Fun & Adventure Beyond Your Wildest Dreams!
Story by Evelyn Sutton. Photos supplied by Grappling Getaways
I had a chance to sit down with April Parks, founder of Grappling Getaways and two of her camp instructors and founding members, Svenja Juffernbruch and Katie Hooven to learn more about their epic adventures traveling with Jiujiteiras all over the world with gis in their backpacks, and hearts on their sleeves. From a relaxing tropical paradise getaway to exciting themed Hocus Pocus Halloween in Salem, in this interview, I even got the scoop on the amazing upcoming vacations the team has planned for this year. I, personally, want to sign up for at least three: Costa Rica, Salem and Mexico City. Yet, all are thrilling!
“There is a special energy when you come into the room and you feel like you are part of something really cool”,Svenja Juffernbruch
Designed exclusively for women by women, Grappling Getaways all-ladies camps evolved out of a need for female training partners. At the time April started training (2011) there just weren’t enough women in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the Northeast. Julie Manasse and Val Masai-Aspaas, also founding members and instructors at the camps, experienced the same challenge, basically they would never have a chance to train with another female, something not uncommon for women who have been in Jiu-Jitsu for longer than a decade. When they would see each other at tournaments, they were often the only females competing, and they would make plans to get together in between tournaments to train but that just wasn’t enough. The ladies quickly realized that a single training session once in a while wasn’t what they needed, they really wanted to spend more time with each other, not only to train but also to share experiences on what it is like to be a woman on the mats. That’s when the light bulb turned on and April saw an opportunity to create a Jiu-Jitsu centered vacation camp for women, where we would be able to learn, train, travel, have fun, be ourselves and rip all the benefits that come from being part of a united sisterhood.
The ideology of Grapplings Getaways is built around empowerment, inclusion and encouragement. The women who attend these unique camps get to seek out new challenges on and off the mats with one-on-one coaching from highly experienced instructors. From advancing their Jiu-Jitsu by working on what they may have been struggling with and learning new concepts and techniques to participating on expeditions and tours they may not have otherwise. Katie explains the gratifying process of seeing women grow both as Jiujiteiras and in their own individual life paths at every camp:
“A big role that all of the instructors play in these camps is helping people step out of their comfort zone and encouraging them to do things they may be a little uncomfortable with. We carry ourselves with such great energy that everyone one at camp feels comfortable being vulnerable and doing things that may have been apprehensive to do whether that is a more demanding training session or an excursion. Whatever the case may be, they always seem to feel inspired by us and willing to be vulnerable and grow in a safe and nurturing environment.”
A women’s camp opens up space for meaningful conversations with peers who share important aspects of your identity as Jiujiteira, but also have different perspectives and life lessons to share. Grappling Getaways fosters an environment where women are able to really engage with what it means to show up as a female in a male-dominated world, learn from each other, redefine goals and realign intentions, find encouragement, solidarity, build courage and make friendships that last long after camp is over.
On a Jiu-Jitsu Mission
Gaining confidence in your technical skills is empowering. Attending a Grappling Getaways camp can help lay down the groundwork for Jiujiteiras to step up and take on leadership roles as instructors, mentors, and gym owners. And in our world, we want more women to stand out and contribute, become leaders. The organization plans to offer a Grappling Getaways Ambassadors program designed to do just that – inspire, train and empower Jiujiteiras from white to black belts and help them realize their full potential in our community, achieve their dreams and be able to make a living from the sport.
Elizabeth Clay is an example of this mission. April brought the talented grappler into Grappling Getaways to teach at camp when she was still a brown belt for the same a top male instructor would normally receive. “As one of the best female athletes in this sport, you should be able to live from it. Your talents and contributions should be recognized at the same rate as the men. I want to be a part of this change, that is really important for all of us and we are heading to a place where we will be able to empower even more women in Jiu-Jitsu.”
Ahead of each camp, the team of instructors gets together to plan and decide what they will be teaching and focusing on. It’s important to mention that some camps are vacation camps, meaning these will be packed with excursions and adventures as well as high level training sessions but they are nearly not as intense when it comes to the training as some of their competition camps. At the competition camps, the focus is on world-class grappling, the training sessions are long and arduous. Competition camps are for attendees who are getting ready to compete and looking to fine-tune their game and get an edge.
“We typically do even sessions of Gi and NoGi. We split it up between the teachers so if there’s six sessions we have six instructors, three Gi and three NoGi. We communicate our lesson plans and coordinate with each other, for instance if I’m teaching guard passes then Katie might be teaching sweeps as a follow-up to my class. Since we offer multiple camps throughout the year, we are always working on new content. We get a good amount of repeat campers every year, we want to bring something new for them to learn and continue to evolve their Jiu-Jitsu.”, April explains.
“We also like to open up for questions and discussions. If someone has something specific they want to learn or work on, we encourage them to. With the collectively level of expertise our instructors have, we can be flexible. We have a very experienced team who is able to address any questions our campers have and work on things on the fly. On the last day, we hold a Q&A session to give everybody an opportunity to go home feeling like they got the most out of their camp experience with us.”, says Katie.
Since 2015 April Parks and her staff have been providing Jiujiteiras unique vacations with the opportunity to learn from some of the best coaches and competitors in the word as well as integrate themselves in a community that is ready to support them in their BJJ journey.
The difference of Grappling Getaways is in the attention to details. One of the many benefits you get at this camp is the fact that the organizers go above and beyond to provide lodging that creates the feeling of a “girl’s sleepover”. Accommodations usually are at comfortable Airbnb properties with a level of luxury unparalleled to anything else currently offered in Jiu-Jitsu, plenty of room to stretch out and where the mats are always open for impromptu training sessions and questions instructors get asked at random times throughout the day. Having the teachers stay under the same roof as the students, accessible to share and provide guidance at any time makes a difference when it comes to learning and feeling comfortable. These camps are for travelling, going on adventures, bonding and learning some really good Jiu-Jitsu.
“We feel like we are 12 years old again even though we are all professional adults, it’s like we literally turn into what Katie and I like to call 5 year olds with money (laughs). Everyone is able to let their inner child come out to play. Sometimes we will get up in the morning, nobody cares to put on makeup or is worried about a little bit of fat hanging out of their bikini, we are not stressed over those little things that often bug women. We just want to have fun, enjoy each other’s company. It’s incredibly rewarding to create and facilitate these experiences for women who need time for themselves to just be happy in the moment.”, April tells us.
Renting out an Airbnb also allows for a deeper connection between women who seek out opportunites such as an all-women’s camp to be able to talk about the challenges they are finding being a female in Jiu-Jitsu and get advice from fellow Jiujiteiras. For those who may not have other women to train with at their home gyms the camp is a chance to learn from female instructors, be inspired by them, train and roll with other women — the very same reason why April started Grappling Getaways to begin with.
“We have the chance to connect with people on a totally different level. Maybe before dinnertime someone starts chatting with you and we get into these really deep emotional conversations, tears are shed, hugs are given and it’s really a beautiful thing. All of the instructors at our campsites have had these honest and much needed conversations and we also see the women having these chats with one another.”, says Katie.
The bonding between the ladies who attend Grappling Getaways Jiu-Jitsu camps starts from the very beginning. Many travel together to Syracuse, where the HQ is and from there, meet up with the instructors. That gives them an opportunity to get to know each other before they’ve arrived at the camp.
Sometimes the instructors will pick the campers up from the airport and they will drive together to the camp’s destination. Upon arrival, attendees receive a complete itinerary that breaks down all the training sessions, meal times, rest and recovery times and anything else they have planned. One of the details April likes to emphasize is that even though they make sure to have everything planned out for you, your final itinerary is flexible and completely up to you. The team understands that some women may want to participate and engage in all the activities on the schedule, while others may choose to skip hiking in favor of staying at the property enjoying the pool, resting or deciding to go on a different expedition of their own choosing. Whatever you decide to do, you are guaranteed to have the vacation of a lifetime with a group of supportive and mind-like women who will inspire you.
The camps welcome every belt level, from ladies who just started training a week ago to seasoned belts who have trained for decades. Occasionally they even get ladies who don’t train at all but want to come along for the adventure, share in the camaraderie and maybe are a little curious about Jiu-Jitsu. April says that often what happens is a woman will come to camp with the intention of “only watching” some of the training sessions and within a day she is on the mats trying it out for herself and having a great time. That’s the kind of atmosphere Grappling Getaways creates, one that helps people feel comfortable to learn and safe to experience something new that may be outside of their comfort zone.
Rooms are typically pre-assigned when you book your camp. You may have a roommate or your own room if you reserved it that way. The camp instructors will have everyone setup and ready to go before the first training session, which is more of an orientation. April explains:
“What’s really awesome about the instructors we manage to feature at our camps is that they are open books, compassionate and full of knowledge. They are often individuals who people feel very comfortable talking to. Even if at the beginning of camp there was some anxiety about training, doing the expeditions or meeting new people, that anxiety usually doesn’t last very long. People tend to bond very quickly and everyone feels like they are part of a family.”
“There is a special energy when you come into the room and you feel like you are part of something really cool”, Svenja adds.
“At our Halloween camp last year, as we were going around the room introducing ourselves, one of the campers shared she came to camp alone and didn’t know anybody there. Her coach encouraged her to attend, which is fantastic considering he is a male coach, and that she was already feeling comfortable, any anxiety she had before arriving had dissipated, she was happy to be there. That’s something super gratifying to hear as a camp instructor”, Katie shares.
By the end of the vacay, strong bonds have developed between the women and they often maintain their new friendships long after camp is over. You will see them interacting with each other on social media, sharing accomplishments and offering support. If one of them has a competition coming up, you’ll see a friend they made at camp post, “I’m coming to support you!” and driving two hours to go train and help get their sister ready.
Meet the Team
Founder | Head Coach
April Parks is the founder and creator of Grappling Getaways. A multi-world Champion, April holds championship titles from IBJJF and is a Eddie Bravo’s Medusa Female-Only Jiu-Jitsu tournament veteran, having competed in Medusa’s inaugural event in Cancún last year. She is a black-belt under Carlos Machado and is currently getting ready to open her own gym with her husband this summer in Syracuse, New York, where she resides. April is a busy career woman with an extensive background in education. She works for the Syracuse City School District and is a mom of four very active children.
Founding Member | Instructor | Foreign Brand Ambassador | Camp Chef
Svenja is a BJJ brown belt and IBJJF European champion from Switzerland. She is one of the international instructors camp attendees have the opportunity to learn from and train with.
A foodie and experienced restaurateur, when she’s not on the mats teaching Jiujiteiras how to pass and smash, Svenja is in the kitchen preparing delicious meals that keep everyone well nourished and happy at camp.
Instructor | Administrative Staff
Katie is a brown belt under Garry Tonon and currently trains with John Danaher at New Wave Jiu-Jitsu in Austin, TX. With a detailed and thorough approach in her instruction, Katie is able to connect with all students, teach powerful submissions and advanced techniques in simple and effective ways easy to comprehend at any Jiu-Jitsu level.
Whether it’s your traditional red and blue barbecue themed Memorial Day weekend, swimming with wild pigs on an island in the Bahamas, dressing up for Hocus Pocus in Salem, or celebrating Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico City, you simply can’t go wrong when booking your Jiu-Jitsu vacation with Grappling Getaways. Check out their calendar of upcoming camps for this year, go online and reserve yours! Their camps sell out fast.
The Bahamas camp coming up on April 11-15th is SOLD OUT. This is their only co-ed camp, giving Jiujiteiras the option to bring along boyfriends, husbands, brothers, sons and vice-versa. Couples accommodations and women’s-only lodging are available based on your preference. The properties are private and located directly on the beach in the exclusive island of Spanish Wells, off of Eleuthera, with plenty of fun to be had by everyone with multiple mind-blowing excursions: swimming with pigs and stingrays, Glass Bridge and Queen’s Bath — a secluded location considered one of nature’s true wonders. Elizabeth Clay joins the team as one of the guest instructors on this trip.
In Tamarindo, Costa Rica, Grappling Getaways will be hosting their camp at Hero Academy, a Jiu-Jitsu school deeply rooted in the local community.
Jiujiteiras will enjoy a vibrant tropical paradise of miles of beaches, some of the best surfing in the world, an abundance of wildlife, breath-taking landscapes, excellent cuisine, boutique shopping and more.
This camp is extra special because part of the proceeds will go to support Hero Academy’s program of sponsoring young kids to learn and train BJJ free of charge. This is one of many ways Grappling Getaways has found to give back to our community around the globe.
They are also heading to Mexico City for what is sure to be a cultural experience like no other for Dia de Los Muertos. Itzel Bazua Aguilar, Mexico’s first female BJJ black belt is a guest instructor at this camp and attendees will participate in the actual parade that takes place in the city. All camp attendees will have their faces painted and go shopping for traditional dresses.
Grappling Getaways has done such an amazing job with their camps that when I asked the staff what is their most memorable experience to date, it was almost impossible for them to pick one. They each pour out their hearts and souls at these events and return so fulfilled from them, they have many special memories of every camp they’ve attended.
However, a recent single experience does stand out for all of them, the Mystery Dinner at last year’s Halloween camp. Every detail was so carefully planned and the execution so elaborate, the result was an extraordinare event above everyone’s expectations. They even hired a professional actress to run the show. Campers were instructed to dress up as their assigned dinner characters and they had a lot of fun with the costumes, from beautiful gowns to golden faces, the Mystery Dinner was a hit and there’s a good possibility there will be another one.
Their Halloween camp is the most popular and this year, Grappling Getaways is going to Salem, Massachusetts, famous for its 1692 witch trials, during which several locals were executed for allegedly practicing witchcraft. The theme of the camp is Hocus Pocus, the classic family movie. This is April’s favorite camp. There are ghost haunting tours and a Monster’s Ball planned. As a special bonus, there will be a professional photographer doing movie style smoke bomb photo shoots for all the camp atendees. The photo shoot is included in your Halloween camp registration. Go register! Don’t wait!
For these creative and dedicated women, the future holds more grappling adventures in paradise and exotic locations. The ladies mention a few destinations that are in the deep bucket list: Arizona, Lake Tahoe and a camp on a boat in Santorini Greece are some of the vacations you might see offered by GG very soon.
For more and to book your trip:
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