Rising through the ranks of grappling’s submission-only circuit is a teenager who has become a real force in the sport. We first noticed this young lady a year ago, at the Quintet team tournament where, even though she was giving away a noticeable size advantage, she took 4x IBJJF black belt world champion to a draw, later we also found out she was 16 (at the time), and had run unbeaten since her pre-adolescence, holding submission wins over names such as Jessa Khan, Alyssa Wilson and Bianca Lebosnoyani. Her name is Grace Gundrum, and her jiu-jitsu career is being paved far away from the glamor of Southern California or New York. Instead, Gundrum’s success is aligned with the no-nonsense, hard-working ethos seen in the Rust Belt, where she lives, more precisely Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Born in China, Grace moved to the United States at an early age with her family, settling in the Keystone State. Sports were immediately introduced to Gundrum, who, by the age of 4, was already practicing karate at a local gym, one that also provided jiu-jitsu tuition.
Not long after, grappling appeared in Grace’s life: “my older brother tried that karate school [where Grace trained] for a few months but then stopped. He still had classes left in his plan so I went in [to BJJ class] originally just to use up his extra classes,” Gundrum told BJJ Heroes in April 2020. Grace was 5 years old when she joined Robert Villafane’s jiu-jitsu class, a training ground where Gundrum met JM Holland and Zach Maslany – who would later become her coaches.
Instructor’s JM Holland and Zach Maslany, founders of 10th Planet Bethlehem have a rich history themselves. Both life-long martial artists, both spending much of their competitive careers in striking martial arts such as karate, kickboxing, and boxing, both fighting for Golden Gloves, both finding their way to jiu-jitsu through Eddie Bravo, founder of their gym’s affiliation. Holland and Maslany joined forces as blue belts, back in 2013, and had Grace Gundrum as one of their very first students, having also developed another big jiu-jitsu name, 2019 ADCC 4th place, Jon Blank.
Grace’s athletic endeavors have not been limited to jiu-jitsu, “during elementary school I played basketball for four years, first for a township team then for a club.” Gundrum explained, adding that she “played middle school field hockey for a year“, all this while doing karate, kickboxing, and grappling during that same period, finding time to compete in wrestling for a year back in 2018-2019.
Busy between classes and school, Gundrum has consistently been climbing her way into the professional level of grappling, currently holding titles in the Quintet Team Survival invitational (open weight), Onnit Invitational tournament (105 lbs), and Finishers Only tournament (105 lbs), the latter an event promoted and created by her instructors, who awarded Grace her brown belt after last years epic victory.
Committed to both jiu-jitsu and her academic life, Grace is currently in the process of choosing a college to attend next year. We have seen a handful of athletes balancing university with a professional jiu-jitsu career, people such as Mikey and Tami Musumeci, Paul Ardila, etc. We hope Gundrum makes the same effort and picks a facility that allows her to continue her grappling progression.