Guards, Glitter and Glory: Girls on the Mat

I’ve just found a BJJ girl’s best friend. Imagine this: a killer training session followed by a perfect mani-pedi and chats about gi vs. nogi. Or so I imagine it would be. 

    Meet Christine Royal Fader of Halifax, Nova Scotia. While our discussion took place via Skype, it was hard not to imagine our conversation occurring on the Halifax harbour, each of us grasping a cup of tea with perfectly polished hands, chatting about submissions and sweeps. This aesthetician-by-day, jiu jitsu athlete-by-night will be taking part in Submission Series Pro: The Takeover on June 20th in Halifax. East coast romanticism aside, Atlantic Canada has not been a destination for major jiu jitsu competitions, making the cost for BJJ athletes to travel for competition somewhat prohibitive. Christine, among others, is thirsty for such East coast events:

    “We have some amazing athletes here that just don’t get exposure and that’s why  [Submission Series Pro] is so great, because it’s a chance for us out here to get exposure.”

    As Christine describes her jiu jitsu journey that started two and a half years earlier, you can sense the transformative impact that the practice has afforded in her life. There is a certain ease of conversation that happens when you encounter someone as humble and comfortable with herself as Christine. She admits, “It’s an emotional thing for me. I put my all into it, my heart and soul into what I do for training. You go through peaks and valleys; it’s just like life. I love the fact that the harder you train the better you get. There’s no secret to jiu jitsu and becoming good at it, it’s simply about putting the time in and training hard.

    Christine’s introduction to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu came through aspirations to do MMA and knowing there would be ground fighting involved. Today, she focuses on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and is on the mat virtually every day. “I don’t have a lot of time for other stuff; work, jiu jitsu, family. In life you can only be good at three things at one time.” Her thirst for competition is palpable. With eyes lit up, Christine describes her readiness to immerse herself in her jiu jitsu practice: “I’m 34, I’m a bit older than most people competing. Had I started when I was 21 or 22 I don’t know that I would have been open to the competition part of it. This is what I want in my life right now.”

    It was April 12th when Ralek Gracie’s now-infamous comments were published regarding the resistance to include female matches in Metamoris. The backlash to his statement was strong, with many calling for a boycott of Metamoris Pay-Per-View, among other measures, hoping to drive home the point that the devaluation of women, on the mat or off, will not be tolerated. Throughout social media, the weekly trend of #WCW (Woman Crush Wednesday) saw a big leap in the BJJ community, with individuals posting pictures of their favourite women in jiu jitsu, another round of resistance to Ralek’s comments. Christine responded in much the same way as most, and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and other competitors; “We all put forth the same effort, how is any person’s effort worth more than someone else’s? It’s disheartening. I don’t think that I’m less of a person, but other people obviously do. Really, that’s the message that he’s sending.”

    Christine isn’t the only one determined to show that women’s jiu jitsu is exciting. The team behind Submission Series Pro is being intentional about providing a platform that allows for the celebration of women in the sport. The Metamoris controversy has served as a bleak reminder that it’s still not easy sailing for women in a male-dominated arena, a fact that Christine puts candidly: “I never really experienced sexism until I started doing combat sports.” 

Some people pay for medication and therapy, but we have jiu jitsu.

    Personally, as a newbie to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I have been surprised and comforted by the integrity that has been witnessed among much of the jiu jitsu community in standing up for women. Words have power, and it is a curious kind of hurt that happens when you read the words of someone in a position of influence, directed against what sounds like an abstract categorization (“the girls”), yet is an integral part of your identity. Despite the real challenges, the numbers of women entering into a jiu jitsu practice is growing, and rapidly so. “Women are forces to be reckoned with. When we want to be involved in something, there is no stopping us”, Christine states proudly. 

    Christine’s drive seems propelled by the sheer passion of a life immersed in perpetual growth through jiu jitsu:It’s not all roses and happiness. It’s hard work, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. And I’ve cried over jiu jitsu, I’ve been happy over jiu jitsu, I’ve been angry over jiu jitsu. I’ve had some great experiences and not so great experiences. But I wouldn’t change it and I wouldn’t take it back. I’m still near the beginning and I’m excited for what is to come, with everything from competition to daily training. It gives so much back to your life in terms of physical and emotional well being. Some people pay for medication and therapy, but we have jiu jitsu.”

    As for encountering Sarah “The Bully” Smith on the mat next month, Christine displays her East coast charm with only compliments to dole out. “Sarah’s a super awesome person. She’s a very positive person. She’s a killer, she did super well in Abu Dhabi, she won the New York open in gi. She’s a great athlete. I respect her as my opponent. I think it’ll be awesome.” It will be the second time these two meet, having competed against each other recently in New York, with Sarah taking the win. 

    I propose that no matter who submits who on June 20th, seeing two skilled women come face to face on the mat will be akin to a remedy for Ralek’s hurtful comments. Sometimes just showing up is the most political act you can carry out, and in a world where it is not yet obvious that women deserve to compete just like anyone else, Christine, Sarah, and all other female BJJ practitioners are superheroes in my book. #WCW will be seeing no shortage of girl power anytime soon.