Let’s start with some numbers.
In 1998, IBJJF included women’s division for first time in the history of hour sport. There were only 2 weight divisions and combined all belt levels.
10 years later at the IBJJ European Championship 2008 for instance, there were 5 weight divisions, 1 age division and 4 skill level divisions (brown and blackbelt were combined into one).
Again 10 years later at the IBJJ European Championship 2018, there were 8 weight divisions, 4 age divisions and 5 skill level divisions. The number of competitors has grown up exponentially.
Even if the number of athletes competing is just a small fraction of those practicing the sport, it gives us an idea of the evolution over the last years.
The popularity and the practice of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has risen exponentially over the last decade and it has reached out to the female community. We have arrived to the BJJ world and we have come to stay.
And this has impacted profoundly the pictures of what BJJ would look like and how it does it now. You can see now not only female athletes training at the gyms or competing in tournaments. You see females coaches, female referees and even sucessfull gym owners who, guess what, happen to be women!
Back in the 90’s most of the bjj gyms would just not have women. We didn’t belong in the sport. Lucky for us, there were exceptions and the first bjj female pioneers were fighting their way through a predominately men world. To get the same respect than an equal skilled men, they would have to train harder (this is till nowadays the case in most of the gyms). They used to be the only women in their gyms and had it not easy training in a daily basis against much stronger, bigger opponents, in gyms without changing rooms or facilities for women, sometimes even hostile for them. But they keep up and they make the way smoother for the women after them.
In the 2000s and 2010’s the number of women raised, still in big minority but one could start seeing improvements in both: the tournament’s conditions for female athletes as well as in the gyms. Separated changing rooms and showers, female only classes, even reduced membership prices to attract more women to this sport.
But as the sport female community grows up, so does it not only the number of female athletes but also their average age. We don’t get any younger, do we? And as it is natural, many of us started becoming mums.
I was pregnant of my first baby in 2009. I remember not having hear or listened to any other female athlete being pregnant and aiming to continue training. I am sure I was not the first one, but since nobody until that moment dare to bring up the topic, I did. GracieMag published an article of me as a blue belt female athlete who was pregnant and still training. That was the origin of the BJJ Mums community, which I could found only years later. When my baby was born beginning of 2010, I was one of the first women bringing her newborn baby to the mats. My professor, my team, the gym owners were surprised but they all agreed to support the idea and support me in my development as an athlete in my new life stage as a mother.
Years later I founded the BJJ community and start writing articles to share my experience training while pregnant, training with small kids and traveling and competing with the aim to help other women in the same situation I was almost 10 years ago.
We reached out to a small but important community and are proud to have helped many of you.
But behind the success of every mum athlete is not only her strong willing to keep going, there is also a family, husbands, friends, trainers , gym owners and training partners who support them and help them. We rely on them big deal to achieve some of our goals.
So I want to thank here:
- the pioneer women of this sport. It took a lot of effort and courage to work around the hard conditions of training set by men for men
- family, mothers/mothers-in-law, aunts/uncles who babysit our babies so we can attend training. Those single trainings days without kids around, where we can focus on our bjj and ourselves. I have not words to describe what an unmeasurable value they have for our emotional and mental health.
- husbands/wifes who accept their responsibilities and care for their children as much as we do, giving us the time for ourselves and our sport.
- Training partners, often our life savers, who show consideration, who cope with our current not deliberated unreliability to fully concentrate in the technique/training since we have to divide our attention between bjj and baby and who entertain the kids so we can do our sparring rounds too.
- coaches who show respect and understanding for our new situation, roll with us during the pregnancy when nobody else dare or allowing kids during training. Tolerating the distraction that, let’s be fair and agree on this, they cause. Sometimes even get truly involved with such small but caring acts like putting a pacifier in the mouth of a baby crying or carrying it in the arms around while you practice the technique
- gym owners who care enough to install diaper changing tables, play rooms/corners, microwaves or whatever other family facilities which are at this stage still an absolute luxury but that we (mums and dads) can thank enough!
- and last but not least, the nowadays hundred of mums athletes, in our or another sports, who continue to show that we are not exceptions, that there are no excuses and that it is possible to combine motherhood with training at whatever level you want to bring it.
Mothers out there, if you have those people in your life, you can be considered yourself very lucky. Thank them, for their help should never be expected for granted. They do it out of love or friendship for you and your children. They are in no obligation to do so. Specially not training partners nor coaches. And not all women have this kind or any kind of support at all. Be grateful.