Welcome to L.A. Jennings, a new guest contributor to ThatGirlisFunny2.com. As you’ll soon see, L.A. has extensive experience as a student and teacher of martial arts. In this column, she explores whether she agrees with the idea of separating the sexes for martial arts and combat sports classes ~ Cheryl Ragsdale
Better To Learn MMA In Women-Only Classes?
Guest Post by L.A. Jennings
I have always enjoyed training with the guys. Not because they necessarily train harder or are more intense or more technical, but because I don’t care about the gender of my training partners.
I like to work with people who have good attitudes, who are not dismissive, egotistical or negative. I’ve had my share of asshole guys who hit on you while you are in the guard or who snipe at your dedication to training a ‘male’ sport.
However, the majority of my training experience has been very positive, which is probably why nearly eight years later, I am still training.
Separate Classes for Women
Many MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) gyms offer separate classes for women. I personally teach a women’s striking class at my gym. I am still undecided about whether or not I agree with separating the sexes for training, although from a business perspective, it definitely makes sense.
When we moved from Florida to Colorado, we had a hard time getting women in the gym. Perhaps it was the rather nefarious bathroom or the broken windows or the bad neighborhood, but women were not interested in training at our space. After a year at this abysmal location, we moved across town into a new space with a renovated bathroom, thinking that the women would come flocking to our gym.
Several months later, it was still me and ‘my boys.’ Thus, we decided to start a women-only kickboxing class to try to entice women to join the gym.
Train Where You Feel Comfortable
Suddenly there were nearly ten new women in the gym, but they were still separated from the boys.
After a couple months, a girl contacted me who wanted to train, but couldn’t make it to the women’s class. She started coming to my ‘regular’ striking class, the first girl (beside me) to do so, and within a month several other girls followed suit.
Now, all of the classes we offer, including conditioning and grappling, are split nearly 50/50 women and men. I still teach the women-only class, although half of them show up the next night for the mixed striking class. However, I still have at least ten women who come to the gym solely for the women’s kickboxing.
The Pros and Cons of Women-Only Classes
- Comfortable environment: Some women do not want to be around guys who make a lot of noise or are smelly or aggressive. The absence of machismo can be empowering for women to find their own strength.
- Support from other women: The class can build a community of women who train and provide positive encouragement for new fighters.
- Ideal training partners: A women-only class offers the opportunity to train with partners your own approximate size and strength. After rolling with guys that are much stronger, some women become used to fighting on their backs or never get the opportunity to dominate from the top. Working with other women keeps you from becoming stagnant.
- Competition preparedness: Any woman training for a fight is better prepared to face her opponent by training with other women of the same size.
- Technique: Some techniques need to be adjusted to accommodate different size and strength. My first attempts at the ooma-plata did not work because my instructor was 6’4″ and understood the technique based on having long legs. Another girl my height showed me a slight variation and suddenly I was able to implement the submission (my favorite submission!).
- [Business] Increasing gym revenue: Many women do not want to train with guys and will look for facilities that offer women-only classes.
Cons: Training with one of my boys at our first, dirty gym in CO
- Emphasis on gender separation: Obviously, splitting classes by gender strengthens the barrier between what is male and what is female. This may be more of a cultural critique, but emphasizing the binaries in sports can be problematic. Note that all other sports, though, are split. Women compete in their own arena in golf, tennis, track, soccer, etc, but does that mean training should be separated?
- Decrease of training intensity: Many female fighters prefer training with male partners because it usually places one at a disadvantage. For grappling, training with someone who is stronger or heavier means you must be faster in the scramble. In striking, sparring with guys means preparation for being hit very hard so your footwork must be quick.
- [Business] Division of clientele: Many gym owners would not care about this, but for us, creating a women’s class meant that our clients, which we consider our family, would be separated. When you are looking to create team unity, it is important that members have some interaction in order to keep the tribe strong.
As a trainer, my thoughts are divided. For my girls who are training for a fight, I want them working with as many people as possible, male or female.
However, for those ladies who come in the gym and just want to work on fitness, I think the women class can be a very positive experience. Those classes are incredibly fun to teach and the girls work their asses off!
So the division makes sense depending, as always, on who you are and what you are trying to accomplish.
Question: Does your gym separate the sexes? Would you train in women-only or men-only classes?
Author Bio: L.A. Jennings from Pugilista.com I’m a U.S.A. Boxing coach, a B.J.J. blue belt and an advocate for women’s combative sports. I own a MMA gym in Denver, Colorado, where I train men and women to compete in boxing, Muay Thai, B.J.J. and submission wrestling and MMA.
And the author of a new book: “She’s a Knockout!” about the history of female fighters
photo credit: with permission from L.A. Jennings, women’s only BJJ class,