By Valerie Worthington. Photo by Emily Kwok.
On January 25, 2010, 30 female grapplers met at Big John McCarthy’s Ultimate Training Academy (http://www.bjmuta.com) in Valencia, CA, for the third semi-annual women’s grappling camp (http://www.womensgrappling.org). Led by black belts Felicia Oh and Emily Kwok and brown belt Valerie Worthington, all of whom are competition tested and decorated, the camp was the brainchild of Oh’s student Alaina Hardie. “I envisioned a situation in which women could train, troubleshoot, lead, and instruct each other in a non-competition setting,” Hardie commented, noting that typically, any woman who trains finds very few, if any, other women at her academy, making it potentially more intimidating and more difficult to gauge progress realistically.
Hardie floated the idea of the camp by Oh, an instructor at BJMUTA, who enlisted the help of her long-time friend and training partner Worthington, who also trains and teaches grappling in Southern California, at New Breed Academy in Santa Fe Springs (http://www.newbreedacademy.com). Oh then reached out to Kwok, who trains and teaches in New Jersey, to round out the leadership of the camp. “I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into,” Kwok states. “But after three sessions, it’s clear that this camp changes lives.” Oh comments, “We thought for the first camp we’d get 10 people. But eventually we had to cap it at 30. Then the second time, we had to cap it again. And the third time around, we just went with it and realized we were on to something bigger than we had anticipated.”
For the week-long camp, women from all over the United States and Canada came together at BJMUTA, where the inaugural session was held in February 2009. The second session was held at MECCA (http://meccamma.ca) in Toronto in August 2009.
Campers experienced full days that included gi and no-gi technique and training sessions run by Oh, Kwok, and Worthington, as well as strength and conditioning classes; lectures on nutrition, wellness, teambuilding and coaching; and round table discussions that reflect the instructors’ belief that jiu jitsu is about life.
Campers discussed the challenges they face as women who train, and shared reality checks about whether those were issues unique to women, or whether they were issues that all grapplers face, regardless of gender. Depending on their experience level, they learned techniques, took opportunities to teach and lead, and pushed themselves in the sport they have grown to love.
“The camp was never about excluding men,” Worthington asserted. “I know I speak for Emily and Felicia when I say that whatever success we have had in grappling is directly attributable to our mostly male instructors and training partners.” And all three are grateful for the education, support, and friendship they have received from these men. What the camp does do is help women feel empowered to go back and make a positive contribution to other grapplers, both female AND male, in their own corner of the grappling world.
The camp has become bigger than the women who come to it, as evidenced by the people who have stepped up to support it. Big John McCarthy made the first and third camps possible by opening his academy to the campers. Similarly, Mark Stables, who runs MECCA, welcomed campers to Toronto last summer and will be hosting again this coming August. Multiple time Pan-American and world champion Lucas Leite, when he heard about the camp, offered to come and show the campers some of his competition-tested techniques. Sponsors for the camp who have donated gear, supplements, products, and clothing to the campers include Dr. Smoothie, Ouano International, Precision Nutrition, Athletic Body Care, Lightforce Greens, Genuine Health, Nutrition Club, Jiu Jitsu Pro Gear, REDSTAR, Bang Fitness, Catfight Gear, and Toraki. Participants’ training partners, significant others, and friends have asked about how they can get involved. Oh, Kwok, Worthington, and Hardie plan to continue the camps and expand their vision to include mini-camps, seminars, and co-promotion with tournaments, demonstrating that developing the leadership potential of women in grappling can positively influence grappling in general.
For further information on the women’s grappling camp, refer to http://www.womensgrappling.org.