The Secret Subversive Power of BJJ

by Valerie Worthington, Emily Kwok, and Lola Newsom
Groundswell Grappling Concepts

We have a hypothesis about some women who grapple. We may be projecting, but our wholly unscientific data collection and analysis supports it. Namely, Brazilian jiu jitsu affords women who are looking for such things a mechanism for subversion. Some women who find BJJ, particularly those who find it in their 30s or later, seem to have parlayed it into a way to flout the system.

We may have spent our lives being generally good girls. Maybe we have succeeded according to the typical external markers (financial success, status, family). But BJJ gives us something else. It reminds us, and those who know us, that there is more to us than meets the eye. It’s like getting a tattoo without the whole tribal deal. It’s like going all Thelma and Louise while still being able to have nice furniture. It’s like chopping off all your hair without the buyer’s remorse and the crying.

Even the “goodest” girl has the capacity for mischief. We good girls may not have gotten in the habit of exercising this capacity regularly when we were younger, because we were too busy getting good grades and babysitting. Then as young adults, maybe we broke a few taboos, but all in a manner consistent with how “such things are done.” So by the time we reached our 30s, we were professionally respectable, financially responsible, and personally connected, or at least some meaningful combination of these.

And yet, some of us were left wondering if this was all there was to life. Not because we didn’t appreciate all that we had, but because we weren’t confident we were expressing all that we were. Maybe we experienced a major life change, like a divorce. Maybe we outgrew our career. Or maybe gradually, over time, we just inexplicably found ourselves far more spellbound by blockbusters than romantic comedies.

Enter Brazilian jiu jitsu. It is perhaps unlike anything many of us women have ever experienced before. It involves rolling around on the ground, mostly with dudes. It involves intentionally trying to impose our physical dominance on others. It involves giving expression to our aggression, which is natural in humans but arguably not culturally acceptable for women to own. It is a tool we can use to break with social convention, or at least to push the boundaries of who we have traditionally allowed ourselves to be.

Perhaps we don’t even consciously know that this is one of the many benefits we derive from BJJ. All we know at first is that we are fascinated by the movements and by trying to contort our bodies into weird positions, that during class we are utterly and completely present and physically aware, but at the same time completely un-self conscious and unfettered by our gender identities. We may have come to BJJ for different reasons: self-defense, exercise, trauma. We may identify different reasons for loving it: fitness, mental stimulation, a relatively safe place to explore our yin.

But just by participating in BJJ, we as women are being subversive. We are simultaneously tapping into our highest and our most primal selves, self-actualizing and expressing something fundamental about our identities, something we’ve perhaps been taught to suppress in favor of toeing the line.

BJJ is about techniques and movements, but it is also about the person who is performing those techniques and engaging in those movements. Even the smallest technical detail can affect our entire game, and even the simplest realization about ourselves can affect who we are and have the capacity to become. All you have to do is try to explain to a civilian in 20 words or fewer what BJJ is and why you do it, to understand how much it encompasses, how much it affords.

In this way, BJJ may help us integrate the parts of ourselves that we’ve always expressed with the parts of ourselves that may historically have been more back-burnered. We’re making all this sound intense. Dramatic. Fraught with meaning. That’s because we believe it has the potential to be just that. It’s about women having the opportunity to become fully who we already are.

And BJJ can help us do that, linking us with like-minded women along the way. The desire to express all of ourselves is arguably common to all women. We’ve seen ladies from all walks of life touch on this at camp.

So if you’re a woman looking to be a little subversive, try BJJ. The academy database on Grapplearts at can help you find a place. And if you’re looking for women who will support you in that subversion, come to camp.

Or, find your own way to be subversive and to express those parts of yourself that don’t frequently find expression. The important thing is that you find a way. You, and your world, will be better off for it.

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