If you are a female BJJ practitioner looking for a camp in which you will receive some excellent training from the top not black belts you need look no further than the Grapplin’ Gals camps Sonia Sillan and her Partner Jamel (Jei) Kennedy put together. Champions such as Mackenzie Dern & Hannette Staack can teach are just a few you to name that teach ladies who really want to get their roll on the most unintimidating environment. Sillan personally believes that “although women can get fantastic training from rolling with guys, it's a completely different experience to be able to roll at the same intensity as other females. As a new jiu-jitsu player, instead of spending an eternity focusing on survival, you can actually play and evolve your game; you can really figure out what works and you have a technique down when you are matched equally with an opponent of your size and build.”
Sonia and Jei
Sonia Sillan started training BJJ in June of 2009 one year after having reconstructive hip surgery. She was diagnosed with congenital hip dysplasia (shallow hip sockets) at 20 but continues in her BJJ pursuits and on a very definite path. When Sillan started BJJ, she was hooked, but her body did not move the way she needed it to. She was one of two girls that trained consistently at her gym. Drilling caused no discomfort, the sparring did. She was constantly smashed or because people were aware of the surgery they didn’t give her a real challenge on the mats. Eventually Sillan entered her first official tournament, as a blue belt, with only an in-house tournament under her belt in 2011. She experienced what most girls experienced their first time competing, she lost. Sillan’s loss came at the hands of her now teammate Amanda Loewen, and one of Oregon's first female black belts. The loss brought the realization to Sillan that women don't get enough realistic training experiences and thus the concept for the first Grapplin' Gals Open Mat was born.
The first GGs happened in 2012 when Sillan and partner Jamel (Jei) Kennedy were starting their own gym Straight Blast Gym of Seattle. They brought GGs along in order to mold it into exactly what they envisioned it to be. GGs moved from small open mats to full blown training camps. The goal has always been the same. On the website the following statement still holds true http://ggbjj.com/: "Our focus is on increasing the standard of jiu-jitsu techniques for women training in the Pacific Northwest. Although BJJ isn't as popular here in the PNW [it's definitely growing], it is still home to some of the toughest and most hardworking women in the sport. We aim to support the growth and progress in women's BJJ locally and nationally." After experiencing difficulties in training, and in competition, Sillan wanted to provide an environment for women to be able to come together and just train – learn, roll, laugh, have fun, figure out how to keep hair in line.
The candidness of Sillan endears one to the struggles of the BJJ woman seeking to create her ideal training environment. “To be completely honest, running our gym has put some road blocks in GGs because I haven't been able to put as much time and effort into it as I would like to, but the camps make everything work. It's amazing seeing all these ladies come together to train, to build connections, to see incredible camaraderie. Being an unaffiliated organization has been absolutely incredible as well; although the camps are being held at SBG Seattle, I feel like the BJJ community has grown.” The 2012 opening of SBG Seattle came with a surprising lack of support for Sillan and Kennedy. Initially they had some hiccups, because departing from their previous gym to start anew involved a great deal of turmoil and underlying politics. Some colleagues have remained since the change and some have not however, just like anything in life everything has a reason and a season. Now that people are recognizing SBG Seattle as a legitimate venture with knowledgeable owners/coaches instead of medal chasers or scam artists things have gotten easier. Sillan’s current successes have not come without some MAJOR sacrifices, “we were almost one Safeway stop away from the baby aisle, stocking up on baby wipes and doing our field baths the way the military does. It’s been an interesting ordeal, but as we grow as a gym, Grapplin’ Gals grows.”
Recap 2014 Women's BJJ Camp in Mexico City with Sophia McDermott Drysdale and Mackenzie Dern hosted by Itzel Aguilar.
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go”. T.S. Eliot if a dream is a wish your heart makes, then purple belt Itzel Bazua Aguilar (Instructor/Owner Prohamos BJJ Academy Mexico City, Mexico) has one hell of a heart. This past July Bazua Aguilar’s dream of a lifetime came to fruition when 21 women from six different countries including world renowned black belt champions Sophia McDermott Drysdale and Mackenzie Dern showed up to her home to participate in her international women’s only camp. This was a non-traditional setting. Bazua Aguilar brought a more personalized touch to the table. The camp was held inside her home where the women were also housed. This accounted for an experience that no one, including Bazua Aguilar, could have ever been imagined.
Each day started with breakfast then a two-hour drilling session. A break would occur for a lunch, free time, a snack, followed by another two hour drilling session, dinner, free time, snack and then bed. The schedule was regimented, the training, strenuous, but absolutely worth every minute of it. According to attendee Maytee Rojas Burton, (Xtreme Kombat Academy Tsunamis Team, Mexico City, Mexico)“I started martial arts three years ago, first boxing, then Muay Thai, grappling two years later, then MMA and BJJ one year ago. Before camp I liked BJJ least, I've always been more into Muay Thai. After camp I love BJJ so much more.”
Six different countries brought so many different skill levels and perspectives to the table. Each and every lady on deck had a unique training style that the other ladies admired and were eager to observe. Seeing affiliate teams embrace and discuss how they felt they were lacking made it clear, the participants of Bazua Aguilar’s Dream were part of history in the making. Women in Mexico do not have the same training opportunities across the board in BJJ as women in other countries. BJJ is still in its infancy for women there. Bazua Aguilar’s goal of providing a place for women (specifically women in Mexico) to network and have a “safe place” to train was off to an amazing start from day one. Every single woman stepped into the camp treating the environment as if she were training at her home gym and the house as if it were her home.
A cleaning staff and cook were in place but each person still decided to contribute. The house was harmonious from camp start to finish. Perhaps it was the combination of people, perhaps it was the right circumstances. One thing is absolutely sure, you must acknowledge the three women that made it all possible an Impossible dreamer and two world champs. Estefania (Vicky) Ortiz (Prohamos BJJ Academy Mexico City, Mexico) was quite eager to participate in the camp. Although her time was cut short due to a collarbone injury, her enthusiasm was felt and much appreciated by all those that continued on, “Before the camp I only had been training four months. I really had little time to train. I was intimidated about attending camp, but had a lot of excitement and curiosity to go and meet other girls who love what I love and to learn from them in many ways.”
Many came to train and had the experience of a lifetime. The leader at the helm, Sophia McDurmott Drysdale keenly observed and showed every girl her weakness (and how to improve upon it) her strength (and how to capitalize upon it). The one on one sessions the very first day improved each girl’s technique by the next session. A simple adjustment and your choke is much more potent. Your triangle is all the more lethal. I don’t think anyone will ever forget to incorporate “baaabie arms” as long as they live. When pushed to the absolute brink and unable to go another second, another black belt loaded with energy kept all of the women motivated and moving.
Mackenzie Dern has a little something extra in her bag of tricks. If she wasn’t checking those belts, she was checking those attitudes. She bounced onto the mats every single day and when everyone else was beaten down and exhausted, both Drysdale and Dern transmitted an energy into the room that brought them back to life. The minute drills began it was like “wonder twins activate form of badass black belts.” Drysdale and Dern were definitely their own “Dynamic Duo” and without a doubt combining their experience, skill level and natural teaching abilities they were meant to lead this group of women. No one would or could have been better.
Dern reflects upon her time with Drysdale, “Leading with Sophia was so great! First, it helped me so much! It was really good to have a second opinion on things about the camp with her. And I learned so much from her! We have fought each other in the tournaments, so it was really good to be together and train and learn from each other without the pressure or having to win! It was so great having her!” After all was said and done, one would say that the Impossible Dream became an Absolute Reality. Bazua Aguilar had a platform to share. In order to ensure that her platform would reach the target BJJ audience, photographer Angel Cabellero documented the process.
This group of women came together bonded by their love of BJJ. When arriving in Mexico City, no one knew what lie ahead. No one knew who they would meet or what they might learn from them. One thing was for sure, everyone was in this for the soul of the sport. Each and every woman came because BJJ has touched her in a special way. Helping Bazua Aguilar enlighten the Mexican community about the beauty of this sport was an added bonus. Each day at Prohamos BJJ Academy was better than the last. However, just as things begin, so to must they end. One by one the ladies had to return to their home academies. The mood was somber when that time came but filled with memories of a lifetime.
When asked to give parting thoughts on the camp, Melissa Lujan said, “inspirational, educational energizing, and motivational." The conceptualized dream became all Bazua Aguilar hoped for and so much more. What all of this all boils down to for those that took part and the ones who will learn about it one way or another is, “The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.” Sarah Ban Breathnach
Jiu Jitsu, Striking, Wrestling and MMA October 10th-15th, 2012
Javier Vazquez is a veteran of the octagon, and has fought for UFC, WEC, EliteXC, Shooto and KOTC with 31 fights and 16 wins. He is hosting a 6 day training camp in Rancho Cucamonga California. Camp includes a trip to San Diego to watch the Metamoris Pro event.
I had to come back to you to give you an update on the awesome opportunity I was offered last month, because it just got better.
If you have been following BJJ Legends at all you know that there are a ton of friends of the magazine.We’ve had the likes of Robert Drysdale, Kron Gracie, Roger Gracie, and Jeff Glover on our YouTube page.On the pages of the magazine we’ve had people like Kyra Gracie, Lloyd Irvin, and Leo Viera.
Each one of these people have talked to me at one point in time about the benefits of going to Brazil to train, and I believe them because I’ve seen the benefits in their performance.