So there I was, staring at this picturesque lake with blue skies hidden like a pearl in the midst of the great Austrian alps. It just occurred to me that I was staring at it through my work computer- a post from the BJJ Globetrotters Facebook page that said “Summer Camp Wagrain”. Looking out the window I was back to reality in the bustling Dhaka city.
As a family man, I have to admit I have a great deal of “camp envy” whenever I see social media updates from my BJJ Globetrotters friends I’ve met a couple years back in Leuven- friends that I’ve met once but keep close to me to this day. My first camp hit me like a truck. It was a whirlwind of adventures and meeting friends and drinking and getting lost both in rolls as it is in conversations. But I also understood it was an experience that might not happen again. Between 2 dogs, a cat, 2 daughters, a wife and a job, I can’t just pack up and go off to my “Big Boy Disneyland” every month or so. I came to terms with it early on. Leuven was a great memory and I am happy with it. I scrolled away and did my best to get back to my work emails.
But just like a reoccurring dream it came back on my feed a month later but this time I saw on the text that it was family friendly. My heart stopped. At this exact moment my wife Carlin was planning our family trip around Europe for the summer. Instantly I thought “Wagrain is in Austria, and Austria is in Europe….”.
I casually showed her the post and she said “Send me the link and I’ll take a look at it.”. The Globetrotters staff at this time has matured to a team of travel agent/marketing professionals. The photos were amazing and the write up was very detailed yet enticing which made it a lot easier for planning it into our itinerary. All questions we sent out were answered immediately with enthusiasm. My kids have been doing a fair bit of “Play-jitsu” with me at home but Carlin has only done 5 classes (at most) over the years so she couldn’t care less about the training. What attracted her was the things that surrounded it. There was going to be daily access to the waterpark next door! There were playgrounds and mountain biking and of course the natural beauty of the Austrian alps but most of all it fits in our budget as it covered our accommodation with food and beverages it was something we could not let pass. It presented an opportunity for us to take a trip to an unknown place which would satisfy our inner nomadic nature. She booked it right away. My web of deception is completed. We’re going to a Jiu Jitsu camp!
Fast forward to 4 months later the school bell rang and the kids were off to summer holiday. We headed straight to the airport and then our adventure began. We went to London, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Denmark (places we’ve read about in Christian’s book) and then we were in Munich. We arrived a day early so we rented a car and spent a night in Salzburg. We met up with a few globetrotters in town over dinner. There was Kelsey- a Canadian blue belt who couldn’t find a place to stay as every single accommodation in Salzburg was booked so she crashed our hotel and became our adopted daughter. There was Stephanie- a German/American who was a former kindergarten teacher who later on we found out later on was the “Pablo Escobar” of jelly beans and gummy bears for kids in camp. We also met Austin, a Canadian MMA fighter and was an awesome companion and great with kids too. And then there was Ciaran who was…. Irish. After dinner we had beers and then more beers and then went on to submit statues in old town (as you do). Next day we were off to Wagrain, the real reason we were in Austria. The drive was spectacular. The mountain passes with each bend reveals boondocks that pierce through the clouds was breathtaking.
When we got to the camp we were too early for check in so we headed straight to the waterpark. As excited as I was and as well traveled as I am, being in a new place still gives me anxiety. Here we are in a place we never knew existed. We had no clue what Wagrain was all about let alone had an idea what the people there were like. All I know about Austria was that Hitler was born there. As a brown man (Filipino) I kept thinking “what if people here are racist? What if somebody just gives us weird looks or tells us to get out of the pool?”.
I’m an idiot.
As we got set up at the waterpark with our picnic blanket and umbrella, random people walking past us smile and give us the “shaka” sign. “How do they know we do jiu jitsu? we weren’t wearing any bjj apparel.”. I guess people who train just know. All my anxiety just melted away. And a few moments later our friends we met in Salzburg were there along with other new friends including the British duo Rob and Daniel who would later on be good mates through the camp. However the whole bunch were single people from all over the world just hanging out waiting for the camp to start. Where are the other families at?. Shortly we met a beautiful Norwegian family with daughters right about our girls ages. It took the girls 10 seconds to get introduced and another 2 seconds to become new best friends. The girls wasted no time at all, they went through all the water slides and whirlpool having a blast in a beautiful summers day in the Austrian Alps. We have been to a lot of places in a lot of holidays as a family but this was the first time our girls were able to instantly have friends. At that moment it dawned on me that this might be the best holiday we have ever had… And the camp has not even started yet.
The Camp opens and we tried to meet as many people as we could through the speed dating. I was amazed at how vast the range of ages of people were there from toddlers to…. The young at heart. We also met a Danish family Simon and Laura with more kids. I knew at that time that this is going to be a unique camp. It was followed by an open mat of course. No better way to break the ice than to choke each other out straight away.
It was a relatively small camp (80-90 participants). In the evening (and all the other evenings) we hung out by the patio over beers. Max and Aaron stood out with their “shit” stories that were inappropriately funny. At one point The Danes, the Canadians, the Brits, the Americans and the Austrians got into a heated debate on which bacon was the best. It seemed like a very important discussion. There was also the Russian brothers (whose names I can’t recall) who told stories about the “real” Russia. They were great story tellers. (It was also cool because they had thick Russian accent).
The days went on and as a family we had organically made our own routine which also turned out to be the routine of most families. Morning schedule was breakfast followed by yoga then the kids class. The first kids class was led by Steven Antoniou or better known to the children as “Super Steve”. The following days classes were led by Nelson Puentes and Hilary Witt. If you are looking into running a kids class in your own gym in the future you have to see them at work. It’s incredible how they were able to hold the kids attention and make it fun.
The waterpark was the go to place of most families, it was also the the go to spot for the younger lads to cure their hangovers under a tree. This was morning for the “holiday” mode groups while the mat rats indulged themselves in a day long of world class level of instruction of bjj. The conference room sessions I found to be something that I enjoyed too. It satisfied a lot of my curiosities about jiu jitsu and life in general coming from people who lived the life I often wondered about.
We went down to the lake called Jägersee along with another family. And there we were standing at the same spot as the Summer camp poster. We all sat in silence at one point and absorbed the experience. I started to contemplate how lucky I am to be there at that exact moment. As a Filipino growing up nobody really plans on going on holidays to places such as these. With obstacles like getting a visa and socio- economic reasons it’s not common for us to a place called “Wagrain” . In most cases the only way you’re going to another country and leave the islands is for work and I can’t thank the universe enough that I was there with the people I cared about the most. Life is perfect.
The place was so beautiful I went back the next day along with my friends from camp. The day was hot but the water was ice cold. We went for a natural “ice bath” and it was exactly what we needed after a series of classes and open mats.
Before we knew it, it was the final open mat. One last chance to roll with old and new friends. The atmosphere was filled with music and steam from a tribe of people rolling.
As the sun went down the beers flowed, the Jagermeister shots dropped and the BBQ grill lit up. David Bruun- a soft spoken Canadian and a butcher by profession started grilling up steaks from grass fed cows in the Alps and hundreds of sausages. David was a god. He worked the grill like a machine making sure all meat served was cooked to perfection. It felt like a family barbecue on a weekend. Kids running around lost in their own world hunting for insects and bouncing on the trampoline. The younger crowd were crushing beers and Jager bombs, parents sharing life experiences and raising kids. The board game geeks were just a mix of everybody.
At one point I saw my daughter Nico (7 years old) at the dining area sitting alone with a smile on her face. I sat across the table and decided to have this moment with her. She was drinking a mix of juices and soda she concocted from the beverage dispenser and I had a beer. I asked her what she was thinking and she said “today I learned a new technique in jiu jitsu…”. I smiled and said “I like it too when I learn new techniques”. Then we went on to close our eyes and tried to remember everything that happened in the camp from the time we got to the camp, from when we got out of the car and to that very moment in the mess hall. We tried to remember in our minds how beautiful the lake was. We tried to describe it as we remembered it. Mario overheard us and joined in a bit and shared how his experience on the lake was. Later on I told her that this is one memory I’d like to keep forever. And she said “me too”.
My older daughter was with her own gang of girls exchanging contacts with promises to see each other in the next camps until they get older.
The morning came and it’s been a quiet one. From the people in the dining hall to the people hanging out in the patio to the kids sitting quietly on the bench silence was broken from the occasional logistical statements like “what time is your flight?” or “Do you want to share a cab?”. It was a feeling I’ve had before. The post camp blues have begun. The realization that this will soon be over. Then it was time to go. We said our goodbyes like a million times before we actually got in the car and took off.
Disneyland is overrated.