Saturday, July 2, 2011

Men who won't roll with women...

So a couple weeks back at open mat, I noticed that my partner, who I've rolled with for...months now, had mysteriously disappeared mid drill. I figured he needed to tape a joint or something, so I stretched and watched some of the other guys drilling. A few minutes later he came back...

"Hey Megan. I have to tell you...when my wife's not here, I can't roll with you. We've been married for 20 years and..."

I explained that I had no problem. I'd rather a guy be up front with me about any issues they have rolling with women (don't know how to hold back, don't know how to control themselves, psycho significant other, girlfriend that trains, whatever) than to go through with it and risk injury, drama, or uncomfortable situations.

It got me thinking about what reason for not rolling with women WOULD actually get to me. The only one is the idea that they couldn't learn from a woman. Even men who don't spar for religious reasons don't bother me as much. While I don't like it, I'd rather someone manifest their abstention in their personal behavior than trying to restrict mine.

I'm curious as to whether lesbians have the same issue. I know of a few that train and have sparred with a couple and imagine it works the same way. Partners just assume gyms will be full of big sweaty guys.


slideyfoot said...

Somewhat strange that you've been rolling with him for months, but only now does he say he can't roll with you. Or was his wife present the previous times?

I'd also be curious if lesbians encounter any problems in BJJ, either homophobia or the jealous partner thing that seems to have happened here. Something that previously came up when I wrote that piece on BJJ and homophobia a while back.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I do also wonder what would occur with lesbians because anything physical seems to bring up issues of homophobia in others.

It is better that the guy was open and up front about it with you...better than something annoying happening later.

Anonymous said...

Personally I feel that anyone who is so jealous and controlling and unreasonable as to try to tell their SO that said SO is not allowed to roll with opposite-gender teammates, needs to be told in no uncertain terms to take a flying leap. If my SO ever tried something like that, I'd drop him like a hot potato- and not before giving him an earful that I garantee you would ALL be able to hear from where ever the heck you are located.

Anonymous said...

Oooh. You touched a nerve.
If a guy won’t roll with me for religious reasons, I think I must respect that, but I really don’t like it, because it deprives me of a training partner. It’s especially frustrating when it’s someone who would otherwise be a good person to train with in a small school. But, I think it’s a legit reason. I do not appreciate finding this out in the middle of class when switching partners for king of the mat. Telling the instructor beforehand would save a lot of embarrassment. When it’s our turn to roll with each other, we just let the next guy in line go.

If a guy won’t roll with me because his girlfriend or wife doesn’t want him to, that is total BS. I do not respect that at all. I only had this happen once and the guy didn’t come back for a second class, so it didn’t become a huge issue. My view is roll with everyone or don’t do jiu jitsu. Or find a school where the classes are segregated. This is the U.S.A. It’s 2011. If one or two people give you a creepy feeling, it’s appropriate to talk to the instructor to avoid them, but that’s it. I think this is comparable to the reactions when women started working in offices with men years ago. Or, let’s put it on more personal terms—when they integrated women onboard ships. (I’m a sailor.) If a guy’s wife doesn’t like him working in close quarters with other women, she has to deal with it on a personal level with her husband. She can’t ask the boss to fire her husband’s female co-worker because he might hypothetically have an affair. She can’t have her spouse not to talk to women at work. He’d lose his job. She can only tell him to quit. Yes, co-ed jiu jitsu is physical and breaks a lot of conventions. Deal.

As for other reasons, a guy who’s afraid to hurt a girl will get better and should grow out of that. If any guy is just not comfortable rolling with women and therefore doesn’t— he’s a coward. It was not a simple thing for me to get used to close physical contact with strange men. I come from a very conservative family. But I sucked it up and adjusted because I really wanted to learn jiu jitsu. Just like my parents adjusted to cultural differences when they came to America for what it has to offer. If a guy wants to do this sport, he should damn well do the same. I find it disrespectful when a guy won’t roll with me, whatever the reason (though less so if it’s a religious belief), because I work hard on my jiu jitsu, and that refusal says that all that hard work is worth nothing. I’ve shared the mat with a few guys who were not comfortable rolling with women, and who even avoided me when possible, but they rolled with me when it was their turn. Some got over it and stopped being uncomfortable. Some didn’t. And that’s okay, as long as they give me my fair share. I roll with guys I’m not necessarily comfortable with. If my instructor let a lot of guys choose not to roll with me, I’d consider that justification for breaking a financial contract I had with that school because I wouldn’t be getting equal training for my money compared to the guys.

If you have ever been thrown out of an establishment or refused service because of something that you can’t help (the color of your skin) or something that defines you and makes you proud (your profession), you understand how I feel when a man refuses to train with me because I’m a woman.

fenix said...

Interesting post. The whole question of whether men will roll with women gets an airing on Sherdog and othe forums at least every few weeks. The latest one ( was interesting in that on about page 14, a woman posted a pretty thoughtful reply. It was good to see a lot of guys get behind that.

I like MC's post above. I agree totally about her comment that this is 2011 (though I am in Australia, not in the US). Yes, we really should be past these issues. We (all of humanity) should be capable and mature enough to treat each other as human beings, on an equal footing, regardless of gender, colour etc etc etc.

But if someone must discriminate in their choice of grappling partners due to whatever reason, then I would like to know up front. Plus, more imporatantly, this must not affect MY training negatively. I would get pretty upset if I were to miss out on partners becaus of issues which other people may have. On the other hand, if they are willing to sit out rounds, that's fine by me.

As far as I'm concerned, we are all on the mat to learn, to help others, to improve ourselves and to have fun, and we all have an equal right to what BJJ has to offer.

I am happy to say there are no such issues at the places where I train.

slideyfoot said...

Yeah, that thread seems to pop up on forums every couple of weeks. It makes for a handy marker of how mature a BJJ forum is.

Sherdog is about middling (helps that people like Hillary Williams posts on there, which helps counteract the idiots), Bullshido is pretty good, and Jiu Jitsu Forums has probably become the most welcoming over time, as there are now lots of women regularly posting. The Underground can be ok at times, but it varies.

Megan said...

I just noticed a typo that makes a pretty big difference entire post. He said that he can't work with me when his wife IS there. So who knows...maybe he's lying to her about who he partners with at the gym. Frankly, not my problem. My concern is only how he interracts with me, whivh until this point has been helpful and respectful.

I have to say, I draw a distinct line between what happened with me and work/service issues. One, participation with one partner in a hobby/interest in this case doesn't affect my enjoyment any more than someone good dropping out because of financial reasons. My training just isn't that contingent on an individual student. Also, this isn't an instructor refusing me instruction. That would be a more similar situation.

My side of the issue aside, I honestly get the guy's decision. If you're with a spouse that gets jealous/insecure easily...not even making demands that you quit...but that it could lead to tension, you have to choose the lesser of two "evils"...and we all know that there's a definite presence of "mat bunnies" in the sport, so, without having spoken to her, I wouldn't label the wife 100% paranoid.

Megan said...

Slidey...just checked out that string on Sherdog.


It seems very polarized between "Women-folk cain't do no BJJ." and "I sure hope she asks me out after class." I had a guy that was crazy reluctant to roll with me until he saw me with the other guys and I beat him a couple times. Egos man...egos. That though, I consider part of the growth process that everybody goes through.

Anonymous said...

.and we all know that there's a definite presence of "mat bunnies" in the sport, so, without having spoken to her, I wouldn't label the wife 100% paranoid.
No excuse.

Yeah, "mat bunnies" exist, but they are a very small percentage compared to serious female martial artists.

Furthermore, to try to tell one's SO that he's not allowed to roll with women is an insult to both the women *and* the SO.

Even if I had solid evidence that all the women in my SO's gym were ho's, I need to trust *HIM* to keep things appropriate.

I don't understand why some people try to keep their SO on a leash. If you can't trust him, why do you want him anyway?

Megan said...

A small percentage is still a percentage, so they still exist. I'm not trying to defend the woman's stance (assuming she said anything at all. For all I know, she may not even exist), but trust isn't black and white and neither is respect. People are responsible for their own actions, but environment makes a difference on how much responsibility is needed. People know their limits.

I'm not going to call judgement on how someone decides to maintain their relationship, especially since I have no reason to think the man in question didn't make the decision 100% on his own.

Anonymous said...

The reason ultimately doesn’t matter. Even though I respect someone’s right to practice his religion, if half my class came from a religious community that forbade them from rolling with me, I’d be incredibly upset and tell the instructor to make them sit out rounds like Fenix says, come up with some other fair arrangement, or give me my money back and cut me loose, even if I like his school in other respects. I’ve been to class several times where there were less than four students, so this isn’t a stretch of the imagination. If the instructor allows me to end up on the wall a disproportionate amount of time because guys aren’t comfortable rolling with me, hell yes I’m being denied instruction. I did this my first six months of training. I’m not an awkward newbie anymore. A decent instructor ensures training sessions benefit everyone, and you can bet I’m going to complain if I end up just watching other people roll for half an hour when I’m not injured. If training partners don’t matter, Marcelo Garcia has an excellent online instructional that’s a lot less expensive than belonging to a bjj school, and I could train to be a world champ from the comfort of my living room without needing any social skills.

I’ve been doing this four years and never met a “mat bunnie.” Maybe I’m clueless, but if they didn’t stick around long, I didn’t notice them. And where they do exist, I agree with Anon. It doesn’t matter. If a guy’s relationship with a jealous woman matters more than bjj, by all means, he should do what’s best for him and his relationship. And I hope my instructor does what’s best for his students-- all of them-- and tells this guy to man up or leave his school, in a polite, businesslike manner.

Megan said...

If students that will roll with you aren't available to roll, you aren't being denied instruction, you don't have an open practice environment available to you. That's an important distinction and is the reason that reason does ultimately matter.

If a man won't roll with me because he doesn't believe I have anything to offer him, he's wrong, he's blind to what Jiu jitsu is and is wrong. If a man won't work with me because he's uncomfortable (religious reasons included), I'm not willing to say an instructor should impose my ideal of what a learning environment should be on him.

I've told an instructor I'm uncomfortable working with specific guys and my reasons weren't called into question for validity. I believe anyone has that right in a service they're paying for, just like I have the right to leave a gym that's sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise unsavory.

Megan said...

Regarding men who wont train with women because of jealous girlfriends...I have yet to see that happen, and the situation I mentioned doesn't fall into that category because no jealousy has been expressed. If it did though, the instructor would definitely have to make a call as to what they'll require of their students and where they draw lines of requirement.

It should definitely be taken on a case by case basis. A woman who won't roll with men because they're "too strong" is different than one who won't because she was raped. I'm trying to find a line, and I'm think it comes down to "wrong" vs. negative effects on life off the mats. If your claims are simply incorrect (women/old/small people can't help me get better) tough. Suck it up and train. But if your reasons for not wanting to train with someone will cause you problems/distress off the mats, then a discussion needs to be had to evaluate whether the attitude that gave birth to those reasons will be a detriment or benefit to the gym.

Anonymous said...

I don’t think an instructor should impose my ideal of what a learning environment should be on everyone. (Although, that would be awesome!) I think he should do what’s right. Allowing a fellow student to discriminate against me in his place of business for something I am, when I have done nothing to offend him, is wrong.

I don’t understand your first paragraph about an open practice environment and why the justification for discrimination matters. I’ve belonged to some small bjj schools. When one person doesn’t roll with you, it’s noticeable. In a bigger school, it’s not going to have as big an effect on the quality of training.

Megan said...

"Right" so subjective. Some men think it's right to keep women barefoot and pregnant in a kitchen and wrong to be in the presence of a woman they're not married or related to.

Discrimination isn't always bad. I discriminate when I won't train with the guy that creeps me out. As a consumer, it's my right to do that. (In a work situation, I don't have that right without some sort of support). The reason I say justification for discrimination matters is that sometimes it's done for personal well being or protection. Sometimes it's done out of ignorance or mean-spiritedness. I'm not willing to lump them all together because then students have no options in using their own judgement to keep themselves safe.

My rights of discrimination as a consumer are more broad than that of someone providing a service, which are in turn, more broad than governmental institutions. Basically I'm saying that I don't equate a fellow patron's discrimination OR an instructor allowing certain forms of discrimination, with an instructor discriminating against me as a consumer. The relationships are very different.

The size of a school may change the effects of a decision, but it doesn't change the ethics of it.

To backtrack a bit, I don't believe in telling people to "suck it up" or "get over it" (though I used the phrase) Yes, there are set standards, but understanding needs to be met before decisions are made. Sometimes (not always) there are opportunities for organizational and personal growth. I am thankful my instructors didn't take that attitude with me when I've had issues with individuals.

Deborah Clem said...

Oh my, you really did touch a nerve. So what the heck! Here are my pennies:

I am not positive, but I don't think this has been an issue with the men in my school, I pretty much roll with everyone.

However, if a male classmate did not want to spar with because of his SO issues, I would not care, nor would I hold this against him. Number one: I have plenty of other sparring partners, so who cares? And Number two: I have been in the not fun position of cheated on wife (my first husband knocked up his girlfriend) and I totally understand how that experience can wreck your brain and make you wary.

It would be so easy to say, oh she's crazy, oh she's irrational, but I would hesitate to glue those labels without having met her.

That said, and wanting more women to train, I am CONSTANTLY badgering my male counterparts to bring on their SO. When they do bring them in to watch, I go out of my way to introduce myself, and ask if they want to train.

As usual Megan, good thought provoking post. May I borrow part of your brain? The part that knocks out these intelligent posts a mile a minute? ...;)


Anonymous said...

Well, I guess I just have to agree to disagree. I don’t think what’s right is subjective.

But . . . before I let this go, . . .
Freedom of religion doesn’t allow someone to walk into a night club and pry couples apart because it’s wrong for men and women to dance together. That’s called trespassing. Sure you are allowed to discriminate for any personal reason, in who you date, the jeans you buy, who you invite to dinner, etc. . . but not who you allow into your business. The instructor can only discriminate based on what someone does, like disregarding safety rules, being a nuisance in some way, maybe if they have a criminal record (not sure about this). Discrimination based on age, sex, race, sexual orientation, etc . . . is against the law. And wrong. I don’t see a huge disparity between directly discriminating against a student and tolerating discrimination by students. A BJJ school is not just a business but also a learning environment which requires relationships based on trust and respect.

Let’s say I was on a ship that pulled into port in your town, and I go on liberty with a shipmate who gets drunk and puts graffiti all over your bjj school that says “Jiu jitsu sucks! Fencing for life!” and breaks a window. The owner finds out and presents evidence to the ship, which pays for damages, so the owner doesn’t press charges. However, my liberty buddy and I are in trouble. Even if I turn in my buddy and testify against him, I can and probably will be charged as an accomplice unless I tried my best to prevent his actions. If the Captain really wants to throw the book at me, he can charge me with the same offense. I could have been stone cold sober and yet be punished for drunk and disorderly conduct and destruction of property. That’s because we are responsible for each other, both to ensure our safety and to keep each other out of trouble. Now, if a stranger witnessed the incident, he has no obligation that I am aware of to intervene, report it, or step forward as a witness.

So, if a student is a perpetrator, and an incident happens inside the school, how is the instructor related to the student? Similarly to the shipmate? The stranger? Or the Captain? Or, . . . what?

Anonymous said...

I belong to a minority religion and have experienced discrimination/hatred because of it. I don't like being told that my religion is wrong or bad, so in most cases I am very careful to not do that to others. I consider myself exceptionally religiously tolerant. What you believe and what you do is your business- RIGHT UP UNTIL IT AFFECTS ME. Then it becomes my business. You have made it my business by affecting me with it.

Let's not pussyfoot around with political correctness- the ugly fact is people who won't roll with women are doing it because they/their religion believe/s that women are dirty or subhuman and not only not fit to be treated as equals- not even fit to be touched. There is no relativity or sujectiveness in the wrongness of this view. It is just wrong. And bad. Sorry. But wrongness in the context of religious tolerance is still wrongness.

When you refuse to work with me or refuse to shake my hand in the line, you are informing me (and reminding me repeatedly, every time you do it) that in your opinion I am dirty or subhuman. Even if I have plenty of other people to train with, do you really think it doesn't affect me to be told that I am dirty and subhuman? This is okay? REALLY? Is it really okay to strut around telling random people- who have done nothing at all to harm or offend you- that they are dirty and subhuman?

Megan said...

I don't believe what's right is subjective, but what one instructor deems "right", another might disagree with.

I don't really get the analogy of your shipmate, so I'm hesitant to try to line up characters, but we're talking questions of ethics, not law. Choosing not to participate with someone in activity may be a jerk move, but it is not illegal

" I don’t see a huge disparity between directly discriminating against a student and tolerating discrimination by students."

I do, depending on the type of discrimination in question. We would like agree on 90% of discrimination issues, but like I said before, life just isn't simple enough to lump everyone who discriminates into one monolithic group. It is the responsibility of all instructors to be discriminating (to use the word in its least charged form) in dealing with individual students.

Not sure if the second Anonymous is someone else or not, but I agree that it is wrong, and I don't like it, but let's not pretend that training BJJ is like shaking somebody's hand or working on a team with someone. The physical proximity alone changes everything.

In an office, if I'd told my manager I wasn't comfortable working with someone and had no behavior to back it up, id expect to be shut down. At the gym, I'd expect my wishes to be discussed and acknowledged.

I can't say enough that I have different expectations from a business owner than I do from a fellow consumer. By the logic above, I could hold a grocery store owner responsible for patrons that got out of line once they saw I was Black...but...Jiu jitsu isn't an office, it isn't a store and it isn't L.A. Fitness.

Different envionrment, different risks, different ways of handling a situation.

Megan said...

To bring things back to the practical, I like fenix's solution best. If you have an issue that keeps you from a base level of participation in class, you have to sit out and experience a diminished service.

What I don't get in the case of a small class where no participants would train with a particular person, is why an instructor wouldn't work with that student if the situation ever did arise.

Manny said...

That is total crap! BJJ is a martial art that requires little space to be effective. If he allows her to control him in BJJ and who he can or cannot roll with, then it sounds like there are other issues at play. It may very well be her low self esteem. She should get into BJJ then comment about it .

Unknown said...

I don't roll/ drill with ladies due to religious reasons. But don't see why someone would think rolling with a skilled female would slow their learning. I've seen blue belts (dudes) pull a face when their paired up with a white belt or very new guys.

For me part of learning is teaching, so if placed with a shy white belt, I'll work with them so their game improves. Then for the last minute or so of sparring, I'll just flow roll and try a few chain attacks.

Megan said...

Badshah, I think it's more an issue that they feel they'll look bad to the other guys OR that the woman will beat them. It's a very selfish way to look at training. Like you said, part of learning is teaching.

Anonymous said...

I won't roll with women as its against my religion to touch women who I am not married to or closely related to like.