A Girl’s Guide to Grappling What You Need to Know Before You Start Rolling


Although the sport and art of grappling is currently mostly a male activity, many female readers have commented on how important it is for women to learn to grapple (see Why Should Women Grapple?). In this article Liz Bader, an active mixed martial art competitor and instructor, explains what women should be aware of before they step onto the mat for the first time.Stephan Kesting

Here’s what Liz says…

1- Clothing.

This is important. It’ s hard to grapple if your clothes are falling off.

Clarify with the instructor what type of grappling class you will be taking. Ask what you should wear. If it’s a gi grappling class, buy your own gi or you’ll be given the communal gi that’s loaned out to people that show up without one. This uniform’s usually huge and never washed. You don’t want to wear it. You can buy a gi at any martial arts supply store.

If you are taking a free-style grappling class you’ll be able to wear a rash guard & shorts. Rash guards are good because they stay on. A rash guard is a spandex dry-fit type t-shirt. If you’re shy about grappling in a spandex shirt, wear a t-shirt over it. Keep in mind that the t-shirt alone will not keep you covered. A tank top will not stay in place. To be extra safe be sure to wear a sports bra tank underneath because even the rash guards can occasionally fail you.

Shorts- I recommend board shorts. There‘s a lot of good brands out there. The ones made for grappling have stretch in them so you can move easier. Wear spandex shorts underneath. Once you start moving your pant legs crawl up.

2- Hair.

Your hair will be a huge mess within minutes. You won’t be able to see. You’ll see chunks of your hair on the mat. There’s not a lot you can do. If it’s shoulder length you can pull it into pigtails. If it’s longer, braid them. There’s a lot of movements with the back of your head on the mat so a single pony tail doesn’t work.

3- Make up.

Take it off before class or, you’ll quickly see it all over your partner’s clothing. Most foundations will stain on a rash guard/spandex type shirt. The only thing that will stay on you is the mascara running down your face.

4- Nails.

They have to be short or you’ll scratch up your partner. Really short.

5- Pick your partner

as soon as you get in the class. Find a small guy that looks friendly. Stand near him. When the instructor says partner up- be close by him, make eye contact and ask him if you can partner with him. This is crucial. If you get all shy instead and stand around you’ll end up partnered with the weird guy in the class that no one wants to partner with either because he is really hard to work with or smells bad. Either way, you don’t want a bad partner.

6- Don’t’ try to kill your partner

– You’ll be expected to practice the moves that you were just shown with your partner. You probably won’t get it. Stay relaxed. Since you’ve picked a good partner, he’ll probably talk you through it and help you. Don’t try & kill him or rip his arm off. Let him try the new move on you and again, don’t try & fight him. Watch how everyone else is working together. You’re learning, not fighting.

7- Don’t giggle.

It’s expected that the girl’s going to be a nuisance in the class. If you are trying really hard and seem serious, they will then take you seriously. Giggling will make your partner uncomfortable and annoyed. If you are in a awkward position-there are lots, just avoid eye contact and hold your breath if you have to. Just don’t giggle.

8- If you’re going to talk, ask questions related to the training.

Don’t just talk about anything. Most people take their training seriously and don’t like a girl coming along and chatting during their workouts. They may all be talking. Believe me- you joining in on the conversation will just make them think you’re there to socialize.

9-Don’t get frustrated.

You will miss a lot of the details. If the instructor shows 3 moves then tells you to try them with your partner, it’s ok to get only one. After the class, write down what you do remember.

10-Train again as soon as possible.

Try for at least 2 classes per week. Otherwise, you’ll never get past this awkward stage.

Good luck. I hope to see more women out for class!


Liz Bader has fought in MMA and Muay Thai matches, and in BJJ and submission grappling tournaments.  Her signature move was (and remains) the armbar!

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