Without a doubt one of the best and most innovative grapplers of this generation is Keenan Cornelius. Keenan is a lapel magician! He has changed the Gi Jiu Jitsu game with the clever utilization of the lapel.
He is still very young, but has already done so much for the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Let’s take a look at everything Keenan Cornelius has done so far in his Jiu Jitsu journey. From his beginnings as a young champion, the gyms he’s trained at, his lapel guard creations, some of his controversies, and opening his own academy!
Keenan's Early Days
The Hawaiian native was born into a family that trained martial arts. His father Tom Callos was a 6th degree Taekwondo blackbelt. Callos tried to teach Keenan TaeKwondo as a kid, but he had no interest at the time.
Cornelius didn’t get involved in grappling until he was 14 years old since his father was a big MMA fan. His father was actually the person that introduced BJ Penn to BJJ and helped start his martial arts journey.
Since Keenan’s father was a blue belt, he opened a small gym for Keenan and his friends to train. It was more of an open mat type of a gym. It was open 2 days a week for Keenan to train. He didn’t have an official instructor, but blackbelt Carlos Valente came to the gym for a seminar. After seeing Keenan train, Valente awarded him his green belt.
Keenan Cornelius BJJ would later travel to train at Cassio Werneck’s gym. But unfortunately, Werneck’s gym was a bit of a far stretch and he could only train there a few times a month.
After earning a blue belt under Werneck, Keenan would be on the moving switching gyms again. This time he would move over to BJ Penn’s academy in Hilo.
Cornelius even enrolled at the college in Hilo to train at BJ’s school, but never actually attended. He just did it to appease his parents, when in reality Keenan already made the decision to pursue BJJ.
Keenan Moves To Lloyd Irvin's Academy
After two years of training under BJ and his brothers, Keenan was awarded his purple belt. But at the time BJ was still a competitive fighter and was rarely at the gym. The gym was also more No Gi based rather than Gi, which is what Keenan preferred to train in.
Keenan Cornelius had a close friend that also trained BJJ named Andris Brunovskis. Brunovskis had a conversation with Keenan and told him that he was training at Lloyd Irvin’s school in California. He heard nothing but great things about Lloyd Irvin, and he decided to switch schools and learn from him. And this is where Keenan really started to shine!
Under Lloyd Irvin, Keenan won literally every major IBJJF title in his first year there at purple belt. After being awarded his brown belt, he repeated winning all of the major championships again. There was quite a bit of buzz around Keenan in the BJJ community as a fast rising star.
Keenan Decides to Cut Ties With Lloyd Irvin
The BJJ community was rocked in 2013 when two Lloyd Irvin students were accused of raping a female teammate. Keenan wanted to separate himself from the academy quickly and earn his black belt.
He found the perfect academy at the time with Atos under multi time world champ Andre Galvão. Professor Galvão quickly awarded Keenan with his black belt and Keenan was about ready to set the BJJ world on fire!
Keenan's Worm Guard
Fresh off getting his black belt, Keenan and Atos seemed like a match made in heaven. At Atos, he was able to take his game to another stratosphere.
Cornelius has always tried to be innovative with his BJJ game. After years of experimenting with the Gi, Keenan had become an expert at lapel guard.
At competitions he would blend lapel guard with spider, De La Riva, and lasso guard. What he finally came up with was his opus - the worm guard.
The worm guard proved to be highly effective and gave fantastic control against even the toughest opponents. He used the worm guard to beat world champions like Leandro Lo, Murilo Santana, and Marcus Buchecha – and only in his first couple years at black belt!
After proving the effectiveness of his worm guard against some of the greatest BJJ practitioners, he released multiple instructionals on how to do the guard. Since moving to Atos, Keenan had won every major championship at blackbelts, aside from the world championship still evading him.
The Atos Split
In 2019, after years of their relationship souring, Keenan and Atos decide to cut ties with each other. There are many reasons for the split – it took place over a long time and it was bound to happen at some point.
The main reason for the split was a clashing of personalities between Galvão and Cornelius. Keenan wanted to be more free and expand his Jiu Jitsu with more of a western influence. Galvão, on the other hand was more the traditional kind of BJJ practitioner. He had become annoyed with Keenan being late to class so often and a few other things that Andre hasn’t commented on.
Being a free agent and jumping from camp to camp, Keenan finally decided to open his own school - Legion American Jiu Jitsu in San Diego, California.
Using the name “American Jiu Jitsu” instead of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu upset a few Brazilian grapplers. They felt Keenan was being disrespectful to the art of Jiu Jitsu by using this name.
Although Keenan meant no disrespect by using the name AJJ. He used this name because the style of Jiu Jitsu taught at his school is by Americans, hence American Jiu Jitsu. It’s just Jiu Jitsu with a slight twist of a westernized style of grappling.
Since opening his gym, Keenan took gold at the IBJJF European championship for a 2nd time as black belt.
What's Next For Keenan?
Now with his own school, Keenan will be able continue to evolve his BJJ game. Not only as a competitor, but now as a coach as he gains new students and teaches them his style of grappling.
Cornelius is still young and in his prime. Likely this lapel magician will be taking his sights to start beefing up his resume. He will likely look to finally get a IBJJF world championship at blackbelt and win the ADCC championship. Without question, Keenan Cornelius could easily become one of the best grapplers ever!