When one of your passions is the act of physically challenging a peer to see who will be the last one standing health is often an afterthought. Many athletes, especially fighters, take their good health for granted. The thrill of the fight is enough to make all your cares melt away and that focus you get to finish keeps you tuned to the task at hand. But sometimes, sometimes there are occasions that we get a brief wake-up call. For others that call is not so brief. But does that keep us from fighting? Hell no! I can’t think of a better example to this than the story of Dana Moore.
I came across Dana’s name in a conversation on one of our private Facebook channels back in early March. Some of our readers mentioned a GrappleThon (marathon style grappling event) being held in honor of Dana Moore on March 22nd. I asked about him and was introduced to an inspiring story of a young man who was paralyzed from the waist down after a freak accident at a construction site. The story of his injury wasn’t nearly the most fascinating part of the story, rather it was just the prelude. The real story is that of a young man, a positive force in a small community of grappling enthusiasts at the Optimus Jiujitsu school in South Orange County, California headed by Professor Grant Collins.
Dana had been bitten by the BJJ bug long before his injury. He became not only a fan and participant but also an assistant instructor and a very encouraging force within the community. He was more than passionate, he was inspirational to others. When news struck of his injury his friends and colleagues were shocked and devastated. Questions arose regarding what would happen to him, his family and even whether they would see him again in the place they all loved to spend time (Optimus Jiujitsu in Laguna Niguel, California).
For a moment, a brief moment, it might seem somewhat trivial to think that BJJ was top of mind when an injury of this magnitude affects someone’s life but the truth remains, it’s the little things, the basic things that truly make life worth living. Fortunately for Dana he has the heart of a lion. Truly a fighter at heart, he didn’t let this injury keep him down. He’s been taking steps to try and recover and it seems there is a chance he may regain the function of his legs. Not only is that medically significant but the spirit behind the fight is what this story is really all about.
Well, a bit of time passed and word traveled of his misfortunes, his challenges and his fight and as fate would have it his story landed at the feet of Montay Wiley. An active member in the BJJ community here in Southern California, he had arranged charitable events, that soon came to be known as GrappleThons, to help various causes within the BJJ community. When he caught word of Dana’s story he couldn’t resist doing something to help out. And thus came the first (and certainly not the last) Grapplethon to the Optimus Brazilian Jiujitsu School in Laguna Niguel.
The event was held in honor of Dana Moore with both friends, sponsors and enthusiastic BJJ community members coming from all parts of Southern California.
As a huge advocate for health and the continued fight for it I definitely had to make the time to attend this event and I was certainly glad I did. The turnout was great! While there I took the time to interview Dana Moore, Montay Wiley, Brett Weekly and Professor Grant Collins of Optimus Jiujitsu as well as a few other attendees to get their perspective on the GrappleThon, Dana’s condition and what it was that brought all of them together.
Luca Rajabi: When did you first discover BJJ?
Dana Moore: I always wanted to do it since watching the first UFC, actually from when I was 8-years-old but it actually took until I was 22-years-old and I was done with college, I came in for my first jiu-jitsu lesson and I was hooked from there.
LR: What about the practice in particular drew you to it?
DM: I like the wrestling aspect, I’ve always liked wrestling, but jiu-jitsu, there’s some many different ways and so many different moves you can do. In boxing theres only so many punches you can throw but jiu-jitsu there’s so many different submissions, I think the complexity of it [drew me in].
LR: Can you tell me about the injury you sustained?
DM: I was doing water well drilling and a drill pipe fell on me and broke my thoracic 6 & 7 vertebrae in my spine which also gave me some spinal cord damage so right now I’m temporarily paralyzed from the waist down but I’m doing my rehab and I’m slowly starting to get some sensation back in my legs and I’m still very new in the recovery process.
LR: What are they telling you about your prognosis? Is there a chance for recovery?
DM: They really can’t just because no one really knows how good someone can get. It’s just really how your body heals and what shape you were in before and how quickly you start rehab. With the spinal cord it’s a very mysterious thing that doctor’s still haven’t figured out.
LR: Did you know that people were arranging a GrappleThon for you?
DM: I had no idea. Brett Weekly was the one, it was pretty much all set up. He already talked to Montay about doing it and Montay really wanted to do it and Brett asked me.
Luca Rajabi: What got you started doing GrappleThons?
Montay Wiley: What started me doing GrappleThons is I had a friend pass away a couple of years ago, after that I wanted to do something to help his family so I just decided to get a small open mat session to donate some money. From that process, everyone was very happy with it, they wanted to know: when was the next one? I never had the idea to make a next one so I just decided, lets start doing this of the random people that need help.
LR: What do you think of this turnout for GrappleThon?
MW: I think this turnout was great, I think it brought a lot of different people from a lot of different counties. It had a good atmosphere.
LR: Are their plans for any future events?
MW: Yes, most definitely. I won’t give an exact date but definitely more.
LR: Can you explain the past few GrapplThons and why you conducted them?
MW: The first GrappleThon was for [My Friend] who had passed away in February 22 of 2013, the next was for Frank who had cancer, we did one for him. The next was for John, who had leukemia.
LR: Do you have any big plans for the next event?
MW: Hopefully so, hopefully we get more people involved and help someone else.
Luca Rajabi: Do you just train jiu-jitsu
Brett Weekly: I started doing muay thai at Apex Jiu-Jitsu, when I was about 18, and that was about eight years ago. At that academy they had no-gi jiu-jitsu and so that was my introduction and then I moved up to Tinguinha BJJ with Mauricio Mariano and I’ve been with him for at least 5 years. So about 6-and-a-half years training jiu-jitsu and a little bit of boxing on the side.
LR: How did you get introduced to the GrappleThon?
BW: Montay contacted me randomly and said, “Hey, I’m writing an article on a blue belt and I’d like to use a video I found of you on Facebook” and I go, “Absolutely” and Montay wrote this article about being humble and in competition just going your hardest. He kind of touched me that way where he just kind of reached out to me randomly and wrote this amazing article.
LR: Is the Grapplethon meant to be a tournament style competition or is there any kind of ranking system for participants?
BW: I think the whole GrappleThon idea came from the idea where Montay would do [something] similar to running for a marathon. You get a sponsor and you do however many rolls for this many minutes and whatever rolls you do is based on the amount of money the people who are donating funds are going to give you.
Luca Rajabi: How long have you been training Jiujitsu?
Waseam Dannaoui: For seven and a half years.
LR: When did you get your purple belt?
WD: I got my purple belt two and a half years ago.
LR: What drew you to Jiujitsu, and did you train in any other martial arts?
WD: I used to wrestle from when I was 11-years-old ’til [sic] I was 18 and then always watched UFC when I was younger. I was like, “man I want to do that”. Then I moved to Lima, Ohio for school and saw there was a jiu-jitsu club. I [would be] like, ” I want to fight, I want to fight”, so I just started working out. Then I saw a jiu-jitsu school, I was like, “man I’m going to check that out,” and I’ve been there ever since.
LR: What brought you to Southern California?
WD: I used to train under one of Saulo’s [Ribeiro] black belts in Ohio named Jeremy Harris and I was graduated from school. I wanted to move out to warm [weather] and compete with the best.
LR: Do you see a big difference in the jiu-jitsu community than you do in MMA or other martial arts?
WD: I actually do train MMA. I’ve had six MMA fights. Amatuer unfortunately. Jiu-jitsu seems more knit together, the guys, it seems like one community where MMA is maybe spread out. Its still the same thing, everybody is together but we’re still growing the sport. We’re growing it all together. Even if we’re on different teams, everyone’s training together. That’s what I like about combat sports.
LR: Do you plan on going to every GrappleThon that you can?
WD: Everyone he has, if I’m around, then I’m there.
Luca Rajabi: What got you in to Jiujitsu specifically?
Lauren Okon: I started doing muay thai, and I started watching a lot of UFC, so I wanted to definitely learn some ground game.
LR: What do you think of women in combat sports?
LO: I really looked up to Ronda Rousey. I am a fan of humble fighters and so when there ego gets real big, I don’t have as much respect for them. As a fighter, she’s awesome. I’m really interested in having more girls here. I’m used to training with guys but I would love to have some more girls here.
LR: What do you think of the event?
LO: It’s so much fun, It’s awesome, It’s great. Everyone coming together for Dana. I wasn’t sure what to expect but a great turnout.
Luca Rajabi: Please tell me more about Optimus Jiujitsu and how you got started in the sport?
Grant Collins: I started with Jiujitsu close to 14 years ago with Alberto Crane in New Mexico. I was lucky enough to have Alberto (who went to Brazil in the 90’s and learned Jiujitsu) close by in the small town I lived. When I moved to California I started training with “Tinguinha” [Mauricio Mariano] and I’ve been training with him for 11 years. I always wanted to run a school, I used to run a large Taekwondo school in Santa Fe. When Alberto came into town, I was curious about Jiujitsu, so when I went over there and all his white belts beat me up. They would all just take me down and tap me out. I was 24-years-old, I was fit and strong, and cocky. I was like, “man, I have to learn Jiujitsu.” I quit the Taekwondo school because my heart wasn’t in it [after taking a beating like that]. I just couldn’t look people in the eye and teach Taekwondo [anymore].
LR: What are your thoughts on the GrappleThon?
GC: I’m excited about doing it just because it helps my friend Dana. Dana was a big part of our school, he was also a blue belt with us and he was also one of our instructors, [who] would help teach our kids. Just a great part of the school, a great person. Just a good example of a good jiu-jitsu guy with strong technique, strong physical abilities, but then also, the most friendly and respectful person that you could meet so it was a good balance of good personality and strong jiu-jitsu and so, of course, when he got hurt, it was a tragedy for everyone, it was shocking to everyone and so everyone wanted to help so when I heard about this, I wanted to help.
Mike Cabrea (owner of Grunt Work Clothing):
Luca Rajabi: How did you hear about GrappleThon
Mike Cabrera: Through Montay [Wiley]. Montay shot me an email overt me. Me and my buddy own Grunt Work clothing and we have been helping sponsor some events and hand out some gi’s as donations. We specialize in customized fit with a patented type of pant that is very unique. What sets us apart is our customized fit and our customer service.
LR: Is this a per-order company and how does one buy a gi from Grunt Work clothing?
MC: An individual can buy at GruntWorkClothing.com. If anybody is a part of the GrappleThon event I tell them to shoot me an email and I’ll see if I can help them out anyway I can. I’m not about money, I’m more about doing it for Jiujitsu itself.
LR: What did you think of the turnout of the event?
MC: These events always turnout great. There’s some big perks from this one. For me, it’s necessarily about getting out my gi’s, it’s about seeing people face-to-face. We see a lot of these people through forums and Facebook so meeting these people is great.
LR: What is the biggest distinguishing factor between the Jiujitsu community and most other martial arts communities?
MC: The one thing that we have, I always go back to Jiujitsu, you see a lot of people who have black belts. You can see that people put the time and effort, the energy. That’s what makes jiu-jitsu so much more special. You can train for 5-6 years and be a blue belt doesn’t necessarily matter but you’re constantly learning. I’m a brown belt and I’m still taking in so much.
Thanks again to everyone at Optimus Jiujitsu, Brett Weekly, Montay Wiley and especially Dana Moore for a fantastic time and a truly new perspective on an already awesome sport!