What its like to watch your 11 year old daughter train BJJ.
A father grapples with the challenges and the importance of training his girl to fight.
She is paired off with a boy for a three minute round. He is immediately active, takes her down and she does not try to reverse or shrimp. When he takes side control she tries to kick her legs around all the open space below her, as if they could detach from her waist and take his back. Ive been training for years, I know how this goes but I can barely stay in my seat. Its like being in a car with a drunk driver. He moves his side control up to her shoulders and head, covering her face. This is like being trapped beneath rubble, unable to breathe or see. One longs for big lungful's of air but something heavy and invisible closes off the world and compresses your chest. She must search her body for a space she can expand for air. She may find it in her lower abdomen if she can relax. With her head held down, turned to the side, her hindbrain tells the rest of her body to cease struggling. I can’t see her face, only that her feet stopped dancing around. Later she told me this is when she wanted to give up and then she got mad. He feels her pause and moves to mount. She has no game here either, her legs run around looking for a backdoor that does not exist while he tries to catch an arm. Thankfully, he is not good at this part, and after several moments in mount, she remembers the hip bump. His hands slap the mat past her head. He regains balance and goes after an arm again, pushing it to the mat as his other hand seeks to grip his own wrist for the lock. She hip bumps and his hands must release and go again to the mat. As the clock runs down, she unleashes a stream of hip bumps which fail to dislodge him but keep him slapping the mat like a conga drummer. The buzzer goes, he climbs off and she sits up and smiles.
She is 11. Three weeks ago, she reached the end of her aerial silk career. She wanted to get
better but there were no options other than showing up every week to run through the basics
again. She asked me about the martial arts classes her friends take, ones with guided
meditation, lots of shouting, and little physical contact. I try to be unbiased, those classes do
offer something. Ritual, confidence, and focus are good things to learn, but what if you want to learn how to fight?
She says that’s what she wants. Its what I want. I will never send my daughter into a cage fight but I will send her places far more dangerous: out with friends, to a party, on a date, to school, to the store to get groceries, to a career in hotel management, on a backpacking trip, to show a house to a prospective renter, surf fishing in South Padre, to fix an HVAC system on a commercial construction site, to do research late at night in a law firm, to help a friend move out of an apartment, to go for a run, to walk her dog, to walk to her car.
She is the smallest kid in the class, the lowest rank, the least experienced. She likes to win. The way Dora always wins. Super Readers, Carmen San Diego, and princesses with various Powers, they all win and it usually takes them about thirty minutes. This class has lasted an hour and she must accept a position at the bottom. I think she senses depth here, a system of play with layers of ancient phrases and techniques to discover. It's not a story told to entertain her, its a story she is writing. She is building a boat while learning to sail it. I am not in that boat with her, I am a spec on the shore.
When the buzzer rings, the boy runs back to the other side of the room to line up without so
much as a fist bump. She sits up with that strange grin. Not the uncertain yearning for parental approval, but elation and pride in survival. I think she understands she won that round.
About the Author: Ryan Gossen is currently a purple belt training under Professor Alexandre, "Dande" Ferreira Santos at Gracie Barra, Austin, Texas. His writings about fatherhood, hunting, nature, and occasionally bjj, can be found at ryangossen.com. IG: Ryan Gossen