Earlier this month I spoke with Jon Thomas (no relation) about the organization he's started called Tap Out Cancer. It sounds like he's doing some great work, and he's going to be donating all the money they raise to organizations dedicated to fighting cancer. Read on for more details...  Bill

How did Tap Out Cancer start?

I got my wakeup call on September 17th, 2010. I was sitting at the Classy Awards in San Diego, CA, as a corporate sponsor, hearing the stories of individual sacrifice for a greater good in this world. Representatives from nonprofits around the country filled the auditorium. There were hundreds of people who had made the conscious choice to give up their time to follow their passions to find cures, feed the poor, fight cancer, end homelessness, build churches in third world countries and more.

And there was me. I felt like everyone was looking at me. I felt like they knew I wasn’t doing a thing to change this world for the better.

Scot Chisholm, co-founder and CEO of Stay Classy (hosts of the award ceremony), got on stage and spoke of how his mother’s battle with cancer and the life lessons she taught him inspired him to leave his job as an engineer and make a change in the world. After talking about how the biggest challenge was the first step – taking action – he asked us, “What are you passionate about?”

Then, it clicked. I awoke. I promised myself, that day, that I would take action.

Answering Scot’s question was easy. I knew that cancer has taken too many friends and family members away from me to stand on the sidelines any longer. I also knew that I was passionate about jiu-jitsu – a sport that is growing leaps and bound each day, without a true philanthropic presence.

My idea was to marry my passions for jiu-jitsu and defeating cancer to form a nonprofit that unites the grappling community to make a difference. I had the name of the nonprofit chosen before I got out of my seat. Just like before a fight, visualizing the win, I wanted the name to make it clear to everyone exactly what we were going to do – Tap Out Cancer.

What is your mission?

That’s why I love the name. Our mission is right there – to force cancer to tap out, once and for all. It won’t happen overnight, or even in my lifetime, but it will happen someday and the entire jiu-jitsu community will have taken part in it.

When I first imagined what Tap Out Cancer would exist as, I always pictured a sea of red t-shirts (our primary logo color) at jiu-jitsu tournaments, selling merchandise and raising money.

I’ve attended numerous Naga, Grapplers Quest, and independent tournaments around New England and saw hundreds, sometimes thousands, of competitors together in one place for an entire day (or sometimes multiple days). I saw vendors galore, and I saw grapplers opening their wallets to grab yet another pair of shorts or the latest rash guard. But what I didn’t see was a philanthropic presence. I didn’t see anyone utilizing these events to bring us (grapplers) together as a community to make a tangible difference in this world. I knew that it wasn’t because the grappling community didn’t want to make a difference – they just didn’t have the opportunity to do so.

Tap Out Cancer gives the grappling community a way to give back, together. It gives us a way to show the world that our sport is more than just chokes, armlocks and submissions. It also gives us a chance to show that we’re more than just fighters. We’re teammates. We’re families. We’re fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons and daughters, and we’ve all been affected by cancer.

How will you make a difference?

Every six months, Tap Out Cancer will donate proceeds raised to an organization fighting cancer. Our 2011 beneficiary will be the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which has a special place in my heart.

Tap Out Cancer will raise awareness and funds through merchandise sales (t-shirts, rash guards, gi patches, etc.), public donations, sponsorships, grants, hosting events and more. We’re a small nonprofit so spreading out across the country is difficult, but we’re going to try to have a presence at as many tournaments as possible.

In the future we hope to empower volunteers to raise money on their own for Tap Out Cancer. They can already create their own fundraising page. 

What does jiu-jitsu mean to you?

I’ve played numerous sports in my lifetime. Sports that most would consider “safe” and “normal.” In those same sports I saw violence. I saw poor sportsmanship. I even saw parents yelling profanities at coaches and sometimes their own children. Make no mistake, when grapplers step on the mat they are there to win, but I’ve never seen the level of sportsmanship and honor in any other sport as much as I’ve seen in jiu-jitsu.

I’ve fought against opponents with all my heart and might. I’ve won some and lost some, but nearly every time I’m talking with my opponent afterwards – getting to know them, where and how long they’ve trained. I have pictures of myself on the podium hugging my opponents. I’ve trained at a variety of schools around the Northeast and have been accepted with open arms each time.

There is a mutual respect in jiu-jitsu that can’t be understood until you’ve stepped on the mat. There’s camaraderie between teammates that goes deeper than any other sport I’ve been a part of. When they win, I’ve won. And when they lose, I’ve lost.

I had no doubt that when I started Tap Out Cancer that the grappling community would wholeheartedly embrace the cause.  I’ve had people from all over the globe, most of whom I’ve never met before, reach out to me asking how they can help. It’s been heartwarming and humbling, and I can only hope I can lead the organization as effectively as possible.     

What can our readers do to help?

There are plenty of ways to get involved. If you’d like to donate, we always accept public donations online. The best way is to empower your school, teammates, family, friends and community to help us force cancer to tap out by leading a fundraising team.

If you’re a school or gym owner who wants to help on a larger scale, please consider sponsoring Tap Out Cancer. Your sponsorship allows more pass-through for public donations and merchandise sales. It also shows your current and prospective students that your school is making a difference in the community.

We’re expanding our merchandise line as quickly as possible, but for now you can purchase our signature t-shirts at our online store. Rash guards and gi patches are coming soon, as well as new t-shirt designs.

If you can’t donate money right now, that’s perfectly fine. Just tell your school and your teammates about our cause. We update our Facebook and Twitter pages with useful content every day, so make sure to follow us there.

We’ll also be expanding as quickly as possible, so if you’d like to volunteer to represent Tap Out Cancer at your next tournament, let us know!