UNITY in DAKAR ’17 by KOA team


A small Northern Virginia Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) crew led by Professor Kelly Grissom, KOA returns to Senegal for its fourth trip, and what could be their last venture into Africa. From 16 to 20 March 2017, KOA Team will give free seminars and lead BJJ training classes to further develop Jiu Jitsu in Dakar. KOA Team believes every BJJ team can find great personal growth and reward through the LionHeart experience, as they truly have, while also helping BJJ grow in Africa through the process.

KOA Team participated in the first LionHeart event in 2013 hoping to improve lives by sharing Jiu Jitsu and helping start a BJJ sub-culture where one really did not exist before. It worked!!!…there is now a small but growing BJJ movement in Senegal, which KOA Team had a hand in helping along; however, Kelly often says the LionHeart friends they made in Senegal actually inspired and changed KOA Team members in more ways than they could have ever impacted them.

“I do not have the words to explain how the LionHeart Initiative has changed us, our jiu jitsu, our team, and our lives. We hope other teams and jiu jitsu followers have the opportunity to experience Jiu Jitsu in West Africa while it is still in its infancy, but there is a part of us that guards this life changing experience jealously” Kelly Grissom

In November 2013, Kelly undertook a bold adventure to West Africa with group of young BJJ blue belts to support the LionHeart Initiative’s efforts to introduce BJJ as a foundational component of mixed martial arts, which it aimed to develop as a way to create opportunities for African athletes. This first LionHeart project was coined Rollin’ in Dakar. KOA Team subsequently returned to Senegal in 2014 and 2016, respectively for Steadfast in Dakar and Tuff in Dakar. Rollin’ in Dakar ’13 and Tuff in Dakar ’16 included seminars, exhibitions, and cross-training in local traditional wrestling, all captured in a docu-film produced by MMA maverick filmmaker Genghis Con.


This project contributed to LionHeart vision to lift deserving and talented athletes from poverty by driving a long-term development of MMA in Africa with the aim of creating local and international opportunities for young athletes to excel in the world’s fastest growing sport and mainstream entertainment. A unique strength of the LionHeart Initiative is its ability to motivate volunteers and connect experienced martial artists with talented athletes in Africa. Over the years, the MMA for Africa movement, which grew out of the LionHeart Initiative, has led to dozens of volunteer instructors worldwide traveling to Africa and offering free seminars in MMA or underlying grappling and striking arts. In return, these foreign visitors are afforded a life-changing experience in training with local martial artists and being exposed to the rich culture and traditions of African communities.

While continuing short-term projects led by foreign volunteers to grow MMA and underlying martial arts (thereafter cited as MMA) in Africa, but recognizing its limitations, the LionHeart Initiative will also fund long-term MMA travelers to live and train in African communities. Concurrently, LionHeart will promote and support pan-African exchanges for African MMA fighters to travel to neighboring countries to share their skills, which represents a cost effective and sustainable long-term concept of operation. Additionally, LionHeart will help organize competitive circuits and collaborate with local promoters to hold MMA events, which will serve promote the sport locally, motivate aspiring pro-fighters, and alter the local martial arts landscape.


Email Us