If you’ve kept up with our articles this week, you’ll know that we’re honouring International Women’s day by interviewing some of the most inspirational and powerful women in our combat community. Although traditionally dominated by males, this perception of combat sports is quickly being ditched in the past. Martial arts holds incredible opportunities and benefits for women just as much as men.
In the article below, CMBT Training Centre Mobility Coach Brit Cook provides an inspiring and valuable insight into the world of combat sports from a female perspective to both encourage fellow women to give it a go and to educate men on how to accommodate their female partners to create a safe, welcoming and even playing field.
I am the Mobility Coach at CMBT Training Centre (CTC). My work revolves around working with the fighters and the CTC coaches in order to improve the mobility and stability of each fighter. Ultimately, our end goal is to be a strong and unified guidance for each individual to perform at their absolute best, whatever that may be. My role is to make sure that they are functioning efficiently from the foundation up.
My role at CTC has forged a strong piece of my heart and I take every fighter and every engagement very personally. Some may say not to mix business with pleasure, but I find that by living and breathing the essence of my work, the love emanates naturally for me. I truly feel blessed to get to do what I do every day. I do everything in my power to make sure the bodies and careers that get put into my hands are done so with the utmost faith and respect.
I spend the better half of five days a week inside CTC. Most of those hours are made up of coaching strength and conditioning, and coaching prehab and mobility training. If I’m not coaching then I’m doing my own stability training, complemented by S&C, BJJ classes and drilling sessions. I also spend a lot of my hours inside CTC studying my field as well; I like the safe and homely environment that CTC brings me and I find I get a lot of productive work done inside the peaceful hustle its big four walls bring.
What got you into combat sports and what do you love about it?
When I first started working at CTC, I didn’t think I would ever get into anything combat related because, truthfully, I’m quite small framed - infuriatingly, some would say petite – and all I saw were mats full of dominating men day after day. I was quite taken aback by this in the beginning and I purposely avoided ever getting out of my small comfort zone in the conditioning area as I felt like I was taking up too much space; like I didn’t belong.
In all honesty, it didn’t take long for the CTC team to ‘break me in’. It seems like they were - and are still - quite relentless in making me comfortable and included in everything we do.
After I started BJJ, I immersed myself into the family community offered on a silver platter. I completely emerged like a metamorphosis and I feel like I really have become a whole new woman.
It didn’t take long for me to notice that we had one woman consistently in our BJJ classes in the beginning. But that one woman absolutely tore up the boys on the mats, and that was enough to spark a viable interest. She is small like me which is what caught my eye first, yet she was so strong...and I realised that if she could do it, maybe I could too.
CTC Kids Coach, BJJ Purple Belt, and absolute weapon Sami Locke is a huge reason I believed in myself enough to try BJJ. I found one role model inside my gym that I could attach a goal to, and in doing so, Sami unknowingly gave me a steady reason to keep coming back every day. That, and the lifetime goal to tap out my coach James…one day.
I love the different kinds of strength my body has adopted from combat sports. Equally, I love that I can flow so smoothly and be so forceful with such improved body awareness and manipulation. It’s a completely different and unifying kind of strength and adaptability.
Do you believe that training in combat sports is heavily male-dominated? How do you feel being a woman in the sport?
I absolutely believe this sport and its whole industry is male dominated, and I really feel it. I have some of the best coaches in the country in my team. I have unconditional friends and teammates that want only the best for me, my performance, and my wellbeing and happiness. It also does absolutely not change the fact that this sport is super daunting and arguably excessively dangerous for women.
There will sometimes be unfortunate circumstances that come with electing to get your limbs, bones, and bodily functions compromised and attacked on the daily. One thing that infuriates me not only as a woman, but also as a coach in my profession, is that men and women are physiologically different and there are natural differentiations that need to be honoured, not preyed upon.
If you get a fully grown man grappling or sparring with a woman, there is - speaking in the majority - a vast strength and size disadvantage to the woman, regardless of skill level. Skill is actually what makes up for a lot of that disadvantage, which is another huge reason I fell in love with the discipline of combat sport, but I only really feel safe to practice my skill in its full potential if my partner is someone who honours that gap that needs to be bridged.
I feel that when I grapple I have to choose my partner far more wisely than the men do. My partner needs to be able to understand that my 50% pace is different to their 50%. My partner needs to know how to hold an extra 15-30kg of body weight they may have on my body weight off of me whilst also attacking. My partner needs to know that them sitting their bodyweight on me is not teaching them anything, nor me, and the feeling of suffocation is also incredibly overwhelming in its own right.
My sparring partner needs to know that using brute strength to move position doesn’t teach them anything nor progress them. It also makes them a less desirable partner in the future if a woman knows she is not going to be able to move into any technique without being pinned down or thrown around like a rag doll. My partner needs to understand the difference between rolling with someone their size and strength, and rolling with their ego.
It is super daunting and scary rolling with someone who doesn’t understand their own power. Sometimes partners have the best of intentions, but you still come out battered, bruised, and most infuriatingly - injured. It is so important to communicate when sparring or grappling, not just across genders but across skill levels and sizes too. Over-communicate if you must.
At the end of the day, you both have to go home after training, get on with your lives, and come back again the next day and do it all again. Both should have equal opportunity to grow and adapt, so honouring the size and strength gap needs to become a universal language amongst the inclusivity of all athletes.
Would you recommend combat sports for other women? Why or why not?
Yes. My answer will always be yes. I will always speak highly of combat sports. I have this conversation a lot…and weirdly, it’s almost as if, if you’ve never done it, then you will never truly know or understand its benefits on your mind and soul, not just your body. I feel like it’s something you can never go wrong with - even just trying once.
Being a woman in the combat sports world is electrifying and I feel both so powerful and so soft at the same time: it’s like a hidden secret weapon. I am grateful each day that I get to practice its art and invigorate my own inner fire; it is eternally humbling.
What advice would you give to other women who have reservations about trying combat sports?
The first thing I feel is a necessity: find your community. Make sure that your environment is safe, welcoming, and supportive. You need to know that when you are at your most vulnerable, you are in a safe place to be so.
The second: Find your Why. Maybe this won’t come at first, maybe it will change along the way, but ask yourself why you want to do this. Hang onto that when you want to throw your gloves at your coach after a hard sparring session, or you’re nursing a sore shoulder after being dropped one too many times. Find it, believe in it, and hang on to it. I feel like this comes with anything you choose in life, if you want it, believe you want it. It all starts and ends with the honest conversations you have with yourself. Set your own expectations from the start.
What is some direct advice you could give men to help women become more comfortable training in combat sports?
One saying that is common amongst most combat sport gyms is to leave your ego at the door, and this applies here too. Understand that just because they are putting in 100%, doesn’t mean you need to as well.
Speaking generally, men have far more available and suitable partners to tussle with at various intensities. Women need capable partners they can trust to alter their skill, size, and strength to match them. This is not taking away from the many, many incredible women fighters out there, but on a scale of things, inclusivity at all levels is where we need to set a benchmark to build our framework.
If a woman chooses to grapple with you at all, she’s already weighed up the risk in her head on whether it’s safe to or not. Let her learn, just like your partners do for you. Let her put in 100% and create a safe environment for her to do so. Honour her choice in you. Honour her safety. Honour her trust in you.
You don’t need to froth at the mouth and come at her full steam, take her head off, or pin her down with one arm. No one is learning anything that way and when will you ever realistically be able to do that in your own competition? Do right by her, so that she can put her trust in you time and time again.
The number of women in combat sport is significantly less than that of men, though slowly increasing. Be the reason that they believe in this sport as inclusive for all. They are here for the same reason you are: to do and be better.
For more from Brit, follow her on Instagram @britty.cook.