Sophia McDermott seminar


photo credit: Megan Avery, awesome purple belt, Open Guard BJJ, Apex, NC

April 7, 2018

An introvert’s worst nightmare is stepping into uncharted territory like a room full of new people with at least some expectation of socializing, yet that’s where I found myself this morning.

Sophia McDermott was in Apex this weekend!! I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the women only Saturday session (there was also a co-ed session Sunday) at Open Guard along with 13 fellow jiujitera. It was an fabulous morning of jiu-jitsu and sisterhood.

I only knew two of the women going in to this adventure, but that soon changed. There wasn’t even a lot of time to feel super awkward. We got down to business and for the next two hours, it was all about our love of the sport. I took notes, though of course I can barely read them. There was a nifty knee slide speed drill and a defense to the knee slide pass that my regular training partners will be sorry they missed! Then we moved on to tips to improve our spider guard and using it to transition to lasso, de la riva, shin to shin and half x. We ended with this one *here* as well as adding an entry from spider to deep de la riva to what some of us call the ejector seat (to a choke). The last bit was a challenging change as I usually position myself behind the person and not execute it directly from the de la riva position on the side. It’s going to need some work. I can’t wait to practice!

The atmosphere was perfect- disciplined but welcoming and friendly. I even felt brave enough to ask Sophia for a roll a the end, which is something I would normally never do. She’s so encouraging and supportive, she even made me feel comfortable.

At the end, she gave us some insight on how she prepared for matches when she competed. One thing she said resonated with me on a personal level. She posted notes in her house before competition and told herself she deserves to be there and that she deserves to win. Too often – and I think many women can identify with this- I imagine some deficiency internally or experience negativity externally, especially in sports, and allow that to affect my outlook. It reminded me of learning some basics as a white belt- the very concept of taking up space, widening my base and posturing seemed entirely against my nature, or what I had learned, however you want to think about that. As I had to be reminded to do this as a blue belt, I grew into knowing that I belong here and I deserve to take up space. I know the techniques and I’ve put in the time, there’s no reason not to perform them the best way I know how.

There was a comraderie among the women in Apex on Saturday that I imagine the guys feel every class. Girls and women, in my experience, are the exceptions rather than the rule in many sports from soccer as a kid to jiu-jitsu at age 40. Not that I’ve minded being the only girl. I’ve always gotten along just fine connecting with everyone regardless of gender on the love of the sport that we’re playing and being a team. But at the same time, there is something missing in the male dominated scene. There is an acute awareness of your differences and often perceived paucity of skill.

Women’s only events are a necessary experience. Wait- don’t quit reading! There is a danger in making such a declaration. I know some will want to misconstrue it. After all, I consider myself a feminist and to divide people along gender lines seems arbitrary, antithetical to equality, or may even be considered puritanical. But it was refreshing to have a class geared toward my body mechanics and techniques that complement my style, where I can leave the excuses of the men being bigger and stronger outside this time. It’s a relief in many ways. I don’t want to make it seem like now I want only to work with women or that men make unsatisfactory training partners. Both co-ed and women only events are beneficial and essential. Just get on the mat and train!

There was something inherently inspiring about meeting strong, determined women from all over the state who do what I do. There is a sisterhood that I previously didn’t know existed. Before today I personally knew a few female purple belts (my rank), one brown belt and no black belts. This is where men’s jiu-jitsu was in the 90’s, at least in my area!

I had no idea how uplifting seeing a female black belt would be. There was just something about meeting Sophia – it became easier to see that goal as more attainable somehow when a woman was wearing the black belt. Women don’t just have the inner battle that everyone struggles with to persevere and achieve their goals, we also have a lifetime- generations- of voices telling us you don’t belong here, you can’t physically do that, you’re achieving this goal at the expense of neglecting your family, and at times in history even the rules stated ‘no girls allowed’ , the list goes on and on. Growing up in a culture that tells women that they deserve to be paid less than men or to just BE less, it can be tough to see yourself among the highest ranks in whatever sphere you’re in. And once you get there (I am a chodan in Tang Soo Do) it can still be hard to believe you deserve it.

All training partners, I hope, respect each other and leave their egos at the door. Women especially need to take care of each other and work a bit harder to form and keep their sense of community with women only open mat and/ or seminars. I hope I can make it out to more events like this one!

For more info​,​ Sophia McDermott’s page:

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