Monday, March 15, 2021

Self-Care For BJJ Athletes Over 40

 Self care for BJJ athletes over 40


Professor Vernon Kirk, BJJ Black Belt, Judo Black Belt, 2020 member Team USA Sambo Masters World Competition Team, “Relentless Martial Arts,” N.C.

Self-care after 40 is essential whether you train or not. But the more you do the higher priority it should be. Most men have either played sports, or have had jobs with some  sort of physical labor for most of their lives. Their body carries a lot of mileage, so when you start a sport like BJJ that care means a lot more. In April of this year I will 43 years old. I started training at 31 and I was roughly 290 lbs. I've competed in 95 events and had roughly 250 matches since beginning. I have done them in all different rule sets and sports. Not to mention since 10/7/2016, which was 6 months after major shoulder surgery I've competed in 51 events, had over 100 matches, turned 40, gotten my brown and black belts in BJJ. I also played football for 12 years including a few years at a Division 3 college. In all of those years I have had only one surgery and only a couple of other major injuries and those were typically freak accidents. So how have I been able to maintain that?


So where do we get started?

First thing is nutrition. We have to look at what we are putting into our bodies. Food is fuel for recovery and performance. The biggest problem with nutrition is everybody wants a “one fit” solution. There’s lots of different diets and many of them have pluses and minuses. The right answer, however, is whatever works for you. You need to experiment with your nutrition. Figure out what makes you feel and perform the best.  The best advice I can give has nothing to do with macros it’s about eating the closest thing to coming out of the ground as possible. Some people need a higher carb, protein, or fat count. It depends on you. You have to do the experimentation to figure out what that is. I, personally, do better with higher protein/higher fat/lower carb ratio.  I do need carbs during heavy workouts, however, too many, especially processed ones, make me feel bad. My performance suffers. 

Prof. Kirk goes to "Charlotte Yoga," in Charlotte, NC

 The second thing is some sort of fitness regimen. This needs to include cardio, strength, and stretching. Some people like to power lift, myself included. I’m a recovering meathead, and I enjoy lifting heavy weights. It can be beneficial, if done in moderation, however the main issue ends up being most of us don’t know what that means (myself included). So the best place to start are things like Yoga and swimming. Those 2 things will build your cardio for BJJ as well as strength.  I am 43, been training for around 12 years and didn’t really add anything extra, until about 6 years ago.  I went in training, like I did when I was in my teens and early 20s for football, but what I have learned the hard way is that I’m old and I can’t get away with that anymore. I can’t lift heavy as hell then go train, it doesn’t work, I break down without time to recover. When I lift now I take on more of the Russian method and don’t go to failure, take more time between sets and use less weight.

The third is yoga. Yoga is something I’m getting into more and more, and I absolutely love it. Flexibility and core stability is huge in BJJ. It’s needed to survive in bad spots on the mat. Strength training helps, but Yoga is something I should have started way sooner. If you are wondering where to start, start with Yoga. Then start to add things like cardio and strength training. 


The fourth is self care, which is a broad term. Obviously the first three fit in here,

but what else does that mean? It means making sure your body is functioning as

optimally as possible. So it all starts with rest. Sleep is crucial, but some need more

than others, but it also means how you train. I train or workout 7 days a week and

usually twice a day, but what does that mean? I workout every morning during the

work week at 5:30 and then teach classes Monday through Thursday. But, when I

teach, I’m not working as hard as I would, as if I’m taking a class. I can choose to

roll, or who I roll with. I roll with all of my students, but on days I don’t feel it, I’m

hanging back and just watching. As an older athlete, even as a white belt you have

the right to be picky about your rounds. Make sure you’re getting work in, but you

don’t have to roll with every 20 year old in the gym. I go to some packed and high

end open mats on the weekends, with a lot of upper belts to get my training in. I

also monitor myself every morning. I check my heart rate to make sure I’m

recovering.  Self-care modalities like Chiropractic, Massage, Acupuncture, Cupping,

etc. all keep me in the game and healthy.

Follow Vernon Kirk @jiujitsudadbod @relentlessnc
For video analysis of your competition &/or training rolls by Prof. Kirk: https://tekneek.io/jiujitsudadbod

Almine Barton, Licensed Acupuncturist, Certified Fitness Trainer, Nutrition Consultant, "CrossFit" Coach, Rock/Ice Climber, Jiu-Jitsu Purple Belt, Women's Empowerment & Self-Care Advocate

In June of this year I’ll be 45.  I’m not sure what 45 is supposed to feel like, but I

 feel great.  I credit this to the following: good lifestyle habits exemplified by my

 father (he’s 73 & works out 5-6 days a week), diligent cross-training, careful

 attention to nutrition, and a consistent meditation practice.  All of these things play

 a role in my daily routine. 

Yoga has been a vital part of my life, since I went to India, for the first time at 17. 

 There, I learned about the medical system of India termed “Ayurveda.”  Ayurveda

 translates to “the science of life.”  It’s a full encompassing health care system,

 practiced in hospitals throughout India, Nepal & Tibet. 

 Ayurveda stresses emphasis on nutrition, yoga, meditation, and daily herbal tonics.

I’ve been studying Eastern philosophy & Eastern medical systems since my teens.

  I’m now a licensed acupuncturist & certified fitness trainer in Bend, OR., where I

 treat/train athletes of all kinds.

As a medical provider I can attest to the following:  many injuries that come into my

 office are due to a lack of stretching.  Stretching seems to always get shoved by

 the wayside.  And, while it’s true that I see more female patients with a consistent

 stretching &/or yoga routine in my practice, that doesn’t let the men off the hook.

  In fact, my observation is that they often need it more.  Through years of impact

 sports, such as football, rugby, wrestling, MMA, etc. their muscles are typically

 more damaged & tight than the majority of female athletes I treat.

Chinese, Tibetan & Ayurvedic medical systems all state that after 40, stretching

 becomes more imperative than ever.  The ligaments, muscles & joints get more

 stiff & brittle by the year.  To counteract this process, stretching should be

 considered a non-negotiable for any Masters athlete of any sport.  There are a

 variety of yoga systems, styles & lineages.  I would “shop” a bit, & find one that

 works best for your body & recovery goals.

Almine does regular yoga at "Bend Hot Yoga & Wellness" in Bend, OR.

I’m also a big believer in water fitness.  My 73 yr. old dad is in great shape.  Yes, he

 has an active stretching & 3 day a week strength routine, but he swims 5-6 days a

 week.  His lean muscle mass, not to mention his cardio, is excellent for his age. 

 He’s been known to say several things to advocate for the pool:  “Swimming is the

 one sport you can age with.”  “There’s no downside to working out in the pool.”

 “The water will prevent injuries & will heal existing ones.” Water fitness can entail

 many things. Not just lap swimming, which I enjoy, but some find boring.  Check

 out more ideas at: www.speedofit.com  The local "Parks & Recreation" center,

 where I live, also offers "deep-water running" classes.  This is a challenging

 workout.  Your legs are toast afterwards.  There are many options in the pool.  Get

 creative.  Also, see the post on water fitness I've previously published at: 


When I started BJJ, in my late 30’s, I was coaching/practicing “CrossFit” 4-5 days a

 week, plus climbing.  I soon realized I could do 2 out of the 3 sports, & maintain

 recovery, but not all 3.  After 10 yrs. doing “CrossFit” I had to make a choice.  I

 chose climbing & BJJ.  Those 2 sports offered me the mental stimulation, in

 addition to the physical, that makes me so addicted to them.  My point is the

 following:  to cross-train with impact sports, on top of already doing an impact sport

 (BJJ) won’t serve you.  I get the feeling of a 1-rep max. PR, and the enjoyment of

 strength sets.  But, I would advocate you keep those to 1 day a week, & have your

 strength training come from plyometrics, & body-weight placement exercises, the

 rest of the days of the week.

You only have “so many chips” your body can cash for impact, after the age of 40. 

 You will need to prioritize where you want to cash those chips…in Jiu-Jitsu, or in

 other sports, and plan your fitness routine accordingly.  You can’t do impact sports

 4-6 days a week, consistently, after 40, without ample recovery time.  Food for

 thought, when you outline your next week’s fitness schedule.

I’m a big advocate of meditation.  Like yoga, there are many forms & styles.  Again,

 you’ll want to “shop” around a bit, and find what works for you.  There are more

 ancient, traditional styles that comes out of Eastern philosophy.  There’s also

 newer, more modern styles that you can do along with apps. on your phone,

 breathwork classes, etc.  There’s no downside to any of the things I mentioned

 above: stretching/yoga, swimming/water fitness & meditation.  All 3 of these things

 are simple things you can do to enhance health, longevity, and keep you 

in the game, longer.

Ice Bath Meditation

Follow Almine Barton:  @alminebarton @blackoak_homepractice

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jiu-Jitsu, Self Defense, Size Differences & Training

“BJJ favors the stubborn.”  This is a quote shared with me by one of my professors.  As a woman, I believe you have to really want it. Want it bad enough to sleep on ice packs, walk in intimidated, be the only girl on the mat, see a chiropractor, sometimes several times per week, pay a good deal of money in gis, out-of-pocket expenses for injuries incurred on the mat, seminars, class fees, competition fees (shoud you choose to compete), travel expenses to/from competitions, and arnica cream J  You have to want it.  What is “it”?  The refining of character that Jiu-Jitsu will bring you. That is the invisible reward.  The color change of the belt, throughout the journey, is secondary.

Its not a sport for the woman who isn’t willing to do all of the above.  It’s a sport of indomitable will, unparalled determination, fearlessness, and tenacity. It will weed women out who don’t exhibit those characteristics, or who think they have them.

Just as my training partner, Andrew Winge, will lend his voice to how it weeds out the male ego, it will filter out the woman who isn’t able to endure pain, and want more of it.  All for the discipline of internal refinement.

Being the only woman on the mat offers positive rewards in the sense of training for self-defense.  As Andrew points out later, its unlikely a woman will be at the hand of another female attacker.  I leave the “Why?” of men being the dominant predator statistic, to the men, to question amongst themselves…and to rectify it.  All I have control over is the safety of myself, and that is something I train for.

Almine training at "Ralph Gracie BJJ"
I’m a firm believer that even if a woman takes a day long self-defense course that diligent practice of learned principles must be done.  

There’s controversy amongst the women’s BJJ community if day-long “Intro. To Women’s Self-Defense” classes are more harm than help.  This seems unlikely, however, a solid point is raised:  it can give a woman false hope that she’s safe, unless those principles are applied regularly in training.  If a woman is able to take what she learned in a self-defense intro. class, and diligently work those moves on men of Andrew’s belt ranking and size, I believe her confidence in the techniques may be warranted.
Almine in 50/50 with Cody Briggs, "World Class Martial Arts," PA.

I worked with a boxing instructor who also taught concealed weapons classes. He was 6’8.” He used to be a police officer in Las Vegas, and was my first “CrossFit” coach mentor, as well.  He reiterated, over and over, in his classes, and one-on-one work with me, that if someone takes a gun safety course, and never takes the gun out of her purse to shoot it regularly, do target practice, practice loading the gun, safely and quickly, that statistically, she’s at risk for injuring herself more than an intruder or attacker.  This makes sense to me.
Almine working on boxing with Coach Tom Benge, ex Las Vegas police officer, "CrossFit" coach, Strongman coach, "Strong First" coach, certified concealed weapons instructor, award-winning marksman

There’s arguments back and forth about the efficacy of one day women’s self-defense courses.  I see both sides of the issue.  But, I do believe in diligent practice with men of Andrew’s size.  The bigger the better (but yes, prepare yourself for a few chiropractic adjustments along the way!).  There’s also something to be said for work with men, who are smaller in stature, but quick and fast.  Andrew is my “big guy” training partner.  My other “Ralph Gracie BJJ” training brother is Javier, who is as light and fast as lightening.  These two gentlemen are my gauges for speed, strength and accuracy.  I practice the same moves on both men.  I experiment, and see what moves might be successful on men of Andrew’s size, and try to figure out the leverage and angles, as to why it worked.  That’s important, gals.  The “why” a move works helps you understand the bio-mechanics of leverage and angles, which is our greatest weapon against larger individuals.  It’s the premise of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  Other moves may be more successful against a man of Javier’s experience and speed.  Its trial and error, which can be frustrating at times.  Like anything worthwhile, it will take dedication and practice. I don’t believe a one day seminar will cut it.

I think one day seminars are the “sample platter” of a variety of disciplines:  BJJ, Krav Maga, boxing, etc.  They offer a glimpse into self-empowerment for women.  I believe this is a good thing.  It may “wet their appetite” to practice what they learned more.  If this is the case, it fulfilled its purpose.  If women learn a variety of techniques, and choose not to practice them, they may believe they have an arsenal of effective moves that prove ineffective in a terrifying situation.

Rolling with big men like Andrew is intimidating.  That’s part of the point.  Practicing the ability to control your emotions and breathing when you’re being smothered and feel panicked is just as important as the actual technique of escaping itself.

Because I’ve practiced being scared for a long time, with climbing, I believe that helps me on the mat.  I practice “circular breathing” when I’m on the mat, which is something I’ve diligently worked with while climbing for 13 yrs.  When I’m scared climbing (which is often), I make absolutely certain that my mouth is closed, and that I’m breathing through my nostrils only.  This slows your thinking down, which is imperative that high off the ground.  If you can’t think straight, you make mistakes.  Mistakes can cost you your life, or the life of your climbing partner.  You must calm your breathing, or the results can be deadly.

Almine trad-climbing at "Smith Rock," Terrebonne, OR.

Andrew is one of the most respectful training partners I’ve had the privilege of working with.  He’s aware of his size, and ability, and matches accordingly to those he rolls with.  Even though he’s a long time friend, am I still scared when I roll with him?  Absolutely.  It’s nothing personal.  It has to do with the fact that a large, strong man is on top of me, with the aim of smothering (or submitting) me.  This often shoots waves of panic through me.  It’s a normal response. I’ve been taught my whole life that’s a situation I should avoid at all costs.  Like being high off the ground.  That’s why I do it.  You must train for fear.  That way when fearful situations present themselves throughout your life you stare them back in the face with confidence.  I don’t believe this is something that can be taught in one day.  Engaging with fear must be diligently practiced. It’s uncomfortable.  It will teach you to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.  That is the point.

Often, when rolling with Andrew or Javier, my aim isn’t even to submit them, or escape.  It’s to control my breathing.  That’s step one.  Then I will be calm enough to think of what to do next, and I will do it better, than if I was in fear.

I’ll let Andrew share his wisdom of years of Jiu-Jitsu, and his thoughts on the benefits of rolling with women.  I’m grateful we’re at the same gym.  I do believe my Jiu-Jitsu will serve me even better, training with men like them, in a self-defense situation.  At the end of the day, that’s when it will matter most…

After a great day of training at "Ralph Gracie BJJ," Bend, OR.

Andrew's Thoughts:

­I’d like start with a “thank you” to Josei Heishi and Almine Barton for the opportunity to share my thoughts on this blog. I am genuinely flattered to be in such great company.

As for me, I’m a 44-year-old BJJ Brown Belt under Paul Moresi at Ralph Gracie Jiujitsu in Bend, Oregon.  I’m a practicing Emergency Medicine physician which means I spend the majority of my time trying to pull critically ill (often due to their own poor decisions) patients back from the proverbial edge. Mixed in with them is large volume of patients with relatively minor issues like ankle sprains, colds, and the occasional “My dog ate my pain pills, can I get some more?” requests.  My “office” is a loud, chaotic, and often violent place.

You can find Dr. Winge's book, "The Program-Person Evolution: A Scientific Approach To Rapid Body Recomposition" on "Amazon"https://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Winge-MD/e/B00G5X4MUK

I started my BJJ journey over 11 years ago when my best friend from medical school, a psychiatrist, choked me out (with very little effort I might add) while we were grappling at a local gym. He had started BJJ the year before. I, however, was 60lbs heavier, former state record holder in powerlifting, and decently athletic dude. I was sure I could take him. Besides, in the history of medicine no scrawny psychiatrist had ever choked out an ER doctor as far as I knew. 

Well, the joke was on me. I got wrecked. After that I was hooked. I joined Marra Senki BJJ in San Antonio, TX and never looked back. Through my residency training, two deployments to Iraq as an Air Force doc, three cross-country moves, multiple injuries, and surgeries I’ve stuck with BJJ. I’m not a fast-burner, not an active competitor any more, my black belt is a LONG way away, but I’m not a quitter. BJJ has given far more than I could ever give back and I will continue to train until the day I drop dead (probably in the ER).


After leaving the Air Force I moved to Bend, Oregon and was fortunate enough to train with Roy Dean at his academy. That’s where Almine and I met. We became fast friends and, now that we are back at the same gym, regular training partners.  One of the issues we found ourselves discussion on more than one occasion was the male-female training dynamic. What may have surprised her is the value I placed on the often-overlooked benefits that male BJJ practitioners can reap by training with women as well as some of the advice I had for females starting out in BJJ. I’ll do my best to summarize those below.

Why men should train with women:

I learned the collar choke from a female purple belt when I was a brand new 245lb white belt. She taught it to me by trapping me in a closed guard and rendering me unconscious in the first thirty seconds of our roll.  Did all that muscle help me? Did the fact that I could squat 650lbs and bench press over 400lbs make one bit of difference? Nope. Not a bit. My carotid arteries are the same size as everyone else’s.

Size...Its All A Matter Of Perspective :-)

Most people would agree that, all else being equal, being big and strong is an advantage in a grappling or MMA match. I would agree. But it is my belief that being a larger and stronger guy has in many ways been an impediment to the development of my jiu-jitsu. Strength has always been there for me, like an extra gear or reserve that I could tap into if I got myself into a bad position or was caught in a submission. The problem is, at least when you are rolling with less skilled opponent, the temptation to use that strength first instead of relying on proper technique is quite strong. When you have a 50lb weight advantage explosively bench-pressing a white or blue belt off you works most of the time.  It’s taken many years of training to realize, however, that going there first and not taking the time to work on getting an underhook, making space, or off-balancing my opponent may work in the moment, but ultimately sabotages my development as a BJJ practitioner.

When I train with women my size and strength advantage is magnified manifold. It’s blatantly obvious to both of us and, for me, serves as the perfect reminder that I need to put that part of my game away and focus entirely on what will make me better: proper technique. That doesn’t mean I go easy on them. I serve up a “Kimura-salad” for Almine whenever we roll (sorry couldn’t resist!), but I do my best to use good technique and if she defends appropriately I move on to the next move in the chain.

We have a saying at Ralph Gracie Bend: “Take care of your training partner” and I take it seriously. By just smashing my opponent or relying on raw strength to force a move or escape I’m not helping myself and I’m certainly not helping my training partner. I believe strongly that every rolling session in the gym should leave both participants with something positive. If that means getting tapped out by a female training partner who executes a perfect collar choke that I fail to defend using proper technique then so be it. After I recover, she get’s a “high-five” and I go on to my next training partner having learned something valuable and so does she.
My advice to men: Check your ego and your strength advantage. Try to roll at least once a class with a female opponent and use that opportunity to do what you are there for in the first place which is get better at jiu-jitsu. You don’t have to lie there like a wet noodle because you’re afraid you’ll hurt them.  Women who train BJJ are already far tougher than average. They aren’t delicate little flowers you have to protect. Push them and challenge them, but do it with skill and technique, not with brute strength. 

Advice for women when training with men:

One thing my female training partners have stated repeatedly over the years is that walking into a new BJJ gym can be an intimidating experience, especially if you are a beginner. I completely understand that feeling. If you’re lucky there will be a number of other women to train with, but odds are there will be just a few. You may even be the only one. I would encourage women that are new to BJJ to not let this discourage you.
What follows is some of the advice that I think can help make this a more positive experience. I know this won’t apply to all women or even most. A woman training for Pan-Ams will likely have different training objectives than a woman who trains for self-defense purposes or for general fitness.

1.               Train with purple belts and above as much as possible. Though it’s definitely not perfect, BJJ is a pretty good douche-bag filter. A guy that has made it to purple belt and beyond has likely learned how to check his ego and focus on using good technique. They also may have a better feel for the strength differential that exists between men and women and be able to dial that back. There are no guarantees, but you are less likely to have a higher belt “spaz out” on you and end up injuring you during a roll than a nineteen-year-old college wrestler white-belt who fancies himself a future UFC fighter.

2.               Roll with a wide range of body types. This advice applies equally to men. One of the best ways to develop a well-rounded arsenal of techniques is to spar with training partners with a wide range of body types, especially those that are much larger than you. You might be fortunate enough to have a skilled 250lb female to roll with but the odds are you won’t. Let’s face it; there are more 250+lb males in BJJ than there are females. Don’t shy away from them.

Dr. Andrew Winge, M.D. in Roy Dean's "Pure Rolling" DVD series

One thing Almine reminds me of on a regular basis is that “If a move works on you, then it’s going to work on just about anyone”. Given our size/strength differential, I think there’s a lot of truth to this. I think she will also be the first to agree that training with a really quick, skilled lightweight male has equal benefit and helps develop a different set of techniques better suited to that kind of opponent. 

1.                Be assertive. You have just as much right to be there as the boys. Ask questions. If you want to just work on specific moves or situations with your training partners then say so. If you find that some of the guys you train with aren’t open to this and just want to go 100% every time then don’t roll with them. You’re there to get better and you can’t do that if you are injured. Be open to constructive feedback and seek out training partners of both genders that help you improve and that are mature enough to receive feedback from you as well.

Learn some self-defense. It’s a sad fact that in this country 1 in 6 woman will be the victim of sexual violence[1]. In some other countries that rate is even

[1] National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey (1998)
Andrew Teaching A Women's Self-Defense Course At "Ralph Gracie BJJ"

1.               higher. It’s shocking, disgusting, and it makes me angry. The perpetrators in nearly all cases of sexual assault are overwhelmingly male. Violent assaults by patients are a workplace hazard in my profession and female nurses and doctors are often the victims. Learning the self-defense aspect of BJJ and being comfortable applying those techniques against a resisting male opponent could save your life.

 Don’t tolerate inappropriate behavior.  In the vast majority of cases, BJJ practitioners are a friendly, welcoming bunch. As I stated, BJJ is a pretty good douche-bag filter. That being said, there are men out there that, for whatever reason, never learned to interact respectfully with women.  Those issues can be magnified on the mat. Don’t tolerate inappropriate comments, groping, or anything else from a male training partner that makes you uncomfortable. Call them out immediately. Make sure your professor is aware. If it doesn’t stop immediately then I’d recommend finding another gym. You should never have to tolerate that sort of behavior.


Andrew Winge ~ @personalevolutiondoc
Almine Barton ~ @alminebarton
Ralph Gracie BJJ ~ @ralphgraciebend



Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Candid BJJ "Coffee Talk" Between Almine & Traver, Uncensored, Unfiltered...Its How We Roll


Bruises are a big part of my life as a climber, thus having a colleague at the clinic I previously worked at share her own black and blue marks wasn’t a big deal. I would walk into work, bruised up from taking some lead falls climbing, she would walk into work banged up from her own passion - Brazilian Jiujitsu or BJJ.  
We would both compare “war wounds” from our given sports, nod at one another in appreciation, and check our patient schedules.

From time to time she would say, “You should try BJJ.” I would laugh, “I’m a climber. That’s why I moved here. It’s what I do.”  
“Okay,” she would reply. “I think you would like it, though.”  
I would just smile, grab patient charts, and walk out of the staff room.

One day my colleague came to the clinic and announced she was moving to Texas to pursue doctoral work, adding that was also selling her house.  Fast forward several months down the road to me purchasing her house…complete with a closet full of gis.  
“You left all your gis here,” I called to tell her. “I know they’re expensive. Would you like me to ship them to you?”  
She got quiet and then added, “When you purchased my house, you also bought BJJ.  The gi’s are yours now.”  
“Have I mentioned I’m a climber? That’s what I do. I don’t have time to add another sport to my life.  You know I also do CrossFit, trail-run, swim…I simply don’t have the time.”  
(another pause)
She responded, “Its time, Almine.”

That’s how I got into BJJ. I put a gi on from my new house, and made my way to my first BJJ class.  In it I became acutely aware, very quickly, I was outnumbered by men, and really had no idea what I was getting into.

The following questions, which I also posed to another male colleague (& grappler), Traver Boehm, are questions that could’ve helped guide me in making choices about which gym I began my journey at, and will be helpful for everyone to consider as a new student to the sport.
1) Should BJJ classes be segregated?

Almine: “Frankly, I like the idea of options. I like the idea of co-ed classes, and men’s and women’s only classes. I do feel women’s onl
y classes are more inviting, and less intimidating to most women.  
9/10 times I’m the only female in the noon class I go to. This is fine with me, but I do enjoy the camaraderie of women’s only classes, events, and camps.  
The reality is, you are physically all over one another when training. This will be a bigger hurdle for some than others and that goes for both men and women.  
There’s also an unspoken dynamic between married people rolling with single people. No one wants to talk about it, because it’s “taboo” as if the inadvertent touching is somehow different when the relationship statuses are mixed.
When you’re a single woman rolling with married men, you are automatically put on “high alert.”  Often times the wives of these men view us as a threat to the marriage rather than a woman working on her choke defense. If the men are sexually attracted to you, they either avoid rolling with you, because it conjures up feelings for them.
I’ve lost female friends over rolling with their married husbands. Why? Because of the “Jiu-Jitsu Widow Syndrome” – when one half of a couple is obsessed with BJJ, & the other isn’t. Often time this means the female partner is left at home on “date night,” while the man is at the gym with “the boys.” 
Everyone knows about it. Few talk about it as an issue.  
Jiu-Jitsu is a fitness cult, not unlike CrossFit. Tough sweat breeds community. For some people t often takes the place of community such as a church congregation, or a support group. 
It’s also where people go to drown out the noise of their problems and the world. They become obsessed with it - rightfully so. Like religion, or anything else, people can also use it as an escape from their problems.  
Many men, over the years who I’ve done BJJ with have used the gym time to escape from their “nagging wives,” and “screaming kids.”  Really, it's a sweatier alternative to “bowing out with the guys” at a bar or strip club.  Except, you can justify it because it’s healthy. 
Often times, the hours spent at the gym increase, while the hours at home decrease.  Escapism is escapism. When you become the girl who shares a passion that the husband does (that the wife may not) you are seen as trouble from the wife.

Also, if the couple’s relationship is strained, and you’re experiencing more physical contact with the husband (even in a strictly training sense), than the wife does, the wife becomes either suspicious of you, or jealous. Having women’s only classes can ease some of this tension.   

There currently aren’t enough women at my gym for a women’s only class, or I’d love to participate in one. It always makes me happy to visit other gyms and go to their women’s only open mat, or classes they offer.”

2) Addressing the point that the mat isn't necessarily the place that men choose to share their deepest fears, hopes, dreams, etc....what if it is that place, & then a woman joins? 

Traver: “Great question. I just don’t see it as such in the “this is class time or even open mat time” format. I see the men we roll with become the brothers we share that stuff, in private, either over a beer or sometimes on the side of the mat but it’s more about the relationship with that man that’s been developed rather than something that’s happening with anyone in ear shot - man, woman or otherwise.”

3) How do you think that changes the dynamic for both the men there & the woman? 

Traver: “Personally that hasn’t been my experience. If they’re talking about fucking someone off Tinder the night before (heard that a lot) I can see how the presence of a woman interrupts the locker room aspect of the training experience, but as for deep, meaningful sharing, I just don’t see it. I think anyone else coming onto the mat that day that didn’t share that same level of connection from years of friendship would interrupt that sanctuary feeling.

4) What if it was their "sanctuary" & then a woman joins? How do you think that makes her feel too?

Traver: When I was going through my divorce I’d talk to guys about it, but it was a hushed, one on one conversation off the mat, in the corner of the training room. If anyone else came in, I would smile, let them walk past and then either continue or say, “let’s pick this up another time” or “fuck it, let’s roll.

 Almine: “It's interesting how it affects all parties in different ways.  The woman feels uncomfortable, because she feels like she's "crashing the party."  The dudes see her as doing so.  It’s awkward for both genders.”

I do believe the mat is where men share, not just sweat, but problems with their marriage, vulnerability about injuries they're experiencing (or recovering from), and family matters.  I've seen this.  I've heard it.  I see men allow themselves to be at the most vulnerable on the mat with their training partners, because they feel more safe/comfortable there vs. a therapist's office (not that I necessarily agree that's the best option).  They would tell their "mat brothers" they've been training with for years more than a therapist.  It's interesting to observe. I've witnessed this many times.   The guy's are griping about their marriages, kids, bills, jobs, whatever...I walk in...they all snap their jaws shut, & the conversation comes to a halt.  I feel awkward.  They feel awkward.  The silence in the room is awkward.  I ‘break the ice’ by saying, ‘Anyone wanna roll’?”

Traver: “Yea, I get this. It’s less skillful, and feels like more general griping than real conversation and while I think it has a place, it’s also just that - griping! I’d be glad you interrupted it because it’s not productive. That’s not to sound harsh.

Almine: “You mentioned you think there are benefits to women's only classes?  What do you think those benefits are?

Traver: “I’m clearly not a woman or a minority in the US unless I’m in a room full of people with hair, so I’ll project a bit here…but I think it’s important for people who are having a unique and different experience from everyone else in a given activity, to share that experience with similar folks.

Growing up in Japan I wanted to hang out with other Americans because they inherently “got it.” They knew what it was like to be stared at, yelled at, have people touch our hair etc.

Thus, I think a class of all women would allow for an environment where each woman would not only get to roll with someone who weighed about what she did, had similar physical attributes, and can relate to her training partner’s experience.

I remember being stoked when another 155’er would show up at Paulson’s after I trained with heavier guys all the time. It was just refreshing to see if shit worked without someone weighing 255# clearly letting me work my sweeps.
The class would also definitely smell better…

Lastly, I believe it would allow for a more complete relaxation for each woman (I’m not putting that well). The idea that every training partner was another woman, therefor the chances of someone just smashing you, “accidentally” grabbing a boob, or secretly thinking “I want to fuck this chick” is gone (hopefully). Thus the trust would be a lot higher. Again, I’m projecting here.”

5)  Is there an advantage to men’s only classes?

Almine: “I’m not a man, so this is tricky to speak to. I can’t see a disadvantage to it, as long as a co-ed class is also offered so they have options.

I think the mat is a great place for men to “bow out,” escapism or not. There are a lot of women’s only classes at a variety of fitness gyms. I do think men process more than they believe they do, with their fellow team mates, and that the mats seem to be a “safe space” for them to seem to do that. 

Many times, I've seen men play arm-chair psychologists to one another. They don’t do it as often, or as frequently as women do, but they do it. I do believe they feel more safe to vent about something important going on in their life to a teammate, before they’d be drug into a counselor’s office by a wife, girlfriend, etc.

Why not give them their own mat time? I think it’s healthy and a great idea. There used to be cigar rooms for just this. It doesn’t offend me any more than a women’s only class would.

I think men should hang out with men. I think they’re healthier for it. They’re a lot easier to cohabitate with when they get their segregated ‘dude time.’  I think voicing this as a real need is also healthy, as is creating a space for it.”

6) Is there an advantage to women’s only classes?

Almine: “For the same reason I think men’s only classes are a great idea, I feel the same about women’s only classes. I actually find it hilarious when some women say how lucky I am to roll with a bunch of men, often as the only woman.
 As much I esteem my mat brothers, I couldn’t see this more differently.  Skidmarks on my face, getting farted on, going home smelling like ‘Old Spice’ & ‘Irish Spring,’ ummm…not.

I also want to mention something that nobody wants to talk about. Menstruation. Yeah, that word. Our culture is so scared of it. It’s strange to me, since it’s a normal bodily process.
Have I heard women complain about feeling self-conscious (for multiple reasons), rolling with men on their periods? Absolutely. It’s a contact sport folks - think about it.  
Do I? Absolutely. Do I still do it? Absolutely.  
Does it take me about an extra 20 mins. of “prep time” before class to pull off managing the physical realities of a menstrual cycle in a very contact oriented sport?  Absolutely. 
To have the option of a women’s only class, would make me feel substantially less awkward to train during that time of the month. Women are generally more comfortable with saying to other women, “Ummm…I’m not going to train “X” move, because it aggravates my cramps,” or the oh-so-aggravating scenario of forgetting to swap out a darker colored gi in your bag for your white one.  
You get to the gym. Yup, your flow is on point, and…(drum roll)…you’ve only got a white gi in your bag. Ugh. If you’re heading into a women’s only class, you can ask a lady if she has a darker colored gi you could borrow, without feeling embarrassed. If you’re the only girl in a class, or a girl with few female training partners, this may be a challenge.

I always wanted to go to a women’s only college. My undergraduate school, ‘Marylhurst University’ was an all-women’s college once. Even once it went co-ed it still had that reputation, so the women were approx. 85% of the student body. It’s why I went. 
Do I think dudes suck, so that’s why I didn’t want to go to college with them? Not in the slightest. I like men too much.  That’s why I knew they’d be a distraction to me focusing on the goals I had at that time. I wanted to focus on learning, not on dorm parties, and getting drunk. So, that’s what I did. 
I’m grateful I had the insight into myself at 18 to know that. I had a fabulous education at that school. I also had my first female math teacher, who made math come alive for me. I never knew I loved math so much, until Professor Anne.

When I lived in India, most things were segregated. And, I got substantially more stuff done.  There is a reason for segregated classes. I also get the reason for co-ed classes. They’re both valuable for completely different reasons. If you have enough women at your gym for a women’s only class, it’s nice to offer. 
If the guys are stoked on the idea of a men’s only class, I think it’s a great idea. A co-ed class is always a good call. Being a good training partner is mandatory.”

For More Information On Traver Boehm's Work & Book, "Today I Rise!": 


Instagram:  @traverboehm

For More Information On Almine Barton's Work, Re-Release Of Her E-Book, "Girls Go Fearless," & Her Upcoming E-Book, "Fearless Forties":

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