Jon Thomas

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Purple Belt training under both Andrew Calandrelli (Ultimate MMA/Nova Uniao) and Luigi Mondelli (KORE BJJ/American Top Team)


I grew up a semi-charmed kind of life, as the song goes. I didn’t deal with much loss of family and friends. The world seemed great and I thought those I knew and loved would live forever. Of course, that’s not true, but I didn’t know any better.

Once I reached college, things changed. I lost my loving aunt to cancer, leaving behind my uncle and young cousin, not even out of high school yet. In mid-2006, my nephew, at only a few months old, was diagnosed with Leukemia. He lost his battle in December that year, bravely fighting every step of the way. Two years later, almost to the day, I found out my roommate, colleague, and longtime friend had been diagnosed with liver cancer. He passed nearly 10 months later.

These losses stay with us forever, as they should. They teach us lessons about life, love, family, courage, perseverance, and faith. They also force us to examine questions that we may never find the answer to.


I found jiu-jitsu in the fall of 2008. I’ve always been an athlete, but after college it was increasingly difficult to continue playing the team sports that I had grown up with. I wanted to find a sport that would keep me in shape, competitive, and dependent on only myself (so to speak). I was an emerging fan of the UFC and investigated this martial art that seemed to take the mixed martial arts world by storm.

After my very first line of judo rolls I got so dizzy that I fell over. After my first full class with grappling rounds I lay exhausted on the mat, gasping for air, wondering which way was up. The learning curve was intimidating. I felt like the only one who had no idea what was going on. It was uncomfortable, terrifying, and the challenge seemed insurmountable – I fell in love.

Jiu-jitsu taught me so much about myself and what it means to fight – just like the loved ones I lost. But more importantly, I found a community that fosters honor, respect, and sportsmanship. Intense rounds of competition are followed by hugs, smiles, and new friendships. When I meet another grappler in an everyday setting, there’s a certain connection. We’re a family of grapplers.


In the fall of 2010 I sat at the Classy Awards – an event awarding philanthropic endeavors by nonprofits and socially responsible organizations. I heard incredible stories of sacrifice — people leaving wealth and comfort behind to help others and create a better world. To be honest, I felt uncomfortable. It was that feeling when you know you’re doing something wrong but you try to ignore it, as if that doesn’t make it bad.

The next day, under the sun of San Diego, an idea was born. I wanted to unite the grappling community to make a tangible difference in this world by supporting those organizations that help fight cancer every day. I wanted to show the world that jiu-jitsu is more than just fighting – we’re a family – and we can change the world.

That idea, of course, was Tap Cancer Out. And so this story begins…