In 2011, a friend of mine in Canada mentioned she was planning to join a twenty four hour ‘Grapple-A-Thon’ at Martial Arts Planet in Kingston, Ontario. The basic premise was that at least two people spar over a twenty-four hour period, with the option of also fundraising for their chosen charity. Fortunately for those of us thousands of miles away, the organisers were going to set up a live stream from the gym, meaning I could watch the action from my laptop in England.
Ever since tuning in to that stream, I have wanted to do something similar. A couple of months and a purple belt later, I moved to Bristol, where I began training and teaching at Gracie Barra Bristol. In 2012, the academy got a WiFi connection. As Nicolai ‘Geeza’ Holt kindly agreed to let me use his beautiful venue, I now had the opportunity to set up a GrappleThon of my own, following the Canadian template. Forty-four people took part, all members of the school except for Seymour ‘Meerkatsu’ Yang, who was a massive help in terms of promoting the GrappleThon to his numerous followers, as well as providing t-shirts (generously printed by Tatami Fightwear). My training partner Steve Hinde contributed his technical wizardry to setting up a live stream, just like in Canada. We were eventually able to raise a total of £3,015 for Meningitis UK.
I had not planned to run another GrappleThon until 2014, but the unpleasant revelations emerging from Team Lloyd Irvin prompted me to hold an additional GrappleThon this year. The BJJ world has understandably been outraged at the horrific incident where two members of Team Lloyd Irvin raped a team mate: I hoped to turn those strong feelings towards something positive. The charity for this year was therefore RapeCrisis, who work to raise awareness about sexual violence, press for change and support survivors.
As this issue has been high profile in BJJ circles, I decided to make a push to broaden the scope of the GrappleThon to other clubs around the UK, rather than just my home academy. Through social media, old friends and current training partners, we were able to reach out to not just the members of Gracie Barra Bristol, but also grapplers from a variety of teams all over the country. That included Checkmat, Alliance and fellow Gracie Barra affiliates, among numerous others.
The turn-out was up almost 60% from last year, with several hardy souls agreeing to stay the entire twenty-four hours. Christian Sayer from Gracie Barra Birmingham along with Danny Suman and Shane Chittenden from Dartford BJJ were particularly impressive, all managing over 9 hours of grappling. On a personal note, I was really pleased to train with several people I haven’t shared a mat with in over five years, like Pippa Granger and Chris Williams, both of whom I last saw when I was still a white belt.
We also had numerous brown and purple belts on the mat, which was great to see, such as brown belt Rob Taylor from Chris Rees Academy. He brought along several of his students on their way to attend a mixed martial arts event that evening. The senior ranks present at the GrappleThon also included two black belts. Geeza was one, while the other was Raphael dos Santos, who runs several BJJ schools in Cornwall. He was on his way to a seminar in London when he saw the GrappleThon mentioned on Facebook. That prompted him to make a quick detour to Bristol so he could take part and support the cause.
So far, we have raised over £8,500 for RapeCrisis (if you are reading this in the US, that is more than $13,000), a superb amount which will hopefully keep increasing. The pages for donation are still open if you would like to add to that total, here. Just like last year, the fantastic support of Seymour Yang and Tatami Fightwear has been invaluable, with specially designed t-shirts handed out to the fundraisers as a small thank you for their efforts. Seymour also added some of the funds raised by his fabulous ‘Heavenly Footlock’ t-shirt to the campaign, giving our total a considerable boost several weeks ago. Jack McDonald deserves a mention too for raising over £1,000, thanks to skilful use of his numerous social networks.
Many people who participated the event last weekend told me how much they had enjoyed the brilliant atmosphere and community vibe generated by the GrappleThon. This is something I am keen to expand: jiu jitsu has a wonderful habit of building powerful bonds of friendship between people from disparate backgrounds. To that end, I have set up the website GrappleThon.org, which I’m hoping can also become a hub for GrappleThons held at other clubs, perhaps even around the world. I’ve written a short guide to running your own GrappleThon, which may or may not be of use to anybody reading this who is interested in setting up a similar event.