Let’s address the elephant in the room right away: I am a part of BETA Academy. BETA Academy formerly was a part of Team Lloyd Irvin, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu team mired in scandal following the rape of a woman by her teammates on New Year’s Eve. My personal thoughts on the matter aren’t important, and I won’t get into all of the sordid details of what came out in the aftermath, but you can read more here if you’re interested. It started ugly and only got worse as time went on.
Eventually, a lot of the publicity surrounding the TLI issue died down and life continued, if forever changed. One of the worst things about a sexual assault (or any violent act, really) is that it leaves you feeling powerless. I know I felt powerless in the whole matter; I had strong feelings about things, and I wanted to do something, anything, but what could I do? There was really nothing to say that hadn’t already been voiced more eloquently and more notably by someone else, and I am a nobody in the BJJ community. I am not a world champion, not a black belt, not a prominent blogger. I am just a mediocre (at best) blue belt who really loves jiu-jitsu.
GrappleThon.org. I thought a marathon rolling session sounded really fun, and I started to toy with the idea of holding one at BETA Academy. The biggest draw for me was that a Grapplethon was a way to bring people together in a non-competitive atmosphere. Following the TLI debacle there was a lot of debate about the culture of BJJ and how it had become focused on winning tournaments and competitions at all costs. It is easy to see how this could happen, and I definitely started to slip into this mindset—winning is fun and I still intend on doing it as often as possible—but as an academy we wanted to refocus on BJJ as a lifestyle and as a martial art. Thus, BETA’s Grapplethon was born.
BETA’s owners, Nakapan and Melanie Phungephorn, gave me the go ahead to plan a Grapplethon for October. I first contacted Can Sönmez looking for some advice and guidance, which he provided in spades. Next up, I contacted Seymour Yang a.k.a. Meerkatsu, who generously offered to design a t-shirt for the event (this was key, as people will do anything for a sweet t-shirt.) Origin Gi also stepped up and offered to donate gear for raffles and giveaways. We decided early on to have a 12 hour Grapplethon rather than 24 hours because a) I didn’t want to stay up for 24 hours straight and b) U St Corridor in DC is not necessarily the best place to be sitting with a cashbox and an open door at 2 am on a Saturday.
Picking a charity to support was relatively easy. I had reached out to the Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC) in the aftermath of the NYE rape and asked how we could help. In July, I reconnected with one of the executive directors there and offered our support. We wanted to benefit a non-profit that worked within our local community, and NVRDC already had some exposure within the BJJ world, thanks to the SoCal Women’s Grapplethon and the UNITED patches designed by Liz Sussan, Maggie Ghamry, Lana Hunter and Brittany Senter.
When we first selected NVRDC as our beneficiary they were not on any of the peer-to-peer fundraising platforms (FirstGiving, StayClassy, etc). We knew we wanted to donate to NVRDC, so I went about finding a workaround. At NVRDC’s suggestion, I set up an Eventbrite account and created an event. Eventbrite is extremely user friendly and even has a “donation” option, where you don’t have to set ticket prices and registrants can just enter their preferred amount. Eventbrite is free to set up, but there are fees for credit card processing. The 'event page manager' function also allows for customized questions, such as “which t-shirt size do you wear?” which were very important when it came time to order shirts.
our total on FirstGiving.
We didn’t set a minimum suggested donation on the Eventbrite page (we wanted the event to be free and accessible to all), but we did ask for a minimum donation of $40 to get a t-shirt. There are many ways to solicit donations, and this is but one. It worked quite well for us though, so we’ll likely repeat it again in the future. As for peer-to-peer fundraising: those of us who offered ourselves up as sacrificial lambs seemed to raise the most money (i.e., “for every $10 donated, I will roll one round”, etc.). Some of my particularly sadistic friends donated $200+ each to ensure that I would be grinding it out on the mat for as long as possible. Social media works wonders for collecting donations—I only posted the link to my FirstGiving page three times and was able to get multiple donations each time.
A week before the event I ordered the t-shirts, complete with Seymour’s awesome design. I used the Eventbrite registrations to guide my order as far as size and quantity; we ordered 135 shirts and decided that when they were gone, they were gone. A week out we didn’t have a ton of registrants, so at the time I didn’t know if the shirts would fly or if I would be stuck sitting alone at a table with 100 t-shirts and a sad look on my face. Happily, all 135 t-shirts were spoken for by the time we were two hours into the Grapplethon.
Haute Catering. I staked out our kids’ room, setting up a registration table with the t-shirts, a laptop, and a stack of waivers for anyone joining us from outside the academy. I was surprised when people started showing up before 9am! By 11am the mats were already packed, and around noon I counted 52 grapplers on the mats, either rolling or hanging out at the edges. I had recruited some help from fellow staff members and students, so I was able to get off the desk and onto the mats.
In order to be as accessible as possible, we asked several instructors to donate their time by teaching a one-hour workshop. This way students who weren’t yet comfortable rolling live were still able to take part in the event. One of our Muay Thai instructors, Kru Daniel Chacon (who also happens to be an awesome BJJ purple belt) put on a teep (foot jab) workshop for our Muay Thai students and encouraged them to donate and pick up a shirt. We had five workshops throughout the day, including one taught by BETA co-founder and BJJ black belt Nakapan Phungephorn. Each of these workshops was well attended and helped to break up the monotony of rolling all day. Some participants (including me) chose to roll instead of attending the workshops. The two grapplers who rolled the most would get an Origin Pro Comp Gi, so there were precious rounds that could not be wasted!
At 2pm the Mid-Atlantic Grappling Girls took to one of our matted rooms (we have two), led by brown belt Liz Sussan from Richmond BJJ. Liz taught an awesome spider guard break series, and the women got to hang out and roll together. It was nice to break away for an hour or so and just get to meet new people and roll with women whom we had never met before. We rejoined the larger group around 4pm.
One of my concerns was how to track rounds. I didn’t want to be stuck to my computer, tallying grapplers. We chose to set up a white board and operate off an honor system, where the grapplers were responsible for marking their own rounds (my rationale was if you’re going to cheat at a charity event, karma will eventually catch up with you...or I will, and it won’t be pretty). I set the clock for 5 minutes on with 1 minute off, so there was plenty of time to make sure that the rounds were recorded. After about 4pm it became pretty obvious who was in the running for the gis, so a lot of people who weren’t on the leaderboard stopped recording and just focused on rolling.
By the time I started my last roll at 8:55pm, I was exhausted but still exhilarated. When all was said and done I had gone through three gis, two rash guards, and about 6 hair ties. Cleanup was a breeze, as students were ready to lend us a hand. After the dust settled and I was able to add up all the donations, it became clear that we had raised over $10,000. I emailed the folks at NVRDC; we were pretty excited.
Only then did I realize I had been so busy rolling, socializing, and collecting donations that I forgot to take any pictures or post anything on social media! Thankfully, BETA’s own Evan Barocas and Luza Bohorquez-Thomas were on hand to capture the day and took lots of awesome photos, some of which are up on the event page. Next year I will be sure to stop and get a group photo, or to stop and post things on Facebook (perhaps I’ll even learn how to use Twitter and Instagram by then). I don’t know exactly how many people attended, but my best guess is somewhere between 150 and 200 people. We had at least 50 visitors from other academies (which is awesome!). All in all I think it was a success.
A huge thanks goes out to our sponsors, Meerkatsu and Origin Gi, for helping make this happen. Thank you to Melanie and Nakapan for trusting me enough to open their school up to the world, and thank you to all the fundraisers and participants for joining BETA in taking a stand against violence. Now go start training for Grapplethon 2014!
Photos courtesy of Luza Bohorquez-Thomas and Evan Barocas