *2007 World Grappling Championships gold medalist *2008 purple belt Mundial gold medalist *2009 brown/black belt Mundial silver medalist *2010 brown/black belt PanAms gold medalist

In addition to her teaching resume, Worthington is an accomplished competitor.
*2007 World Grappling Championships gold medalist
*2008 purple belt Mundial gold medalist
*2009 brown/black belt Mundial silver medalist
*2010 brown/black belt PanAms gold medalist

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Pingback: Respect in BJJ | BJJ Minion

  2. Edgar

    Apr 19, 2017 at 7:15 am

    It’s an unfortunate that this is the experience some women are having. There will always be that one or two jerks no one likes. I’ve been lucky enough to be associated with a group that won’t put up with that kind of nonsense. My instructor has not only warned people but has asked people to leave for inappropriate behavior. Usually, the natural pecking order will humble a douchebag. Let’s be honest here, that’s what we’re talking about here – douchebags. This is easy for me to say since I’m a man. Although, the threat of physical maliciousness maybe there, it will never be the same threat that it is for a woman.
    I like how you addressed the fact that men and women behave different in their social settings but even for us men there is a limit to how much of that machismo is acceptable.

    One of my favorite things as of late is Marcelo Garcia’s YouTube post explaining how he asked a couple of his black belts to “take a break”.

  3. J Heines

    Apr 19, 2017 at 7:17 am

    It takes courage to write an article like this and for that reason alone the ladies have my respect. I teach Japanese Ju Jitsu where the focus is on self-defense. The “Do” arts like Ju-Do are focused on perfecting one’s character thru martial training. The code of bushido is strongly tied to Ju Jitsu as it was originally developed to give the samurai a code of ethics to live bye and they accepted that lifestyle. In Ju Jitsu we practice to improve our self-defense technique, reaction to various attacks, etc. In so doing we recognize the importance of our Uke (training partner). Our bow before exercise has many meanings but one is that we know our safety (due to the self-defense nature of training) is in the hands or our Uke as is their safety in our hands. It is in this simple example one can see that Ju Jitsu training also focuses on character development. Without each other one can not train. When I have a student paired with another and there is definitely a great mismatch, I tell the advanced student not to use their favorite technique but to work timing and use a technique that is not their favorite. This way they both exercise and improve. To really improve, one can not stay in this mismatch condition but it is a time-honored means for the senior/advanced student to give back and is important since it develops respect, modesty and patience. Each week I spend time explaining how our training integrates into this code of ethics so one can understand these finer aspects of Ju Jitsu. These elegant aspects of Bushido can easily be lost in the excitement of physical training and is part of the Sensei’s responsibilities to help others understand. Great article ladies!

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