While most BJJ classes are coed, camps aren’t generally geared toward more than one gender. Groundswell Grappling Concepts, headed up by Emily Kwok, Valerie Worthingon, Hanette Staack, and Lola Newsom, has taken on the task of changing that. Emily, a black belt under Marcelo Garcia, was kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions about what went into getting their coed grappling camps going.
Why did you decide to start holding co-ed camps?
We’re going on 5 years running camps across North America for women. Many of their training partners, instructors, relatives and significant others had heard about the unique experiences they were having and requested that we begin allowing men to come.
What hurdles/objections (if any) have you run into?
Hm. None. lol. Well, time constraints mostly. GGC is run but the four of us but we all have other commitments so it wasn’t easy to find the time. Also, we want to be careful to not take anything away from what got us to this point in the first place – our extremely successful women’s camps. We have learned so much from working with all these fabulous women that we felt confident enough to venture forth!
What issues do you anticipate?
We are careful to move slowly, and we realize that though our needs may be similar, men and women are different creatures! We hope that we can be sensitive enough to intelligently navigate our differences and habits, though we do firmly believe that the men who are interested in attending one of our camps will self select and be informed about what our events are like.
Do you market them any differently than single-gender camps?
We’re trying to…introducing some co-gender friendly graphics vs. a smattering of female focused pictures and language.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to do the same thing in their local BJJ community?
‘If you do it, they will come…’ I think we are conditioned to operate from a position of passiveness and insecurity. Meaning, if it hasn’t been done before, it’s because no one is interested or it’s a silly idea. Everything GGC has built itself to be today has come from a process of – inspiration, experimentation and refinement. It’s the only way to broaden the scope of what this BJJ community is, and will be. We must be our own inventors and believers!
You mentioned in an interview with OpenMatRadio that certain moves can play out different based on gender. Do you have any examples? Do you factor that into what you’re presenting at the camps?
Sure, we usually host some roundtable discussions over the course of our camps. These discussions are integral to keeping our finger on the pulse of the general practitioners’ sentiments about various issues in the BJJ community. We may choose to moderate or guide discussions in a different way now that we have mixed genders. In essence we would try to make more room for each others’ perspectives. An interesting discussion might be to understand how we experience and observe training divided by gender and as individuals. To be careful as to not make it a discussion purely about men and women training together, but to hear how men would describe their experiences being the majority, then to hear how women feel being the minority, then possibly hear about how they feel about training with the other gender. The idea would be to create productive and engaging dialogue amongst the group about this and other issues so that we can help lay the groundwork for a more cohesive and cooperative community.
What do you hope people will take away from the experience?
As we have learned – every camper will take what they need from this experience. For some, it may be about learning new technique, for others it may be about meeting like minded people, or having the opportunity to engage with an assortment of black belts. We hope that we will be able to deliver on every level and allow people to take away what they will. We try to cater to the whole grappler, because those of us who have been committed to this martial art know that it gives us so much more than physical release, but we may not always have the resources around us to get everything we need.
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