The Grapple-A-Thon: rolling for hope

On 1 July, Melbourne-based gym Renegade MMA opened its doors to the grappling community for the second Grapple-A-Thon, an extended Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) class designed to raise funds for Akademi Kristus (AK).

Renegade MMA owner and head instructor Jamie Murray said he first had the idea for the Grapple-A-Thon several years ago but at the time, it hadn’t been viable. The idea resurfaced again after he returned from a trip to Bali in April 2015 where he had visited the barren site that would eventually become AK and met the underprivileged children who would eventually become its students.

“When I came back from Bali, I was talking with some of my students on how we could raise some money,” Jamie explained. “Someone put forward the idea that it would be cool if we could roll all night and I remembered I’d already done all this research. So I found the research and we looked into making it happen. We thought it would be a good way to raise funds for AK and good for the grappling community.”

The inaugural Grapple-A-Thon was held in May 2015 under the premise of setting a world record for the longest BJJ class ever held. Running for 33 hours in total, the event attracted grapplers from a wide range of academies in what Jamie described as an “amazing” response.

“I was very surprised, pleasantly so, by the number of people who dropped in,” he commented. “They weren’t just from Renegade, [affiliate club] Australian Elite Team or my friends but really people from across the entire grappling community.”

The inaugural Grapple-A-Thon was ultimately able to raise sufficient funds to help launch AK, and Jamie decided to make the event an annual fundraiser.

This year’s Grapple-A-Thon adopted a slightly different format. In addition to being shorter, running for 15 hours instead of 33, classes were taken by a variety of instructors, including senior Renegade students and visiting black belts from other gyms; in 2015, all classes had been led by Jamie.

Complex technique instruction was interspersed with fun activities such as a grappler’s take on the board game Twister, where an arrow was spun to determine a starting position for specific training, and another where the entire group was divided into two teams pitted against each other in one mass grappling match. The night’s program also included a class that showed how BJJ tactics were used by security personnel and special forces in street applications.

Jamie said the second event had been met with the same great support as the previous year, even securing a sponsor, Rumble Coffee, which supplied caffeine to keep grapplers fuelled through the long night.

While there appeared to be similar numbers, Jamie noted that there was a broader selection of people from even more gyms this year, including grapplers from Peter De Been and Will Machado – likely due to the increased social media exposure for the Grapple-A-Thon and, in turn, the increased interest in AK and its mission.

“Awareness of AK has spread across the community and the range of gyms is growing to include people who have been travelling overseas or who believe in the project,” Jamie stated.

“Looking at the condition of this world, there are so many tragedies, whether it’s locally with the Apex gang or internationally with ISIS. People want hope. They see the work AK is doing, the good it’s doing, that there’s no agenda other than helping people.

“AK’s mission is important because it brings hope, not just to the people in Sanur and Bali and the slums, but people here see it and think, ‘There’s a bit of goodness in the world, not just negativity.’”

The second Grapple-A-Thon generated approximately $3,450 that will go towards the continued operation of AK, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.

Commenting on the fundraising effort, AK chairman Woon Ooi said, “On behalf of the AK Project Management Group and A2B, I would like to thank Jamie Murray, the crew at Renegade and the wider grappling community for opening your hearts and your wallets to help us change the world by changing one life at a time.”

Jamie confirmed that he plans to hold another Grapple-A-Thon in the spring or summer of 2017, adding that he hoped to get more people involved and possibly some more companies on board to sponsor the event and support AK.