March 10, 2020

"Jiu-Jitsu Is For Girls"

Youth leads the way for other girls to practice martial arts.

In honor of International Women’s Day and Women's History Month, we want to highlight McKayla*, a 6th-grade youth enrolled in the Friends program who embodies determination, growth mindset and resilience no matter the obstacle.

It’s Thursday, 3:30 p.m. McKayla is waiting on her Friend, Tiana*, to pick her up from school. On any other day, you can find McKayla and Tiana hanging out doing arts and crafts, playing board games, writing letters and making cards for her friends and families.

But it’s Thursday, and for McKayla, that only means one thing: Jiu-Jitsu.

McKayla is a yellow belt in Jiu-Jitsu, working on her way to earning her orange belt through weekly classes provided by Five Rings Jiu Jitsu Academy at the Friends Rockwood facility. She began the Jiu-Jitsu classes two years ago and has been committed ever since.

Jiu-Jitsu is a self-dense martial art focused on grappling and body control, but its teaching is individualized to the person learning and adaptive to their environment. It provides skills you might expect, like providing youth with strategies for anti-bullying—avoiding fights and defending themselves if necessary. Even more important for our youth, it champions body positivity and walking confidently. This physical and mental toolkit is especially empowering for young girls, who navigate higher amounts of societal pressure and violence.

As a practice that is adaptive to a person and their environment, the Jiu Jitsu classes at Friends focus on the basics, building a foundation for the “long-haul,” said Coach Dan, who has been practicing Jiu-Jitsu for ten years. He combined his love for teaching children with his passion for the sport in 2015 after joining the Five Rings Jiu Jitsu Academy. “Jiu-Jitsu saved my life,” said Coach Dan, pointing to the mental, physical and community-building innate to the sport as his sources of strength when he had to overcome his own personal challenges in life.

Like a lot of people, adults and kids alike, McKayla was a little nervous when first seeing Jiu-Jitsu during a week-long camp at Friends in 2018, involving several hours of daily practice. Few people would choose a week-long summer camp as their introduction to Jiu-Jitsu, but if we look at how McKayla’s channeled her growth mindset and appreciation for healthy competition in other sparks, then we shouldn’t be surprised. “She gave soccer a shot, and it’s now her favorite sport. She was encouraged to play the viola, and now she’s an amazing performer in her school's orchestra,” said Tiana. She goes on to say it’s no surprise that McKayla “started Jiu-Jitsu by being open-minded and now loves it.”

Initially, McKayla really enjoyed the community and social connection, and over the years, that developed into more leadership skills. Tiana says McKayla “... is now comfortable helping another youth with a new skill, raising her hand to be a line leader or offering to be an example with the coach to show a new skill; she’s always wanting to find her own solutions to her challenges.” Coach Dan builds on this sentiment, and said, “She is always coming in with a big high-five, or a big hug, and brings a lot of enthusiasm in helping the other girls.”

We could all learn a thing or two from McKayla about trying new things.

*Youth's name changed to protect their identity