Women Fighters as the Agents of Change: A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Case Study from Finland

Previous sociological research on women´s martial arts has revealed complex social structures and gender dynamics operating as obstacles in the development and well-being of the female athlete (e.g. Halbert, 1997; Hargreavers, 1997; McNaughton, 2012; Sisjord & Kristiansen, 2008). Feminist scholars have argued on the need of a progressive social change in the male domain of martial arts. Addressing the question of how this change could happen, this presentation discusses (1) the strategies and (2) the social dynamics that can enhance female participation and career development in women’s martial arts. Drawing on interview data with female athletes training in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academy in Finland, we argue that women themselves can change their positioning in martial arts by integrating multiple strategies, such as building relationships, creating support networks, and taking responsibility in coaching and administrative issues. Moreover, besides the strategies implemented by female athletes themselves, specific social dynamics, such as a non-authoritative training environment that enables female athletes to make own choices and take the initiative can be beneficial for the development of women’s martial arts. Concluding this presentation, we discuss implications for research and practice in the light of these findings.

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