Have you ever considered traveling out of the country? Have you considered experiencing a country that has a different culture than ours here in the US? Better yet, have you considered traveling and still being able to train Jiu-Jitsu at the same time?
This past month, EDJ held a grappling retreat in Matagalpa, Nicaragua over a 3-day weekend where you had 10 hours of training by one of our black belts, Professor Kim, but also have plenty of time to immerse yourself in the Nicaraguan culture and experience its beauty.
I had the pleasure of being able to attend this retreat and overall, the experience for me was phenomenal and I highly recommend attending when the opportunity arises again. I’m going to share with you why.
First off, experiencing another country is truly an unforgettable experience. You never really understand another culture until you experience it yourself. For the retreat, we didn’t stay in the city like I had initially thought we would. Instead, we stayed at Selva Negra – the Black Forest Ecolodge.
It was a beautiful destination located in the mountains of Nicaragua where you were surrounded be forest life, pure mountain air and cool mists to keep you feeling comfortable throughout the trip. My absolute favorite part of the trip was waking up at 6am as the sun was coming up and walking out of my room hearing the birds singing and the monkeys talking to each other off in the distance.
I did tend to wake up earlier than most (that is common for me), so I would go on a short walk just inside the forest line where Selva Negra had benches where I could sit and read surrounded by wildlife for some time before heading back for breakfast. While we weren’t training, we had the opportunity to select a few things to do at the resort. I elected for all three – hiking, a horseback ride, and a coffee tour.
Each a different experience but well worth it. There were several hiking trails to choose from depending on how deep into the forest you wanted to go. We chose a 45-minute hike taking us about halfway into the longest trail. It was a beautiful hike that most anybody would feel comfortable doing and there were no steep inclines. We came across several flowing springs, different birds, and at one point we even think there was a monkey close by at one point (although whatever it was ran off before we saw anything).
The horseback ride took us through the village of Selva Negra where the seasonal workers live and through a few of the roads to take them to where the coffee beans are picked. The horses were great fun as they all knew the trail and pretty much led themselves. No horseback riding experience is necessary for this experience. The coffee tour was very interesting.
Initially, I was not really excited about the tour as I don’t care for coffee, but throughout the tour, I was thoroughly engaged with the information given. We got to experience how to properly test coffee and identify the flavor just like the workers do. I don’t want to say too much about it, you’ll have to experience this tour for yourself!
Okay, so all the additional activities are exciting, but the real reason we came was for the jiu-jitsu! Professor Kim prepared some great classes for us while we were there. We had a total of 4 sessions with Zanate and their members. Coach Benjamin Duarte and Coach Wayne Tingle brought the mats to the resort so we could train there and not have to travel back and forth.
The Nicaraguans that train with Zanate were all very respectful, welcoming, and excited for us to be there training with them. At the last session, we held a surprise promotion ceremony for those who were ready to promote. Some received stripe promotions, there were several teens that received their next colored belt, adults received their blue belt, and Coach Benjamin and Coach Wayne received their purple belts. I felt the best part of the ceremony was seeing how much joy, and excitement that all the members had.
So many teens and adults were full of emotion and tears when they received their promotions, it was truly a humbling experience. For them, they don’t often train with gi’s on (some didn’t even have a belt) and not because they want to train no gi, but because they simply can’t afford a gi. Many have no rashguards and are training in regular clothing as well. Being present to experience their joy truly makes you appreciate all we take for granted here in the United States.
On our last day before heading to the airport, we made a visit to Enrich Missions. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Enrich Missions, this is a program that was founded in 2015 with the help of Megan and Wayne Tingle with the purpose of helping impoverished kids graduate. In Nicaragua, there is a 70% drop out rate from school before sixth grade.
Enrich Missions offers services to public school children who stay in school such as medical support, free hot lunches, and enrichment classes including jiu jitsu, art, ballet, creative writing, and chess. They are also in the process of building a workshop to teach shop classes and a tech center to teach computer literacy.
Since founded, there has been a 60% increase in graduating students. Driving here, we were able to see the living situation that many of the impoverished are in. It’s everything you hear about (10’x10’ living quarters, no running water, plastic walls, etc.), but the gravity of it don’t hit you unless you see it first-hand. Visiting with the students in the jiu jitsu program with Enrich Missions again was a humbling experience.
Again, these children were just so excited to see us and train with us! We ran a class with them and awarded some stripe and belt promotions at the end of class. The reactions of these kids were the same as the teens and adults from Zanate, overjoyed and full of emotion.
The visit to Enrich Missions further solidified my drive to return for the next retreat just to see the smiling faces of these children again.
Finally, let’s talk about the price. We all know that traveling can be expensive. For myself, I have 3 kids. Money is not always something I have just lying around so traveling out of the country has always been put on the back burner for me.
When Professor JP first announced the trip to Nicaragua, it was months in advance. This gave me plenty of time to spread out paying for the retreat and paying for a flight.
The retreat itself included everything necessary to have an amazing time. Lodging, all meals, transportation to and from the airport, and all the training sessions for the camp were provided in the retreat cost which is plenty to keep you busy while you are there.
I guarantee that even if you do nothing extra, you will walk away having had an unforgettable experience. The cost for the flights (round trip) was about the same price as the retreat itself, but significantly cheaper than I was expecting it to be.
I also decided to do a couple of activities that were not covered by the retreat (horseback riding, a coffee tour, and a spa day). All in all, while I was actually in Nicaragua, the things I did outside of the retreat cost, came out to be less than $100. For me, this was extremely affordable and the experience I got was well worth it.
All in all, the entire trip was a great experience. You have plenty of time for tourist activities, you get to meet some amazing Nicaraguans, experience their culture, and do what we all love, jiu-jitsu! I highly recommend this retreat when the time comes to go again.
When you go, consider bringing a gi to donate to Zanate, or Enrich Missions. I’ll see you there!
– Amanda Bennett
EDJ Hemet Kids Head Coach