How Mixed Martial Arts is Empowering Women

By Autumn McComas

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) are a style of fighting involving hand-to-hand combat. Common styles include brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), muay thai, judo, and boxing. The University of Central Florida (UCF) offers semester-long courses in beginning and intermediate judo and brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as a brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) club and judo club. From the outside perspective, MMA seems like a male-dominated sport and you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking this. 

The BJJ club at the UCF has over 300 registered students – the largest active roster of sports clubs. Out of the 300 registered students, only 40 are girls. When the phrase mixed martial arts comes to mind, you might imagine a match with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, and think, “that looks too intense for me.” But if you look deeper, mixed martial arts are so much more than what they appear. If you are a female reading this, I invite you to look past what MMA looks like on the outside and take a chance like Darian Haberland did. 

During her freshman year, Darian Haberland took a chance on the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) Club on campus. It was the best decision she ever made. A few months before the school year started, she decided she wanted to be a part of a mixed martial arts sport. She found the BJJ club on campus and never looked back. When asked about her first class with the BJJ club, she said she felt accepted immediately. Haberland stated, “As a woman, you want to go into an environment where you feel safe and heard and UCF absolutely did that for me.”

With the turn of this century, the wave of empowered women has become a force to be reckoned with. Not many women participate in MMA like Brazilian Jiu-jitsu because it can seem intimidating. The sport is male-dominated and when women try to break into the world of MMA, they can feel outcast for their gender. When asked further about how BJJ has helped her feel empowered, Haberland expressed she feels more self control over her body and feels more self-confidence. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu helps keep herself mentally and physically in shape. Every class is a new lesson and this motivates her to go back and keep learning new techniques. 

When asked for any words of wisdom she would offer someone thinking about trying a combat sport like BJJ or Judo, Haberland stated, “the biggest thing is to take the leap and try it. If someone you know who is in the sport, take them with you. Some people try BJJ and love it, but they also try other styles of MMA and they like that more. It’s a great way to learn more about yourself. You are ultimately helping yourself. You learn how to defend yourself. You learn how to stand your ground.” 

The UCF BJJ club is free to all UCF students. The number one priority of the club is safety. Each technique is learned at a slow pace according to your needs. Your sparring partner is there to help you through each grappling session. If you are wanting to check out the club but are not ready to get on the mat, that’s okay too.

Students are more than welcome to come sit and watch a class. The club meets Monday through Thursday from 1-3 PM. Being a first-time gym-goer of any kind can be scary and intimidating, even not knowing what you should wear can deter you from attending a class. Use that energy and let it motivate you. There are many options for MMA style classes right here on campus. Whether you want to try brazilian jiu-jitsu, muay thai, boxing, or judo… the possibilities really are endless.