Wrestling Camp was a great success for all involved. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and I obviously learned a lot about wrestling, and how the wrestling community works here in Australia. Rather than inundate you with a long post comprised of fan-girl superlatives, I thought I’d break the experience down into a few categories:
Obviously, the level of coaching we received was great. The camp was part of an initiative to demonstrate to Wrestling Australia that there was the potential to develop Women’s Wrestling in Australia. The camp attracted women from a variety of backgrounds. There were some experienced wrestlers for Canada and Mexico, an Australian international competitor, many women from BJJ and MMA backgrounds who had been including wrestling in their training, and even one complete beginner who wanted to learn how to wrestle for performing arts.
For myself, this was my first exposure to “pure” wrestling, as opposed to the wrestling-for-MMA training which I have been doing with Nick Hughes since 2011 and which I had also done some of at Evolve MMA. Wrestling without worrying about getting guillotined or punched in the face was fun and also allowed me to refine my technique.
Australian Institute of Sport
I think that I was just as excited about staying at the AIS as I was about the wrestling itself. When you sacrifice opportunities to earn what our current society views as symbols of accomplishment (like money, cars, houses, degrees) in order to devote yourself to combat sports, it can be quite demoralising. You’re training hard while also struggling to afford your macros, while also dealing with assumptions from the people around you that you have limited means and belongings because you’re stupid, lazy or untalented. Athleticism, while portrayed glamorously in the media, has come to represent a kind of low-class existence for me, which entails me feeling that I am missing out on many things in life that most other people my age can take part in quite freely – travel, a safe home, a safe car, and expensive foods like salmon and berries.
Being at the AIS was the ultimate athletic utopia. We had our own rooms, a dining hall which catered for food allergies and offered a buffet spread of healthy, freshly-prepared foods, and a whole host of exercise scientists and world-class facilities all geared towards our success. We were important, we were taken seriously, and the investment of our time and effort into our sport was recognised. This is not my everyday experience, so this was a much-needed source of respite and encouragement.
Almost all of us were the token woman, or one of a small number of women, in our own teams. While most of us have a lot of love for our teams, there are issues that the lone woman in a male gym experiences, and it was a relief to me to find that everyone at the camp had experienced these too. Struggling to perfect technique with stronger training partners, doubting oneself without the litmus-test of live sparring with skilled women, struggling to be taken seriously, and even having to “pass” as socially male to avoid the stigma of being seen as socially female in a masculine environment – even women who I had built up in my mind to be mental and physical power-houses had experienced these things.
Being able to drill and wrestle with women my own size and of varying skill levels gave me confidence as I was able to see when the techniques that I have learned can work. Practising with more experienced women informed me of exactly where and how I need to improve, without the issue of “but-I’m-man-and-twenty-kilos-heavier” creating any confusion.
Socially, it was probably the first time since I was a child playing soccer that I had been in what I could really describe as an empowered female space. Our head coach was a woman, and the men who were there were in supporting roles – assistant coach, athlete’s father, dietician, chef etc.. It was a marked role-reversal from most of the gyms we came from, where to participate you need to initially overcome the assumption that as a woman you must be there to support someone else – a boyfriend or brother or child or whatever.
As someone who usually feels uncomfortable among large groups of women, I found the social dynamic in a female-dominant athletic space interesting. For once, I felt completely at ease, and I think that this was because it was an all-female space that existed without the male gaze. The caricatures of “femininity” which are forced upon – and subsequently adopted by – women were absent, and everyone was free to be themselves. There was no need to “pass” as socially male, nor to assert or defend one’s status as socially female with costumes or displays. It’s difficult to explain how profound this type of experience is, because for most men it is their daily reality, while most women rarely even glimpse depictions of it.
Meeting different people was a highlight of the camp. Some of the participants I had met before through fights or competitions, others were completely new to me. Of course, we all had wrestling in common, but it was very interesting to learn about these women’s backgrounds, what had brought them to wrestling, and what else they had in their lives apart from wrestling.
Check out some of the links below to get an idea of some of the backgrounds of some of the wrestlers, who included:
A performance artist:
MMA & BJJ athletes:
And, of course, wrestlers!