What is Camp?
In late July, I had a chance to attend an all-women’s jiu jitsu grappling camp in Princeton, New Jersey, with one of my teammates who told me about the event as it was advertised on Instagram. I almost didn’t make it to the camp since there was a large waiting list, but fortunately I got off with plenty of time to make arrangements and prepare.
I had a lot of expectations about this camp and anxiety, too, since it was my first big trip meeting so many strangers in a jiu jitsu environment. For people who are curious about how my experience went, well, keep reading and hopefully be entertained!
An extremely packed schedule
The camp had an extremely packed schedule, which was made more crazy by the fact that I took a train very early out of Amtrak station and started the camp on the same day. In addition, even though I stayed at a block of rooms with a generous discount, the hotel was far from the actual host school, which factored in extra costs and time if I wanted to go back in between sessions. If I were to do a camp like this again, I would stay very close to the host school for the added convenience of not having to count and figure out how many rashguards (or how little) I could get away with during the entire day.
Along with this packed schedule meant an extremely packed bag, since I didn’t want to be doing extra laundry during the trip. Looking back at this I sort of regret not going the laundry route, since I ended up having to wear my gi a little longer than I wanted to during some sessions anyways (especially on Saturday, when they invited us to the extra regular Saturday’s class). My suitcase was very heavy and added to the stress, which has once again reminded me to pack light for any trips that I go on in the future.
I did a lot of non-training things that were still awesome
I kind of thought that the entire time we would be doing jiu jitsu but there was actually a lot to absorb in the camp itself. A notable activity we did was the ice bath during the Wim Hof session, where the water was incredibly cold and daunting. I had some experience dealing with extreme cold but I was still nervous about getting in the water. Once I could catch my breath and realized that I wasn’t gonna die, I posed for some pictures with my platypus.
We also had a really amazing roundtable discussion with the instructors leading the camp, and there were a lot of raw stories about their growth and journey in jiu jitsu. This was by far my favorite part of the camp as the people that I had idolized the past few years were telling stories that made them decidedly human. I even shed a few tears because I was so touched by their stories. Also, I scarfed down an entire takeout container’s worth of chicken teriyaki and rice that was exactly what I needed after a long day of drilling.
I had a great time, but it was overwhelming as well
I remember feeling so starstruck and in awe of the jiu jitsu celebrities that were there and just found myself really unable to focus on anything. Looking back now I probably would have been more centered had this camp come in the middle of a normal year, but since it had been a very long time since I had seen this many people training together, I was very much overwhelmed. I also felt like I needed to hold my own as a blue belt among the other blues in the room, especially when it came time to roll, because I viewed it as a way to test myself and what I had gained from the modest few weeks prior that I had spent working on double sleeve guard.
Looking back now, I think I could have done some things differently to moderate my overwhelm. First, I clearly expected too much of myself to perform, instead of being there to train and to learn. I would not pressure myself to play THE guard that I had been working on and then HAVE to film it. Second, I would be more open to seeking out newer, less experienced people to roll with, because I could handle the pressure while trying out some new things, and maybe even serve as a positive role model for them. Third, I would have taken more time to just wait for partners to come to me instead of forcing myself to ask for partners to roll with. Just keeping training more casual would have helped since when it came time for situationals, I found myself very stressed about the outcomes.
I would have also done a better job taking notes of the techniques that were done and focusing on the details. My eyes sort of glazed over after the first day and I wish I had been more diligent about paying attention in class. Because there were so many people on the mats, I felt like I was distracted constantly. I think next camp will be better once I get used to the feeling of having so many people around me and being prepared for that kind of chaos.
Observing long-lived friendships
I was particularly impressed at how well all of the black belt instructors worked together to create seamless chains of techniques that allowed them to swap out one person for another in terms of demonstrating the techniques.
In addition, all the instructors genuinely seemed to like each other, which was in stark contrast to the drama that plays out on social media and jiu jitsu news venues. Jiu jitsu unfortunately has no shortage of poor sportmanship and petty rivalries, and as an amateur in this sport, it’s super jarring and unnecessary from my point of view. So, given that these people were really true friends to each other, I felt a little glimmer of hope of what my jiu jitsu community could look like in the future.
I still love jiu jitsu but I have a different view of what it can mean for me
This camp only lasted 3 days but it has taken me well over 3 weeks to process how it has impacted my training and outlook on jiu jitsu. I met a lot of different people in a short span of time and everyone in every stage of their training journeys.
I could see myself coming back as an older (and wiser, and less frantic) purple belt, a tired brown belt, and finally a fully evolved black belt (though the last two ranks are a bit fuzzy as I peer into the future).
I saw myself in a lot of the instructor’s personalities and in the way they taught and related with the students; in the way they laughed at their own jokes; in the subtle but iconic moments of flair in their uniforms and cutoff shorts.
And also there was a part of me that recognized that this part of the jiu jitsu journey, of my journey, was carving out a path for myself that made sense for me, and not necessarily what others trumpeted as the version of success that everyone else should follow in jiu jitsu. It gave me hope in a sport that I’ve found tough, frustrating, and disheartening many times, that I could eventually grow to love every part of what this art has to offer, and to give back so that others may reap those gifts for themselves.
Thank you for reading and reflecting,