Our latest guest blog has been written by Vanessa English who is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Vanessa is known for being the first British born Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitor to win the IBJJF World Championships in the adult division; this was back in 2013 at purple belt. Vanessa has represented the UK in various different countries across the world and holds many titles beneath her belt, including 7x British titles, 4x European titles and the purple belt world title.
Absolutely anyone can participate in this article, apart from men.
In recent years there has been a significant increase in female jiu jitsu practitioners and competitors, with this years IBJJF European Championships seeing the female divisions hit a 31% increase in entrants since 2016. Although these numbers are encouraging we still should not ignore the gender disparity, but times are changing and attitudes are evolving simultaneously. Attitudes towards female practitioners are much harder to have figures on, so more often than not it’s a case of observation at ‘ground zero’.
So far since 2016 the IBJJF has been awarding equal payouts to the three top ranked athletes within the organisation, perhaps in part a response to the #supportwomensbjj movement initiated by black belt competitor Dominyka Obelenyte in 2015. In comparison to the UAEJJF, who are known to award this sum just for their main event, this is still a relatively low cash prize; and sadly we still face a huge discrepancy between the genders in the UAEJJF with the female divisions being awarded a significantly lower figure. Whether this is a cultural or economical issue regarding number of female entrants into the competitions is difficult to define, a chicken vs. egg scenario if you will. In terms of the professional circuit we have a multitude of organisations working hard towards promoting equality in the female BJJ scene, with 5 Grappling, Fight To Win & Polaris really standing out, and in turn the female competitive scene has exploded.
If a professional organisation doesn’t have a female match up or host female events in the current climate, to me it tends to stand out like a sore thumb. Out of the 11 fully professional events the ACBJJ organisation has hosted, they have proceeded to do so without a single female competitor in sight. When I came to this realisation, my only thoughts were of whether or not I’d be willing to support these events; but this isn’t where it ended. On the 17th-18th March the ACBJJ will be hosting the European Open tournament, this event will be open to all nationalities, all belts, all ages, all weight divisions, just not female athletes. I didn’t want to immediately jump to conclusions when I saw the prize money advertised online for ‘adult’ divisions, so as to not be led by my assumptions I proceeded to gain more clarity on the situation and enquire as to whether or not I could enter the tournament. I was politely informed that they “do not have female divisions at all for this time”. The reason for this was explained to be financial, they will not be facilitating female divisions this year, but plan to add them in 2019 when they change the strategy for the event.
I for one feel that if the justification of not being inclusive towards female athletes is based on revenues or audience demographics, the whole issue becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy. If these issues aren’t pursued with a mindset of being proactive rather than reactive towards the situation, the female BJJ scene is set to struggle and experience unnecessarily slow growth comparative to its potential. What are peoples thoughts on the current women’s BJJ scene, and what are its biggest barriers or hurdles to overcome? I would be really interested to hear other peoples experiences and views on the topic.
Find out more about Vanessa here.