BLACK BELT: Chelsea native shares Jiu Jitsu journey

This month Chelsea-native Logan Cunningham, center, received his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Christian Derr and Jean Jacques Machado.

World titles, a purple heart and now a black belt—Chelsea native Logan Cunningham’s journey has been a decorated one.

While he’s seen his share of successes, that’s not the story he wants to tell.

When you ask Cunningham about his life, he talks about coaches and mentors, about his wife and his family, about training partners and teammates, about his military brothers.

Recently, Cunningham became the newest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt in the area.

It was a long, eventful, road that got him there, though.

In 1993, at the age of 12, Cunningham began training in Tae Kwon Do and Muay Thai. By the following year, he’d won several TKD tournaments and had his first MT bout.

Betwen 1994 and 1999, he competed in over 70 fights in addition to TKD tournaments.

At the age of 18, Cunningham earned his black belt in TKD, which he promptly traded in for a uniform upon joining the United States Army.

“I served eight years with my first duty station being two years in Schweinfurt, Germany with the 1st Infantry Division,” Cunningham said. “I then transferred to Ft. Lewis, Washington to be a part of the 25th Infantry Division. I earned the rank of Sergeant in my year of being stationed here. I also re-enlisted after making Sergeant.

“In my re-enlistment, I choose to be sent to the 101st Airborne Division as they were slated to be the first unit to go into Iraq for the invasion. I deployed twice to Iraq for a total of 25 months. I was awarded the Purple Heart during my second tour.”

And at every stop along the way, Cunningham continued training.

“At every unit I continued my martial arts training. Usually with the company commanders permission to teach my fellow soldiers. I also would reach out to any instructors I could find in whatever area I was to continue my own development,” he said.

At the age of 26, he was honorably discharged and returned home after eight years of service.

It didn’t take long before he was back in the ring.

“I started training and fighting Muay Thai again under a fellow instructor from my youth, Jeremy Owen, who had opened a gym in my hometown of Chelsea,” he said.

The next couple years, between 2008 and 2010, were dotted with 25 more fights—during which he won two world titles and a state title.

With Mixed Martial Arts aspirations, Cunningham realized he needed more ground training, so he began training jiu jitsu under Professor Christian Derr at Clinch Martial Arts Academy, a black belt under Master Jean Jacques Machado.

His training and passion led him to coaching and teaching the arts he had grown to love.

In 2012 he began organizing and promoting local MMA and Muay Thai fights under the name COMBAT!, with many of those shows being held locally in Claremore.

Over the years, Cunningham has earned an impressive resume:

•Professional MMA record of 5-0

•3-0 as a Professional Kickboxer

•USMTA Middleweight World Champion

•USMTA Jr. Middleweight World Champion

•USMTA Jr. Middleweight Oklahoma Champion

•XFL Lightweight Kickboxing Champion

And now Cunningham can add a black belt in jiu jitsu to that list.

“ I started in 2010. Training/Fighting had become my way of dealing with all of the bad feelings I had when I got home from the Army. Finding Jiu Jitsu was a natural progression for me. I was extremely lucky to be in a position to find Professor Derr,” he said.

Cunningham said he’s learned more than he can explain from jiu jitsu:

“Jiu Jitsu has taught me that no matter how bleak the situation seems. If I can keep my bearings, an opportunity to get back on top will eventually present itself.

It has taught me that everyone has something to offer.

It has taught me that everyone can be strong.

It has given me the brotherhood and sense of family that I had been missing since leaving the military.

It has brought me into a whole community of great people... and a couple not great ones.”

From a beginner white belt, to a black belt, is a long journey for, with many obstacles.

When asked, Cunningham didn’t hesitate in identifying his biggest obstacle.

“My pride,” he said. “When I first started, I was a world champion Thai Boxer. I would come into class, at 29 years old, and get choked out repeatedly by 16-year olds.”

He said it took a lot of humility to continue coming to class day after day.

“But Professor Derr was great at recognizing this and seeing my potential. Not that quitting is a thing that I do, but it sure would have been easy when I first started,” he said. “Professor Derr sat talked with me on many occasions in my first year. Telling me the story of his journey. Also giving me some great analogies. A couple that I still use today with my own students.”

Cunningham said the road has been paved with valuable mentors—and he’s happy to repay the favor and share his wisdom with new Jiu Jitsu practitioners.

“While Jiu Jitsu will enable you to do a great many things, deal with stress, lose weight, gain confidence, and give you great piece of mind,” he said. “It will also keep you humble. Which I think is an important part of being a good person.”