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All Girls Should Learn Jiu Jitsu In a Rape Culture World

I've heard Brazilian jiu jitsu described as the art of gently folding laundry with people still inside it.
I've heard Brazilian jiu jitsu described as the art of gently folding laundry with people still inside it.
Photo by Leon Maia via Flickr

One of my most popular pieces of all time was called “Teach Your Daughters to Hit People Who Touch Them,” but I have to confess that I no longer actually tell her to hit people. I tell her to put them on the ground. Hard. That’s why I enrolled her in a Brazilian jiu jitsu studio focused on self defense over competition and dedicated to the giant killer tradition of the Gracie family. She just got her first stripe on her belt.

Back in 2017 when I wrote the original piece I was in a bad place, still reeling from the election of a man to the highest office in the land who had been credibly accused of sexual assault by multiple women and who bragged about it on tape. I feared for my little eight-year-old to enter a world where people thought that was an acceptable way to act. I still do.

I started to teach her to fight, but my own training is… undisciplined. It’s mostly Greco-Roman wrestling mixed with the sort of shoot wrestling tricks and dirty fighting you learn when your Lucha Libre teacher is the sort of dude who would wrestle in the boondocks of Mexico where they try to stab you in the ring. It works great in a bar fight against drunks, but it’s not the sort of thing you can teach a third grader to use.

I’ve always been a fan of Brazilian jiu jitsu going back to the early days of UFC and Pride, and I knew that if my kid was going to learn any system it would be that. Having enrolled has made me very sure I picked the right choice for several reasons.

First, she is a girl and BJJ teaches you to fight from your back. I hope I don’t need to explain why that might be helpful. Unlike a lot of other disciplines, BJJ considers being on your back with an opponent on top of you a pretty normal position to be in. There are several submission holds that can be applied from that position, as well as numerous tricks to get out of it.

And they get a lot of practice from there. There is no kata in BJJ. You’re not ever going to walk into a class and see people ritualistically working their way through a fictional fight. Instead, they get right in there and spar. That’s the second thing about BJJ that I wanted for my daughter.

People might think that when a fight happens they are going to just turn on their imaginations and unleash the true power within. That’s nonsense. Most people don’t want to fight and are terrified of getting punched in the face. Every fight in a public place I have ever seen has been mostly people flailing wildly in a panic, sometimes with their eyes closed. Physical confrontation is terrifying.

BJJ gets you used to being in a physical contest of domination with another person. It takes all the fear out of the basic act of trying to move in a way where you can hurt them but they can’t hurt you. Constant practice at that not only helps avoid panic in a future altercation, it gives you a wonderful sense of what your body can do. You feel at home with your capabilities instead of blindly relying on them when it comes times to start swinging.

Girls especially don’t get to feel that sort of physical confidence. Society is still in the stage where we treat a lot of them as fragile dolls unable to handle the brutality of the world. As such, they don’t get to test themselves physically the way boys do. Putting girls on the ground in a controlled environment makes their bodies completely theirs in a number of ways, in addition to giving them the tools needed to defend themselves.

Last, BJJ is what you use against an out-sized opponent. Granted, since the Gracie family burst onto the scene in the early ‘00s, competition has changed a lot and strict BJJ probably won’t get you far without some boxing or muay thai thrown in. That said, watch my absolute favorite match of all time, Royce Gracie versus Akebono in 2004. It’s a man weighing only 180 pounds taking on a champion sumo wrestler more than twice his size, and Akebono gets his ass absolutely handed to him. Akebono’s weight, his reach, his strength, none of it means anything except to make the big man tired and easy prey for Gracie’s shoulder lock.

This is what a fight looks like outside the ring between a person with BJJ training and an untrained opponent, which is the most likely scenario you’re likely to find yourself in. I watch that fight and I think of some hulking Nice Guy™ deciding that my daughter is small enough to push around and unable to fight back. I think of a rape culture that leaves rape kits untested and elects people who boast about sexual assault, and I want her to have the tools to pop a damn shoulder out of a socket or help said guy break the sound barrier between vertical and horizontal.

A lot of people told me I should start her training with a gun because Texas is full of holster-lickers who think that’s the solution to every damned problem. Weapons can be taken away and used against you; you always have the tools for an armbar. If a make-out session starts to turn into a rape because someone decides my daughter’s no is optional, a gun is likely to be nowhere near enough in the situation to help her. Plus, I actually prefer she not kill people, even the ones who break her boundaries.

One year after I wrote my original article, Brett Kavanaugh became a Supreme Court Justice despite a mountain of evidence that he committed sexual assault. That was the day I resolved to get my girl a fight system I could trust. I told her to learn it, and I have told her to use it. I stand by everything I said in my original piece. Schools and other institutions cannot be trusted to handle sexual assault correctly. The Kavanaugh appointment should have dispelled that myth. It’s up to use to train our children to defend themselves until the day the system no longer excuses and protects rapists and assailants. If someone touches her inappropriately, I want them on the ground in pain immediately. It is better to ask forgiveness for self defense than to empower another rapist by waiting for official justice that may never come.

As I said then, it’s not an ideal way to deal with the situation, but if you want a different way then teach your boys about consent. I have no boys to teach, so all I can do is arm my daughter against a world that is refusing to change.

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