Baby’s First BJJ Globetrotters: Beach Camp Pärnu 2022

I had heard that the BJJ Globetrotters camps have a nice atmosphere AND high-quality teaching, but attending one had always sounded like a lot of work. On a good week I train BJJ for 6-7 hours. I had never attended a camp or seminar that lasted more than three days. The first Beach Camp Pärnu promised 25 hours of classes, 3 hours of daily Open Mat and additional attractions on top of that. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if my body and mind could take that much excitement.

In the end, I did purchase a late ticket. What sealed the deal for me wasn’t the week’s full itinerary, good reviews from former camps, gym mates attending, the relatively easy travel or even the laid-back philosophy of the Globetrotters network. It was Laura saying that the people truly were very nice and that she would be working at the camp. I don’t always do everything my friends suggest, but the prospect of rolling with Laura for the first time in three years was tempting. Besides, even if the camp wouldn’t be for me, I had never been to Pärnu before and could tick that part of Estonia of my list.

Let me tell you how one week doing BJJ in Pärnu went down.

Start with a cry, things will look up from there

The boat left Helsinki on Monday at 9 am. I hadn’t slept because I was either so excited for the camp or panicked about missing my ride. Possibly both. By noon we were in Tallinn. Me and my travel companions rolled into town on Monday afternoon, after the camp had already officially opened and the first open mat was underway.

I loved the buzzling chaos of Pärnu Spordihall when we arrived, mats filled with people rolling and chatting and laughing. After registering, locating our AirBnB and attending two classes, one of the first things I did at the camp was to have a bit of a cry.

It wasn’t really anyone’s fault, I heard one remark that slightly harshed my groove and my eyes welled up. We sat with Laura on the edge of the mat until she told me to go get some rest.

Bed BJJ Globetrotters Pärnu 2022
My bed in the AirBnB, complete with lights, a monkey, and a Minion.

I blame the 1.5 hours of sleep I’d had the night before. I am sensitive, but not so sensitive I would ever tear up that easily under normal circumstances. When most campers were enjoying the camp’s opening party at a pub, some well into the next morning, I took to my bed in the AirBnB. It was a literal children’s bed, Christmas lights included. I attached a picture just because it was so over the top. I woke up the next morning at 8 am and was absolutely fine.

Tip: if you’re going to do a six-day BJJ camp, arrive the day before. Nothing wrong with feelings, but you might feel better about yourself when your reactivity is better than a two-year old’s.

17 hours of classes in 6 days

I had previously experienced seminar weekends where 6 hours of instruction had been enough to fry my brain. Most days, the camp week provided 5 hours of 60-minute classes in total. Some of the instructors were familiar faces to Estonia-savy me, namely THE Priit Mihkelson and Jorgen Matsi who runs dear old Voimla. Some name-dropping will follow in this section, please bear with me.

I had to go all the way to Pärnu to receive some morsels of kneeshield and omoplata wisdom from Tuomas Heiskari, who teaches at Loop Jiu-jitsu a couple of kilometres from where I live in Helsinki. Other highlights included Brussels-based Hélène Wegner reminding me how to attempt opening a closed guard without standing up, Aaron Ross’ over-underpass details and several different classes devoted to half-guard. Like I have mentioned before, I navigate to half-guard a lot but have lacked tools to continue from there. I like to think I now have couple more ideas from both ordinary and deep half-guard.

In the instruction of Giles Garcia, I experienced both my most easily genius and almost completely baffling classes. Giles is a Glaswegian black belt I hadn’t known I needed in my life until I arrived in Pärnu. “I tend to swear a lot, if you have a problem with that, fuck off”, were maybe not his very first opening lines but close enough. I’m not big on tone policing so this sounded absolutely bang-on.

The easy to grasp but genius new thing: the seatbelt grip is the go-to control grip we are often taught, especially in no-gi, but Giles did a class on what he called the Nosferatu grip. The name comes from the way doing it right looks, as if you’re about to take a chunk out of your mate’s neck. Attached is a photo of my friend Outi demonstrating the grip. I think Giles told her not to make that face when Cristiana, who documented the proceedings with amazing tenacity, took the picture.

Outi and Sohvi doing the Norferatu grip in BJJ Globetrotters camp.
It’s easier to drill the Nosferatu grip if you also do the face, no matter what Giles says. Photo: Cristiana Teodoli

The baffling thing: k-guard. I’d literally never seen one before, and getting into the right position came with a lot of wriggling. I loved the idea but can admit I didn’t crack this interesting new venture in the 60 minutes we had for it. I was partnered with a friendly Scot who was very, very patient with me. He did say: “You’re probably the chattiest Finn I’ve ever met”, and guilty as charged. I blame the childhood years spent in Belgium and the anxiety disorder that makes me even more talkative when I feel out of my depth. At some point, there were maybe four Scotland-based people reassuring me that a successful k-guard is not beyond my reach. I was very touched by the support, but honestly didn’t feel too bad. Even if the k-guard is not the most natural thing for someone my size and patience, I was intrigued and will probably try to unlock its mysteries at some later time.

BJJ Globetrotters camp Pärnu 2022 k-guard
When you encounter the k-guard for the first time ever. I look a bit like I’m crying, but I swear this time I was just confused. 😀 Photo: Cristiana Teodoli

In total, I did 17 hours of classes in six days at the camp! I would have clocked in 20 if I hadn’t started the last camp day with losing my bank card. After cancelling the card, it just felt like a good idea to have a nap and only turn up for the final Open Mat that day. But 17 hours of technique was far more I thought I could muster the enthusiasm for. I’m also very pleased I managed to make notes of all the classes. If you don’t process what you’ve learned in some form or another, you’re likely to forget a day’s classes by the next day. Or at least I would not remember a thing.

In summary, good 17 classes, would do them again.

16 rounds of rolling

As I had decided to focus on attending classes at this camp, I took a relaxed attitude to the open mats for most of it. Until Saturday, I only rolled 1-2 rounds per day (excluding the Monday when I was more busy crying and didn’t roll at all), prioritising the possibility to roll more with specific people over sparring just for the sake of it. It was a good strategy, as hours of daily classes were strenuous enough for my stamina.

The last day of camp, I decided to let rip (in the most friendly way possible) and see how much I could roll. 11 rounds was pretty good for someone like me who usually stops after 8.

Have I mentioned Globetrotters camp open mats come with themed music for each day? Unfortunately for me Shoegazing Indie was not on the list, but hip hop and classic rock were represented. The rounds weren’t timed either, so people could figure out on their own when they’d had enough.

Extra memorable rolls for white belt me:

  1. Rolling with another non-binary person for the first time as far as I know, who knows a lot more about BJJ than me but especially about leglocks. These minutes made me really happy.
  2. A white belt who told me they hadn’t had the chance to train for a while before the camp and that made them a bit nervous. I asked them to roll and they smiled. Reminding them about things like guard retention was good revision for me too.
  3. The minutes I spend with the aforementioned black belt Hélène who is probably half my size and who, of course, mounted me countless times during the roll. I like the feeling of being tossed around by someone better than me, but it feels extra cool when the other person is also tiny.
  4. I did get my roll with Laura on Wednesday. I have improved since 2019 but could do very little that would work against her. “You need a plan for getting out of side control”, she remarked when the roll was done. “I have a plan, it’s trying to get out of there.” “You need a better plan.” “Fair enough.”

(So in other news, side control escapes are still a developing area over here.)

The flesh is weak aka my big yoga fail

Even you don’t do all classes, spar three hours every day and jump around in the karaoke bar until you’re thrown out at 5 am, a week’s worth of BJJ starts to HURT at some point. It was brilliant that the camp offered an hour worth of yoga each day with a knowledgeable instructor. What was less brilliant for someone like me was that it was at 9 am every morning. I took early nights, but was still so exhausted every evening that waking up early enough didn’t really happen. I made it to yoga one (1) morning, a bit late, and even then bailed out early to finish my notes from the classes of the day before. What I was able to actually do that time did feel glorious in my tired body.

(Next camp I’m going to try harder to do the yoga. Especially if I start sparring with more vigour than I did at this camp.)

The bog monster almost ate me & other activities

The Globetrotter camps come with daily social activities, both pre-planned and impromptu ones, frequently bar-based. I’m boring, so partying well into the next morning is the opposite of what I personally enjoy, no matter how friendly the people involved are. I can see the attraction though and appreciate the way it strengthens social bonds. Besides, I try not to take my BJJ too seriously. I’d rather spend a week training with people wanting to go easy because they haven’t been to bed since Monday than say, 15 elite competitors.

I did attend the closing party on Saturday evening though and took it as the chance to say goodbye to all my favourite people from camp. By 11 pm I had fist-bumped or hugged everyone I could find, took my rental bike and cycled back to the AirBnB past the beach, a load of early 20th century wooden detached houses and Soviet-era concrete blocks, and felt completely serene and happy. A rarity for me.

On a whim, I also decided to say yes to the activity of bog-shoe walking on Thursday. A large proportion of Estonia consists of bogland you can access wearing snowshoes. If you’ve never walked with snowshoes on a bog, it feels like a spongy mattress with occasional splashes of water. Over 20 of us plus our guide made our way across the bog to a little pond, where we had snacks. By the pond, a glorious tournament of bog-wrestling also took place. Kudos to the three participants who were made of sterner stuff than me.

Spring and fall are primary bog walking seasons in Estonia, but the experience was very unique in the summer as well.

“Are you not going to bog wrestle, Sohvi?”
“No, I don’t want to get dirty.” I had refused swimming as well, because I didn’t want to get wet. Because life isn’t fair, I was both of those things very soon.

As we started leaving the bog pond, I walked across the area where people had wrestled. It didn’t occur to me that the consistency of the bog had changed. My bog-shoe got stuck and came off my welly. Cue me trying to regain balance and ending up thigh-deep in the bog. Most of the group had already moved along and had no idea of my predicament.

If you are wondering how to get out of a bog, I can recommend two strong fellow explorers who do regular jiu-jitsu. These friendly souls hauled me out of there. Then we had got my bog-shoe back on, I took another step, and repeated the whole fucking bog-plunge with the other leg.

“I thought you were done for!” one of my fellow globetrotters told me later. Luckily I was helped out again and didn’t even lose the new wellies I had bought especially for the trip at Hyper Rimi. Maybe me literally pouring water out of them once we were out of the bog was pleasing to bog gods we had angered with the wrestling tournament.

My bog shoes, floral wellies from Hyper Rimi and an authentic bog experience.

We also did an escape room one evening with the people from my gym. It is located in the absolute worst building in all of Pärnu, a concrete monstrosity that smells of damp. The environment did add to the urge of wanting to escape, and I did kind of love it.

Teh Gang having survived a very Soviet escape room experience. Picture was taken by the escape room’s employee, unfortunately I forgot to ask their name.

New People and inspiration

I can definitely say that the BJJ Globetrotters camp was a very rewarding experience for me, in several different ways. I’ve never bought the meme that BJJ practitioners are in any way nicer, cooler or better than people in general, and didn’t start in the art to meet people. So I was very impressed by how much at home I felt at the camp, even though most of us were away from home. Maybe the values of the Globetrotters truly help bring together the sort of BJJ enthusiasts I like hanging out with.

I think it says something that someone like me, a teetotaller who doesn’t do air travel, and a boozehound literally globetrotting through several camps in the same year can come out of a week in Pärnu feeling like they have had a brilliant time.

When you favour early nights, you get more energy to be confused/disgusted by leglocks. Photo: Cristiana Teodoli.

I already wrote in the section about classes what new ideas I got BJJ-wise, but the trip was also fantastic for fueling my diversity and human rights aspirations. A while ago, a friend asked me about the lack of support for gender minorities in the sport. I was in a cynical mood back then and in my long-winded way, said that the scene is not ready to be accommodating in most minority questions. (I said this as a non-binary female-assigned-at-birth practitioner in a country with a smallish BJJ scene, your mileage may wary.) Then during week in Pärnu, I got to see people sporting rainbow rashes. I rolled with someone else who wasn’t cis. I’ve never had my pronouns respected as well as during these six days in July in Pärnu, Estonia of all places. And I became aware of the attempts of Ronin Grappling to promote inclusivity in the sport. I wouldn’t want to embarrass the Glaswegians by harping on too much about them in this travel chronicle, but they only have themselves to blame for that. 😀

Thing is, there are a lot of aspects in “mainstream” BJJ culture (quotations as it’s still a smallish sport) that do not align with my values. I feel like Pärnu brought me a bit closer to carving a comfortable place for myself in this odd and wonderful and terrible and wonderful again world.

Aftermath

If you have read this far, I applaud you. My summary of the entire week is very short: I loved my time at the camp and want to do more of them in the future. This was the first Beach Camp in Pärnu, and I am so going to be back next year, when I’m probably going to try roll more. And I’ll stop pretending I’m cool: I’ll order a camp gi and grappling shorts in my size.

When the camp ended, I stayed for a couple of days in Pärnu, got home and tested positive for COVID. Don’t recommend that bit, but would not picked a nicer city to get ill. Till next year!

It ain’t no camp without a photobooth session. I’ll take my awkwardly tied belts with me to the grave. Photo: Sten Maaslieb.

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