The BJJ dirty dozen are the first 12 non-Brazilian people to ever reach the rank of BJJ black belt, and they were all promoted by legends of the sport. These men were all regularly training in the early 1990s back when the sport was so small that the only opportunities to train came alongside some of the best people on the planet. As a result, they all developed a high level of skill and have since gone on to become legends of the sport in their own right as well. There is a lot of contention around the specific people who make up the BJJ dirty dozen and although there are other close contenders, our research has broken it down to the following 12 grapplers. If anyone discovers conflicting evidence and wants to reach out to us via E-mail, we will amend the list accordingly if it proves to be true.
The BJJ Dirty Dozen
The BJJ dirty dozen were all promoted to black belt prior to 1997, before ADCC existed and in most of their cases even before the first IBJJF World Championship took place. This was back when the sport was almost entirely practiced in Brazil and very few of the existing black belts had lived outside of their home country for any long period of time. The most common way to find out about the sport back then was either to be personally involved in martial arts already, or to have fallen in love with the earliest editions of the UFC and other MMA pioneers. Regardless, these 12 men had all sought out the sport for various reasons and at different times before eventually working their way up to black belt.
Craig Kukuk was the very first non-Brazilian to be promoted to BJJ black belt and as such, the first member of the Jiu Jitsu dirty dozen. He received his black belt from Royler Gracie at some point in 1991 and he also became the first non-Brazilian to open an academy in New Jersey. He was not only known as a fantastic grappler but a very talented coach as well, something that he actually went to show to the world later on. He actually released one of the earliest and most comprehensive instructionals in the sport: ‘Gracie Jiu Jitsu from A to Z’, which was incredibly popular at the time. It was 11 volumes and hundreds of techniques released to the public, at a time when it was actually impossible to train with an elite instructor for the vast majority of the world.
Ken Gabrielson joined the BJJ dirty dozen as the second member in 1993, when he was promoted to black belt under Reylson Gracie. Gabrielson initially started training in a number of different martial arts during the early days of his career, including many hours under the guidance of Jeet Kune Do legend Paul Vunak. Gabrielson also spent time training under Rickson Gracie, taking private lessons in one of the Gracie family garage set-ups that were the primary method of training BJJ at the time. Since receiving his black belt he has transitioned into coaching and has set up Gabrielson’s Combative Fighting Systems to teach his students.
It wasn’t until 1995 that the BJJ dirty dozen got it’s next member, when David Kama was promoted to black belt by the legendary Rickson Gracie. Kama started training in the 1980s under Rickson Gracie and stayed with him throughout his time on the mats, including running an affiliate gym under his coach. Eventually he branched out on his own and changed to ‘Kama Jiu-Jitsu’, although this is still under the Rickson Gracie Team of academies. Kama has enjoyed sustained success throughout his years as a coach and has produced a number of black belts, remaining a strong figure in the growth of the sport.
John Lewis was already a black belt in Judo by the time he found BJJ, and he had received from legendary martial arts figure Gene LeBell. He started training BJJ under Rickson Gracie and received his blue belt from him, before eventually deciding to move to train under the Machado brothers instead. He moved again but found himself a more permanent home at Nova Uniao, where he would spend his time learning from Andre Pederneiras. That was who promoted him to black belt in 1995 and Lewis went on to become a highly-respected coach for both BJJ competitors and MMA fighters. During his time teaching he has helped elite competitors like BJ Penn, Randy Couture, Robert Drysdale, and many more.
Rick Lucero has gained a wealth of experience in a wide range of different combat sports like wrestling, Judo, and boxing throughout his time on the mats. He started adding BJJ to his training regime and was eventually promoted to black belt in the art under Joe Moreira in 1996. He’s one of the members of the BJJ dirty dozen with the widest range of skills, and he’s been able to meld them all together to become a fantastic MMA coach. He has trained with some of the earliest pioneers of MMA like Mark Kerr, Dan Henderson, and Vitor Belfort and has used those experiences to open up his own academy; Lucero Jiu Jitsu.
Marc Baquerizo was also promoted to black belt by Joe Moreira in the same ceremony as Lucero in 1996, a moment when the BJJ dirty dozen really started to take shape with several additions. Baquerizo is actually one of the most elusive members of this group and not much is really known about his time prior to discovering Jiu Jitsu, other than the fact that he was reportedly Moreira’s first American student. There are unconfirmed reports of an apparent brawl with MMA legend Tank Abbott, but beyond that Baquerizo has stayed firmly out of the limelight.
James Boran was the third man to be promoted to black belt by Joe Moreira in that same ceremony in 1996, and he came to BJJ from an incredible athletic background. Boran was a former linebacker throughout his college career and eventually signed for The New York Jets in 1979. Perhaps in part thanks to his athletic experience, Boran has remained an avid competitor decades after receiving his black belt. He has won the IBJJF Master World Championship and several other major master events, all while still teaching at his own academy, Boran Jiu Jitsu.
Bob Bass became the first American BJJ black belt under Rigan Machado in 1996 and as such, secured his place among the dirty dozen. He had experience in several other martial arts styles like Muay Thai and Karate but his experience with wrestling convinced him to explore grappling even further. Bass established himself as a fantastic competitor in 1995 when he defeated the talented Gracie Barra prodigy Marcio Feitosa as a brown belt, and he was promoted to black belt not long after. He eventually became an instructor just like most other members of the BJJ dirty dozen and opened up his academy, South Bay Jiu Jitsu.
Rick Williams was also promoted to BJJ black belt under Rigan Machado in 1996, although it came after he initially spent some time training with Royce Gracie as well. He came from an extensive wrestling background before finding BJJ and used his grappling experience to win the IBJJF Pan Championship in 1996 as a brown belt, before being promoted as a result of his achievement. Between Williams and his training partner Bass, the two men managed to put American competitors on the map in the early days of BJJ competition.
Chris Haueter is another member of the BJJ dirty dozen that excelled in competition during the early days of the sport, and he was also promoted to black belt in 1996. He originally trained in Karate before finding wrestling, and eventually BJJ under in the garage of Rorion Gracie. That’s where he met Rigan Machado, who was the man who promoted him to black belt. He is perhaps the most prominent figures of all the BJJ dirty dozen, as he became the first American to submit a Brazilian in competition and the first American black belt to compete at the IBJJF World Championship. He famously coined the term ‘combat base’ at some point in the 1990s and even named his school ‘Combat Base Academy’, along with being responsible for the creation of the gauntlet belt promotion ceremony. He also served as the referee for Metamoris and is a frequent instructor at BJJ training camps all around the world.
David Meyer was already familiar with grappling when he first found BJJ, having already achieved the rank of black belt in Japanese Jiu Jitsu. He trained under Henry Okazaki at one point in time and also tried his hand at Aikido at the famous Tenshin Dojo owned by Steven Seagal. He quickly adapted his style to BJJ and found himself becoming a member of the dirty dozen when he was promoted to black belt by Rigan Machado after just 6 years of training in 1996. Although the promotion was quick, Meyer proved it was well-deserved when he became the first American to ever receive a medal at the IBJJF World Championship; winning bronze in the absolute division in 1998.
The twelfth and final space in the BJJ dirty dozen belongs to John Will, the only Australian in the group. Will is a legendary pioneer of martial arts in Australia and he has experience in a huge number of different styles of both grappling and striking, training under some of the most famous martial artists of all time like Gene LeBell and Benny Urquidez. He started BJJ under both Rorion and Rickson Gracie, before eventually receiving his black belt from Rigan Machado in either 1997 or 1998, as there are conflicting sources on the matter. Will has gone on to become a successful author and a self-defense instructor for both law enforcement and military agencies in Australia.