Sunday, June 19, 2011

BJJ and church, Intimacy and Men

So I've spent the better part of the past six weeks limping, facially bruised (I just got kneed REALLY hard in the cheek on Friday) and wearing a wrist brace. I think this is the first time I've really started to "show" that I train. I hobbled into my small group study at church a couple of weeks back and between that and a fading black eye, I knew I probably needed to do something proactive in explaining my injuries. The pastor that leads the group knows I train, has trained himself and to my surprise, was elated to find out I trained at American Top Team.

So last week we were discussing Biblical warriors (David in particular) and situations where technique, agility and training win out over larger, more powerful opponents. I knew he wanted me to mention jiu jitsu, since honestly, it's a perfect example of the concept. I hesitated, unsure how it would go over. Why?

Because church...gender wise, is probably the opposite of what goes on at the gym. Genders hold the same positions in relation to one do manlier things and women do womanlier things...but the environment is shifted toward that of the less physical...making the men not quite as manly (at least not while physically in the building) and the women not quite as manly as you'd see in class.

So yeah, being a 200lb, 6' tall, Black woman with a stoic personality and relatively non-feminine communication style, I paused a little before adding "MMA fighter" (because you know people won't differentiate) to that list of the superficial breakdown of Megan.

He kept talking, wanting to discuss, but not wanting to "out" me. "I know someone in here trains physically for something very similar to what we're talking about." He didn't stop for me to "step forward". I took it as his wanting to engage in the subject, but at the same time, being aware that not everybody wants every part of their life revealed to a group of people. He moved on through the topic. I sat and thought about why I was concerned and decided to just come out with it. As I was talking, I could feel my label shifting, growing, being reviewed and recalculated. I didn't care. If people can be open about divorce and alcoholism, abuse and abandonment, I surely should have no shame or qualms about what I do for fun and challenge.

Of course, there were changes in people's reactions to me...mostly on the male side though. The pastor's wife already knew I trained, so nothing changed with her. We discussed books and Chinese and stress as always. The other shifts that I could see. The guys though, once again, I noticed them being more open to discussing their own physical pursuits and interests...more emotionally open overall and more relaxed...and this came simply from the factual knowledge that I did something physical.

...which got me thinking back to something that hit me about men and physicality as a gateway to intimacy.

Every week I get men and the physical bonding deal even more. I think it breaks down walls and establishes trust. We've all read and heard often how important sex is for men to feel close to their partners in a relationship and I'm starting to think the physical closeness is a HUGE component in that. That it's a big deal for men in any relationship, romantic or otherwise. Which...on a side note...has me lamenting how our society sexualizes almost all forms of physical contact...but I really digress.

After open mat and a really good roll, I sat with one of the blues, talking about why we started training and he told me how little confidence and how little focus he used to have. He spoke of how much of a positive difference training has made in his life. I told him about my first day training after years of the school/work grind and how it was a release after almost a decade pushing to learn business, health care and foreign languages. The conversation shifted into Spanish...his a fluent Cuban, mine a solid, but stumbling work in progress. He continued to talk about training and the gym and I taught him some basic principles of Chinese. I know that I would have never had this conversation with this man had I not been training...and honestly, wouldn't have if I hadn't been rolling with him on a regular basis.

There are walls that exist between men and women, founded on our differences and constructed by societal norms...some I believe exist for a reason, but many of them, don't. I see now, that the cleanest way to break down walls with men is through physical activity as a trust building exercise... after all, it's hard to hide your true character in a fight. My only question now is, assuming that women have some mechanism for breaking down those same barriers of trust, what that mechanism is. 


slideyfoot said...

I've mentioned this before (don't think it was your blog, but could have been), but I really hate people touching me. I don't like getting hugs, arm squeezes, stroke on the back etc. Basically, the only physical contact I want (with the obvious exception of my gf) is a handshake.

However, for some reason, the constant physical contact in BJJ has never bothered me, which is a bit strange considering the above. Then again, I guess it demonstrates the importance of context.

Speaking personally, I wouldn't say I need it for communication, but then I prefer the company of women anyway.

Megan said...

I'm in somewhat of the same boat. Not big on random touches...I wish more of the West would adopt the Japanese bow as a greeting instead of the Latin kisses and American hugs that have become so common here.

For me it all comes down to sincerity. I don't think there's reason to hug every time I see someone.

Touching in BJJ though is very genuine. Nothing excessive or meant to synthesize connection.

Shark Girl said...

"Which...on a side note...has me lamenting how our society sexualizes almost all forms of physical contact...but I really digress."

Please go ahead and digress. This is a great post and one that has made me think. Your comment above is why non bjj-ers often think bjj is sexual.

I also think the responses that you get from men are interesting. I get different responses from them. I don't feel like they open up to me, but rather sometimes that they are intimidated by it. I am 4'11", 108#, though and you are 6'. I wonder if size has anything to do with their different reactions. I've sorted it out thusly: they look at me and see a small woman. Small woman equals cute, petite, feminine. When they find out I train, it doesn't fit in the box that they have placed me in.

Megan said...

I totally think it does. I know that some of the guys don't have as many qualms about rolling with me because I'm on the large end of everyone in the class. One even uses me on occasional to weight train half guard bumps. Rolling wise though, they're more free, which makes the physical exchange more open. I think smaller women get to that point eventually though. They have to develop the skill and speed to "make up" for the lack of size and strength. I think my race, build (large frame, hard bones), and musculature (strong "for a girl) have contributed to a reputation of toughness, though there are women that are tougher. Basically I fit pretty neatly into a box.

I was about to say the singleness changes things too, but there's another lady at the gym that I started with that's married and has similar interactions. Exposure wise though, I definitely get more "man time". I'm seldom put with the little kids, and now that some time has passed, seldom with the women, since I'm normally matched with partners my size and only one other woman weighs anywhere near me.

I really think the effects feed on themselves. The new white belt guys see me rolling with a 200lb blue, and talking to me and asking questions isn't as stigmatized, though most of the women are more technical than I am (we have women from white to black).