It is a far gone cliche in the jiujitsu community, particularly among the older practitioners among us, that what first inspired us to train was watching Royce Gracie’s legendary performance in the first Ultimate Fighting Championship.  While the same is true of me, I also owe another man a debt of gratitude.

As a junior at NYU, I started training at a Jeet Kune Do school named Anderson’s Martial Arts.  There, I met Craig Dunham.  Craig is 6-feet tall, dark-skinned, with a tight mop of curly black hair.  His face bears the weathering of a mature man.  You might guess he’s in his mid-30s.  But, then his gi top comes undone during training, and you look down at your own gut and ask yourself what the hell he does so differently.  The man is shredded.

His most distinguishing characteristic, though, is something I have some difficulty describing.  He has a passion and an intense but positive energy that leaves you feeling better about life and sensing opportunity and possibility.  It is what I felt when I bumped into Renzo Gracie every so often when I trained at his academy in the early 2000s, or what I imagine people feel like when they meet the Dalai Lama.

One day, after a fierce roll between he and I at Anderson’s, we chatted back in the changing room.  Struck by his joie de vivre, we became friends.  The more I learned about him, the more I was amazed.  Here was a former college football player turned surfer turned BJJ practitioner turned yoga instructor turned salsa dancer…  He even tried out for Alvin Ailey.  Seriously, who was this guy?  But, all the while, he was humble and genuine to be around.

One day, he pulled me aside.  “Want to go to Renzo’s with me next week?”

“…Um…”  I hesitated.  The culture at our school did not encourage cross training.

He read the doubt in my expression.  “Dude – it’s Renzo!”   The next week we went.

That class, which covered mount escapes, started me on my jiujitsu journey.  I experienced the difference between a grappling class at a JKD school and a BJJ class at a master’s academy.  Done deal!  I would not have had that epiphany if not for Craig.

Craig now lives in L.A., which he moved to in order to pursue two dreams: launch a personal training business and train with Rickson Gracie.  He’s done both.  And that leads me to this.

Craig, thank you for helping me find this path.  Oh… yeah… how could I forget?  CONGRATS on becoming a Rickson Gracie/Kron Gracie purple belt!  I am immensely proud of you.



Craig winning a tournament match as a white belt. Early 2000s.


So what inspired you to train?  Share in the comments below.