How these Irish women conquered the anxiety of a first roll on the mat

I do like when I don’t have to come up with a good idea for an article. Much better to find someone elses and steal it. A few weeks ago I happened upon a facebook thread where a group of female martial arts enthusiasts discussed the anxiety they felt the first time they walked into an Mixed Martial Arts or other martial arts class.

I forget sometimes how male dominated the sport is and how intimidating it might be for young women to just breeze into a club or a class and just start swinging;especially where the vast majority of members are male.

The idea for the original post was that Indra Davis was trying to encourage a new member that had more than a little anxiety about the idea of rolling on the mats for the first time. The comments and responses to the post illustrated to the student that it was an anxiety that most if not all of the women faced and overcame. In other words she wasn’t alone. Imagine if all teachers went to this much trouble for a pupil. What an educational system we would have. Anyway let’s get to the good stuff!


Melissa Miskell

Oh man, sat nav’d my way to Shaolin, made it through the front door and my heart was pounding, very nearly turned just as quickly out the door shouting “nope” to myself πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

When I got a very smiley friendly hello from Indra Davis at the top of the stairs so up I went and made a new life long friend in her and met my coach, got absolutely hooked after my first ever double leg takedown πŸ˜‚ I never knew what jiu-jitsu was before that day and I am damn glad i didn’t turn away πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

Now I have faced new fears through competing in the sport and it’s a very worthwhile journey for continuous personal growth πŸ’–πŸ’–

Aisling Ni Fhalluin

Stepping on the mats for that first time was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, I was suffering with severe anxiety at the time & something led me to Shaolin. A random new Facebook friend Fiona O’Neill  & me both met and weathered that first experience together. My heart was beating just as fast as my mind was racing & (even though my coordination is as bad as ever πŸ˜‚) it was worse then & I felt like I never really had any control of my movements. I was always only ever in fight or flight mode on and off the mats because of my anxiety but you were there Indra Davis & told me that before you started you could barely tell your right from your left too and those words combined with some encouragement from Ben Davis & spotting Melissa Miskell who looked beautifully fierce & strong tearing into the bag doing ground and pound with such control, passion, and technique gave me hope that one day I might be able to improve myself too surrounded by the right people and right then I decided that I’d keep returning no matter how scared I initially was. Still so much to improve upon but my anxiety (except for a normal bad day we all have) is gone, I walk around a lot lighter, & even though my sense of direction & coordination is still atrocious I move from a place not of a hostile war within myself but from within a much more calmer space. Thank you for everything; family always β˜―οΈπŸ–€πŸ’›

Sadie Keary

Nervous badly nervous .. but the club is a family not like other clubs I’ve seen where some is to themselves and others the same everyone is with everyone we all click no matter the background … I loved fighting before this but now there is a whole new level of love between the members of the club and coaches ur made feel at home from day one anyway πŸ’™ best club sublaws and subleens

Kelly Campbell Ward

Was too afraid to come out of the changing rooms and rang my mam to collect me but Benjamin convinced me to stay and I haven’t stopped going since then πŸ’ͺ🏻❀️

Rosa Walsh

To be completely honest – I started jiu-jitsu on my own, for a boy unfortunately when I was 16, and he wasn’t even there my first class!. A ten year old was my first training partner and I was absolutely smoked , left feeling a little shook but intrigued- put 100% in the class and ended up vomiting later on that night due to exhaustionπŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚
I had been boxing from a young age before that and my boxing coach was like a grandad to me so I never had an issue with not feeling welcome. He was super protective over me being the only girl .Both boxing and jiu- jitsu always made me feel super welcome, never spoke about other girls etc.. as boys do πŸ˜‚.
I think it was a welcoming arrival to boxing and jiu-jitsu was definitely the reason I am still here 4 years later and still the only girl β€οΈ 

Catherine Boa Connolly 

I remember walking into Team Caveman for the first time! I was so scared I could hardly talk to the Head Coach Sean.. There were only men in the club and I asked myself what the hell am I doing here πŸ˜‚ Sean introduced himself to me and everyone in the team. They were so helpful and managed to get me relaxed and involved with the class.. Walking through them doors was the best thing I ever did. I was hooked on bjj from the first night I started πŸ˜€ I couldn’t ask for a nicer team/family to be apart of! I was welcomed with big hugs. I am truly grateful for everything my professors Sean Davitt, Adonias Miranda Filho and team mates have done for me.. I’ll be 3 years with Team Caveman PGT Ireland next month and it’s been an amazing journey so far πŸ˜ƒ


Sineadh Ni Nuallain

My 1st lord help meπŸ˜‚ I was so nervous!! πŸ˜‚ there wasn’t a girl in sight as you said yourself Indra Davis !! I fell in love with all my martials arts bjj, k1, mma so much I couldn’t not go backπŸ€·πŸ½β€β™€οΈπŸ€˜πŸ» having no girls led me down to you girliess at Shaolin and I’m grateful because now I have a group of gals to train with, especially Melissa MiskellπŸ’ͺ🏻❀️❀️

Zlata Lovett

My first day, it was cool. I didn’t had any emotional or psychological difficulties tho as I knew that I don’t know anything and I’m there to learn… My amazing colleague at the time Dawid took me to a Cathal Mannings gym for my first ever kickboxing class, it was fun, I had no idea what am I doing, but I liked it πŸ˜‚.

I think after 2 classes there Dawid and Sebastian brought me along to Shaolin in our Ladies boys club, at the time, that was the day I met Indra, Benjamin and Rowan πŸ˜ Indra partnered up with me and made me feel so welcomed πŸ–€ also that was the day when Ollie tried to choke me unconscious( I didn’t know yet what rolling was and I was chosen to roll after class. Also I didn’t know what was tapping either πŸ˜‚πŸ™ˆ).


Priscilla Batista

I started Muay Thai when I was 15, so 11 years ago. I never intended to be professional just for fun. The second month I was training my coach asked if I wanted to fight in an internal competition and I said Yes. After that I’d never leave martial arts anymore (he said that in that fight me and my partner looks like two dogs fighting πŸ€£πŸ€£ I had no idea what I was doing!)

I found it easy to start Muay Thai, and I loved since day 1, in jiu jitsu the history was different I was 21 and couldn’t accept my ridiculous motor coordination that didn’t allow me to even do “scape the hips” on the warm up or repeat the same technique in 3 classes and completely forget about in 4th class πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚
As usual, I’m persistent and Jiu Jitsu become my life now πŸ’•

Amy Nesbitt

I started the beginners course with my work friend ,walked in and about 20 lads warming up..stood at door contemplating whether to leave or not,  Then I heard in room next door Melissa Miskell taking the women’s class and I went in and never looked back . Got addicted straight awayπŸ’•β˜―οΈ

Reah Higgins

” I never intended to have a “first”. The coach just persuaded me to join in with my son, rather than watching. “Sure tis just like a fitness class” he said. And it was at first I guess but then I got more and more into it. We all joined as a family, gave it our all. Never missed a class, attended all the competitions. I will never forget the sense of achievement and the surprise as I improved, managed new moves and became more flexible. I began to love the sport and realised the whole ethos behind it from going to other clubs/comps. Seeing it all first hand helped me to respect something I did not even understand before. But unfortunately I didn’t have the wonderful experience of a good coach like the rest of ye here, I just did not feel he had my back. He was good at the actual sport I guess but totally missed out on the emotional and psychological support I (and others) needed. This should never be underestimated in my opinion. You can do it for yourself for so long and as a team you support one another but at the end of the day you need your coach to “get you” and to know how to carry you through. You can only so so much by yourself. It is so lovely to read the positive experiences above… For me “the first” I will never forget is my first competition. I made up my mind that day I was not going to fight but my hubby threw my gear in the car as we left. Our son fought and won. All the kids were so happy for him and then turned to me and said “Sure if he can do it so can you”. What choice did that leave me?! So I fought… And won!… And had to fight again in the final… And won!… But I did not go into those fights with the belief I would win. I was petrified and felt inadequate after seeing some amazing and experienced fights. So I told myself “Just do your best and try to score something. If you can get a score that is success for today and you can walk away without total despair”. So I focused on score after score rather than the fight as a whole.. Unfortunately I felt no support afterwards, no “well done” and no advice on what I could have done differently to improve for the next time. And that in itself stripped me of my confidence so there was no “next time”… So Indra and Ben, give yourselves a massive clap on the back. Ye recognise how important the mind is, aswell as the body, you create a family-like club with great support. And that is what makes you hugely successful… Big up πŸ‘πŸ’œπŸ‘ “

Fiona O’Neill

I remember that feeling of family as soon as I went to Shaolin with Aisling Ni Fhalluin. We had signed up for the beginners course, there was no backing out. We had tried another club and although my experience there was great I just felt more at home at Shaolin πŸ‘😊.  I knew that was were I wanted to be.
It was such a welcoming atmosphere and everyone was so nice. I remember getting stared at because i didn’t bow before I got on the mats, as a beginner I didn’t know any better.
I honestly can’t wait to get back if / when that time comes, even if its just to train again or throw a few punches on the bag. β˜―️πŸ‘ͺβ™₯️



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: