Almost five years in and I’m still uncomfortable with men who are significantly smaller than me…and that’s on multiple levels. There is a difference between training with a man who's slightly smaller, but still stronger than I am, and training with a man who I know, without a marked difference in skill, I could likely cause some physical damage.
I showed up to drilling class last week, and most people were working on their tests. I ended up partnering up with one of our new blue belts…he’s probably about 5’3”, 140lbs, fast and technical—a stark contrast to my slower and definitely less detailed 6’, 210lbs. I’ve rolled with him before and he dismantles me easily—partially because I’m still quite clumsy with people when I know any drop of my weight could easily result in the crack of their rib. To be clear, he’s quite a bit better than me, but with him, I’m quite a bit worse than myself.
He needed a partner and since I’m not testing, I was the best choice—thankfully he asked me to train. I’m always slow to initiate with a smaller man unless I know him well. That’s not out of protection of my own ego—years of salsa and learning to risk the rejection in asking a shorter man to dance has left me generally insulated against the slight indignity of being shot down as a partner because you are, in fact, a large woman. Unfortunately, it has also left me with a heightened awareness of the split second of confused panic that frequently runs across a man’s face when he’s put in the difficult position of training with a woman that might be able to dominate him in some way—even if that way is only getting stuck under a crushing mount for a few seconds more than he might be comfortable with. I also fear that little extra oomph of machismo that's prone to pop up every now and again...whether in dance or on the mats, I've never felt compensatory danger from a similar sized or larger man.
This newer blue though, I believe understands the complex dynamics of gender and strength and seems to be ok with it. I’ve heard him remark very matter-of-factly that some of the women in the gym are stronger than he is, and I take his ability to even form those words as an indication thereof.
So we adjusted as we went—comments of using someone lighter than me were initially delivered with a hint of reluctance, and I apologized a bit too much for my weight when applying armbars from mount. As to be expected though, as we worked, the genderedness of the exchange melted away and we made it to a point where we were simply two bodies, training jiu jitsu.