Have you ever found yourself sitting on the mats after class thinking, #metoo? Immediately followed by, no, can’t be! This is a martial arts club!
I’m sure there have been a few people at church thinking the same thing.
Sexual predators don’t exclusively reside in Hollywood or Penn State. Not all of them are shuffled from parish to parish when scandal erupts. Some of them walk among us. Sometimes, they train among us. They are like black mold in the walls of our home, hiding undetected until the poison is exposed.
WE ARE ALL MONSTERS
When I began training in martial arts, I believed in the hype. I thought all martial artists lived by a code of honor. But the reality is martial artists are human and all humans have flaws. As Jordan Peterson says, we are all monsters. And being naive about this could get you into trouble.
BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU WILL HELP YOU TO MAKE YOU MORE DANGEROUS IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE. IT WILL GIVE YOU THE CONFIDENCE TO STAND UP FOR YOURSELF AND THE ABILITY TO DO SO. YOU WILL BECOME A “CIVILIZED MONSTER”.
WHEN TRUST IS BETRAYED
When we go to class, our defenses are down. We are there to become stronger. And what could make us more vulnerable than putting our bodies into the hands of strangers and playing “I kill you, you kill me”? So we trust each other; we have to. But sometimes our trust is betrayed.
Recently I read a very disturbing post on Reddit about a young woman who was in a toxic situation at her gym and wasn’t sure if she was imagining things. The fact that someone has to wonder about that inspired me to write this article.
I am not a trauma professional but I do have a lot of knowledge on this topic. I have been the recipient of unwanted sexual attention from the age of about four years old. I’ve experienced pretty much every type of sexual assault and harassment you can imagine, and worse, so I have about thirty-eight years of education in the art of detecting and deflecting sexual predators. It may sound like an exaggeration but trust me, no one is more surprised that I am.
I’m also very experienced in Brazilian jiu jitsu; I’ve been training for almost ten years so I know what’s normal and what’s not.
This article is my perspective about how to detect and deal with inappropriate sexual attention in Brazilian jiu jitsu. I am writing in hopes that my experience might be of use to someone.
THE GOOD GUYS
I would like to stress that if it wasn’t for my male teammates and coaches, I wouldn’t be training Brazilian jiu jitsu today. They have supported me every step of the way and given me the opportunity to create a women-only program so women who were intimidated by men could feel safe training. These men have also flow rolled with me for over two years as I dealt with a back injury; always helping, never complaining.
We are discussing the anomalies. I have never been sexually harassed or assaulted at my club but I have experienced it elsewhere.
FOR BRAND NEW STUDENTS
If you are a brand new white belt and haven’t rolled before you may not know for sure if someone has touched you inappropriately. You’ll sense it but you might brush it off for a while as just being part of rolling.
How can you tell if something is inappropriate? There are some dead giveaways:
- Cupping of the breasts, genitals or bum
- Lingering. The touch lasts too long
- Stroking or trailing touches; caresses
- Patting your bum. No one pats me on the bum at BJJ. It’s not football.
Basically if it feels weird, the guy is probably getting some sick gratification from it. Trust your instincts. See the video below for some common sense.
Keep in mind that accidents will happen. I once went to grab my teammate’s hip and full-on grabbed his penis. I immediately recoiled and apologized, which is a typical reaction for a mistake. Not acknowledging something like that might be an indicator that it was intentional and that you are being tested to see if you are into it.
Of course in my situation, my teammate’s response was, “Yeah, right.”
REMEMBER THAT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO ROLL WITH SOMEONE, YOU DON’T HAVE TO. YOU ARE THE CUSTOMER.
The Gracie Empowered program has a lot of really great information to help women protect themselves from sexual predators in every area of their lives. One of the topics I found most helpful was their video about when people you know and would never expect to treat you cruelly, do.
THE BAD KIND OF CONDITIONING
Sometimes a sexual predator will “test” his potential victims. As Hannibal Lecter said in Silence of the Lambs, one does not seek out things to covet. One covets what he sees every day. What this means is most criminals will select convenient prey.
A common tactic is approaching as a good friend. I’m sure many of you have extensive experience with this. For me it’s been men in business settings who are much older than I am. Initially the guy will seem super friendly and helpful. You might see him as a mentor and be flattered that he wants to help little old you. But as time continues, you’ll notice the conversations get more and more inappropriate. This is the “Intrusion” phase Eve described in the video.
Sometimes they won’t even want to have sex with you, necessarily. They just want to tell you or show you their filth. I had one married coworker come into my cubicle and tell me in detail how he masturbated to Girls Gone Wild.
Another married man at work liked to make perverted comments and eventually came into my cubicle, knelt in front of me and asked for a massage. I overheard him telling another coworker in leering tones how he wanted to be sent out of town with me on an audit AKA the “Isolation” phase. This guy looked like Santa.
Now when I see a grown man dressed as Santa with a line up of children waiting to sit on his lap I am utterly disgusted. This hoe ruined Santa for me.
A much more disturbing example is MMA Instructor Josh Robinson, 39, who showed student’s a six-year-old daughter “an explicit video of his girlfriend performing a sexual act on him”. He had just been arrested and released on bail a month earlier for statuatory rape and child pornography charges.
It’s best to not smile or play along with men at all when they say something naughty. As Rener said in the video, “The sooner you set the barrier, the easier it is to enforce.”
THE DANGER OF AWE
One of the problems in martial arts is the perception that a higher belt or professor is somehow better than others as a human being. Let me be very clear about this: they’re not.
I’m a brown belt, I’m an instructor and it’s just because I kept going to class for ten years. It’s not because I’m a good person. If being a good person was required to get your black belt, Paul Saucido, a man “convicted of two counts of indecent exposure and one of unlawful restraint, stemming from twice sexually penetrating a non-consenting woman in 2009“, never would have been promoted.
What makes someone a good person is treating others with dignity and respect, not using their position of authority to manipulate others for their own benefit.
I’ve heard stories about professors telling young women they have to strip naked for a weight cut while they stood by watching. There are reports of Lloyd Irvin calling young women “androids” who had to do whatever their instructor asked them to do, including sexually, if they wanted to become a world champion.
If a sick person rises to power, they will use that power to abuse others. As Joe Rogan has said,
“IT ALWAYS SEEMS LIKE WHENEVER THERE’S A MAN THAT’S IN A POSITION WHERE PEOPLE START WORSHIPING HIM, THEY START HANGING ON HIS EVERY WORD… HE’S LIKE, I’M GONNA START FUCKING SOME OF THESE PEOPLE.” – JOE ROGAN
Remember that respect must be earned. Do not blindly follow.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE SEXUALLY HARASSED
If you have been a victim of sexual harassment or assault, you have several options. I am not a professional victim counselor, obviously, but there is a very nice guideline on legalline.ca that you may find helpful.
After an uncomfortable incident, the author recommends, “Before deciding on an option, you should write down a list of what happened, when it happened, and who was involved. This way, you will have a clear idea of what you are claiming and it will make it easier for someone hearing your complaint to understand your situation.”
For non-criminal situations, you could choose from two possible options:
- Speak to the person who has made you feel uncomfortable. Was it “jokes”, comments, unwanted attention? As Rener recommened in his video, you can break your statement into three stages. And be adamant about it!
- State the behavior: “I found your comment about how Sarah probably wasn’t in class today because she was on her period and stayed home to suck dick offensive.”
- State how it made you feel: “It made me feel like you only perceive women as sexual objects”
- State what you would like to see happen: “I would appreciate if you would not speak that way around me.”
- If you do not feel comfortable speaking to the person directly, you could speak to your instructor. If the offensive person is your instructor and you are uncomfortable, there’s likely not much you can do other than switch clubs.
If you bring up your concerns and they are not addressed, it is clear that the environment is not for you and it would be better to find another club. In more serious cases, you might want to involve the police.
BRING CRIMINAL CHARGES
THE FIFTH OPTION APPLIES ONLY TO CERTAIN TYPES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT. IF YOU ARE FORCED INTO ANY SEXUAL ACT AGAINST YOUR WILL OR YOU ARE TOUCHED IN A SEXUAL WAY WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT, THE HARASSER MAY BE GUILTY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT. YOU CAN CONTACT THE POLICE AND REPORT THE SITUATION. IF APPROPRIATE, THE POLICE CAN THEN LAY CRIMINAL CHARGES. – LEGALLINE.CA
To see the effects of not reporting sexual assault, all you have to do is look at the case of Larry Nassar. He was the doctor who sexually assaulted 140 children under his care over decades because no one ever went to the police. All they did was report it to US Gymnastics and Michigan State University, who did nothing. If the first incident had been handled properly, it could have saved the others.
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
I hope this article has offered some practical tips regarding what you may encounter that could cause trouble for you in your BJJ training.
It is always going to be challenging to be a female in a male dominated sport, especially one where there is a lot of physical contact. Please try to trust your instincts and if you are unsure of a situation, you may want to leave immediately and speak to someone you trust.
I highly recommend that you invest the time into reading Gavin De Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear. It will help you to identify and trust those feelings you get when you may be in danger.
Brazilian jiu jitsu is an amazing sport and the chances that you will run into trouble are very low. Please do not let the actions of few scare you. Now, more than ever, women have a voice and for those who may work against us, YOUR TIME IS UP!