Finding the right gym can be a challenge for anyone. Finding a place to train that has an instructor who’s training philosophy lines up with yours, or that has people that you actually want to be around, can be hard. As a teenage girl in a male dominated sport, that can be even harder. Luckily for me, I have been blessed with an amazing gym, instructor and training partners.

I live in a small town, so choosing a gym to train at wasn’t very difficult. I pretty much had two options unless I wanted to drive over an hour away, which wasn’t logical for me. When I seriously started looking to train I was sixteen. The number of teenage girls who train in jiu jitsu world wide is small. In my hometown that number was non existent until I came along. Now its 1. Because of that, when my now instructor said he would take me on, he was a little wary and so were my parents. There weren’t other girls for me to train with. At the time there wasn’t even other boys for me to train with. It was all men. So for a young girl to start training in a very intimate sport that we didn’t know much about, with a bunch of men, everyone around me was a little timid.  Before my first class one other woman joined so when I actually started I wasn’t the only female, just the only kid.  Looking back now, I wouldn’t change anything about that.

When I first started everything was brand new to me. The gym, the people, mats, gis, grappling, the entire sport. I was lucky to find an instructor and training partners that were willing to help me find my way in the sport rather than showing the new, young white belt that they were better than her. Finding the right fit with training partners can make or break a young athlete in this sport, especially a girl. If I would have gone to my first couple classes and had the guys that were there just over powering me and relying on strength and size because they were bigger, my jiu jitsu experience would be a much different one. I have been extremely blessed to train with the people that respect the art of jiu jitsu and understand what it’s really about.

On the flip side the people you train with can also make you. Training with partners that are bigger and stronger than me only helps to improve my game. Helio Gracie once said, “Always assume that your opponent is going to be bigger, stronger and faster than you; so that you learn to rely on technique, timing and leverage rather than brute strength.” There is so much truth to that quote. Everyday I walk into the gym my “opponents” are all bigger and stronger than me. Because of that my game has become so technical. I don’t even have the option to use strength.

I’m so thankful for all of my teammates that are bigger and stronger than me for helping me along the way and I’m so thankful for my coach for developing athlete’s that stay true to the art and respect their training partners and for taking on a young girl in a male dominated sport.