Elisabeth Clay: Being a Female in the Male Dominated Sport of BJJ

By Elisabeth Clay 

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Zebra Athletics. 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a very interesting sport in that at the origins, it was about giving the advantage to the smaller person, as opposed to traditional fight sports that favor the strong and those large of stature. This in itself sets it up to be strategically beneficial for females. However, it has not been encouraging for females. Competition was less (still is less) and there are fewer weight classes for women, among other things. As women, we only feed the separation by not training more, bringing other women in, and training with the guys. To be seen as equals and treated as such, we must match and exceed their output. 

These are the obstacles of being in a male dominated sport. 

Difficulty Training with Larger, Stronger Partners

Don’t take this the wrong way, I absolutely love training with the guys. In fact, that is 99% of my training and a big reason I am as good as I am, but this is still something young women have to deal with. For the most part, we are always training with someone bigger and stronger than us. While this can be very beneficial, it can also be dangerous if your partner isn’t as controlled as they should be, which can lead to you getting injured.

Difficulty Making the Same Money Males Can

It seems that men prefer to watch men fight. There is less demand for female competitions. I believe there are several factors to this. In large part it is due to the fact that women have not trained hard enough (in some ways because it is frowned upon). This means we can’t prove that we can be as entertaining and good as the men. 

Difficulty Gaining Respect/Not Being Taken Seriously 

A female wanting to train with the purpose of becoming a professional? Women professional fighters seem to be ridiculous to many people; they are thought of as being too masculine because they fight. I do not understand the thought process of thinking that women cannot be feminine and a badass. It doesn’t mean we are masculine. I can kick some ass and still shower, do my hair, and look sexy. I love having it both ways. 

Being Thought of as a Gym “Ho” Because “Girls Only Train to ‘Bag’ Fighters”

Gosh, if I had a dollar for every time guys asked me whether I was there to get with a fighter or to weaken their training, I would have a lot of money. Guys dating in the gym is not looked at as negatively as when women do, but if we don’t date where we spend most of our time, how is a relationship supposed to work?! I damned sure will not be taken out of training to keep up a relationship.  


I’ve been told that it is too hard to make money in this sport as a female and that women do not BELONG in a fighting sport…. gah!  

I think it is starting to change, but women are generally less likely to be picked to be someone who is brought over for a seminar or a camp, and while it is happening less it is still a thing that occurs a lot in this sport.  

Another big one: having a child. It is often thought that if a woman has a child her career is over, or she is at least at a big disadvantage. For a man, it isn’t. Yes, women have to take some time to recover but I think it is a ridiculous notion that our careers should be over because of it. 

The Benefits of Being a Female in a Male Dominated Sport

It is possible to stand out and, when you do really well, you are more noticed than guys of an equal caliber. There simply are fewer of us, so hold yourself to the same standard as the highly competitive men. 

If you find a gym that embraces youtrain with bigger, stronger partners. Use it; capitalize on their acceptance and let it make you a beast. Show them you can be feminine and a force to be reckoned with. Do not let someone who minimizes your ability define your path or progress. When you step outside of the norm and look amazingyou are proving something different. Much respect is gained by doing this. Lift weights, train hard, and then get your nails done. Dress beautifully and behave like a lady. Be a mother, have your children, train with them, and do not let a normal life occurrence change what you do. 

Make a Difference

You make a difference by showing that as women we CAN do it. You inspire the future. We don’t need to talk and belittle men. Men are awesome. I love and support them in their struggles as well, but we can still reach our full potential and let them see us shine. I do not believe in empowerment—no one needs my power, you each have your own. Just find it. Be inspired and inspire others to become the best they can in whatever it is they want to do.  

Prove You are Worth the Money

People pay when you show you have something they can benefit from. Do not accept the person they want to minimize you to be. Give all the best you have to give and let them see you are worth everything and more. You set your value by what you show you have. Train for it. Do not accept less, but do not give less because they expect less. Always exceed expectations to prove as a female you command, earn, and deserve more. You are your competition. The bar has been low; let’s change that.

I absolutely love Jiu Jitsu. It allows me to test myself, perfect my strengths, and become better. Think outside the box. Be positive. Live life fully. Do not fear what you cannot change and do not embrace that which stagnates you. Just focus on YOU. Find your LIONESS or LION and become it!!!!! See you out there on the mats, the ZEBRA Mats.

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