On Saturday 4th May, a ‘GrappleThon’ in which at least two people sparred in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) for a day and a night took place at a martial arts club in Bristol. The event was attended by grapplers from all over the country, part of a collective response from the BJJ community to a recent rape at a US martial arts club. So far, the GrappleThon has raised over £8,500 for the charity RapeCrisis.
70 people took part in the event this year, sparring round the clock from 9am on Saturday until 9am the following day. The event was streamed live online so people around the world could watch.
“Jiu jitsu is a very close contact sport and is all about trust,” says Can Sönmez, a prolific BJJ writer and organiser of the event. “The international BJJ community was therefore totally outraged about this rape. We wanted to turn that strong feeling towards something positive.”
The violent rape and beating of a woman by two of her team members from Team Lloyd Irvin was perpetrated on New Year’s Eve. In a church car park, the two men beat their team mate in and out of consciousness while raping her repeatedly. They were indicted on nineteen felony counts in the District of Columbia Superior Court.
“Many women will start training BJJ to avoid exactly this situation,” says Can.
Katie Russell, a spokesperson for Rape Crisis (England and Wales) added, “We are extremely pleased and grateful that the organisers and participants of the GrappleThon have chosen to support our vital work with this event and to highlight important sexual violence issues. This is particularly important because only around 15% of women and girls who are raped or sexually assaulted ever report to the police and around a third tell no-one at the time.”
The GrappleThon took place at Gracie Barra Bristol and involved at least two people wrestling at any one time. “Christian Sayer managed almost 10 hours of grappling, closely followed by Danny Suman and Shane Chittenden, who were the first on the mat and the last to leave.“ said Can.
Raphael dos Santos, a black belt who runs several BJJ clubs in Cornwall, was on his way to a seminar in London when saw the GrappleThon mentioned on Facebook. He immediately decided to make a quick detour to Bristol so he could take part.