Hanging with friends - at the pool, at the mall - is where one would find most 13-year old girls on a summer weekday.
And then there’s Grace Gundrum.
The 7PM sun casts a long shadow into the room. A shadow of a plant and the Finishers Jiu Jitsu logo are thereby cast on the wall. Atop it all, medal after medal. The air, balmy. The sound of exertion as a roomful of kickboxers slam gloves to bags in sporadic rhythm.
Though she’s very smart, Grace’s success on the mat is by large a result of dedicated practice. She visits 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu midmorning, returns home for a nap and food, then heads back to assist JM Holland and Zach Maslany with kids jiu-jitsu then laces up for adult kickboxing, adult begginer jiu-jitsu, then on to advanced class . She takes one weekday morning off, then puts in a Saturday practice at a competitive gym in New York City.
Having her around for any class - kid or adult - helps the instructors teach technique. Grace’s level of practice is instinctual; she knows how to move. Having her as a demo extends the length of time the instructors can teach - her weight and size is less resistance when showing new techniques - though it’s minor compared to the overall incredible compliment of these instructors - experienced, driven - and the ideal student- smart, patient. Dedicated.
“I was thinking, one day, she’ll go away to school [or before that, get involved in any of the other teenage distractions]. Grace ain’t gonna be there every day, every hour - and it made me sad. People always say you have to appreciate the moment. I really appreciate having her with me,” relates Maslany.
“Teaching the kids class would be tough without her. Kids and parents alike ask what the end result can be. “Does this really work? Can people be that good? We’re able to just tell people - there it is.” They point to Grace. Practice pays off.
In March 2014, Grace competed at the Eddie Bravo Invitational at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. She was up against a girl who had ten pounds on Grace, who practiced CrossFit and was a 5 time Pan American champion. Though Grace didn’t have the opportunity to show off her diverse range, she fought with patience, earned overtime, and won with a submission. Video of her EBI 3 match has collected 60,000+ views.
The upcoming Eddie Bravo Invitational event (the 4th), will be held again at the Orpheum. Sixteen of the best jiu jitsu competitors will battle, and the prize is a potential $20k. The teen matches will be peppered in between the adult matches, making for an interesting change of pace. Grace will travel with her family and instructors for a shot to reprise her March 2014 win. Maslany estimates that whoever wins Grace’s match at the EBI 4 is likely to be one of the best kid jiu jitsu practitioners in the world.
In jiu jitsu - in life - consistency is key.
Between competitions, Grace returns to the gym, continues to make her own moves, and stay a step ahead of whoever she’s rolling with.
By Lauren Case