Keenan Cornelius is an American professional athlete who rose to fame as a champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He has won national and international titles for the Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) and the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) in, both, his weight category and in the absolute champion category.
Aside from his work as a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Keenan also teaches, trains, promotes healthy living, the philosophy of Jiu-Jitsu, and the practice of innovative ways to make the sport more effective.
A Jiu-Jitsu Star is Born
Keenan Cornelius was born in 1992, in Hawaii, USA. He grew up with his mother and his stepfather, Jiu-Jitsu instructor Tom Callos. His successful journey in martial arts began in the year 2006, when he casually observed a Jiu-Jitsu competition and, in his own words, he was instantly “hooked.” Ever since then, Keenan began to train with his stepfather, practicing different grappling techniques with friends, and then becoming fully invested in learning the techniques and discipline of the sport.
At a professional level, Keenan Cornelius has received formal training by big names in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world such as BJ Penn, Lloyd Irvin, and Cassio Werneck. In fact, it was right after his entry in Team Lloyd Irvin that his rise to fame ultimately occurred. The experience at Team Lloyd Irvin brought Keenan’s career to a whole new level, helping him win a number of highly competitive tournaments that he would have not otherwise won in years prior.
In 2013, Keenan split with Team Lloyd Irvin and joined Athos Jiu-Jitsu, where he trained to complete, and win, in some of the most prestigious tournaments around the world. It was then when he finally achieved the level of black belt.
In his website, Cornelius admits that training and big names are just not enough. Nothing can prepare you more for professional fighting than real exposure, self study, and creativity. These qualities are evident in Keenan’s career, since he perfected the art of analyzing moves and learning by mistakes. He also admits that he added skills to his dossier by devising new movements that he would teach himself. Some of these movements that he created did not come from ultra sophisticated sources.
According to his website, his style was inspired by using regular teaching sites. Cornelius realized that only he could figure the best way to maximize his own personal fighting techniques. Lessons and practice were not enough. These are some of the reasons why he spent a lot of time creating signature moves by studying his natural body movements, and crafting new modes of delivery and execution.
All of these experiences let Keenan to expand his curriculum of moves, skills, and techniques.
Back to the Beginning
Success did not come instantly to Keenan Cornelius’s life. As with every highly competitive sport on earth, any newcomer would have to face three types of athletes: the good ones, the great ones, and the best ones. Keenan knew that his journey would be uphill. After all, the whole point of Jiu-Jitsu is to execute the perfect move that will bring an opponent into submission. This basically means that nobody comes into the world of Jiu-Jitsu thinking that they will lose.
Keenan would literally need to fight all the way to the top without looking back. He also knew that every one of his opponents would come into the match with the same mindset: to control and to win. It was clear to Keenan that the only way to become one of the best was to give himself entirely to the process, learning new skills along the way. And, so he did.
As a new fighter, Keenan Cornelius also knew that, despite of the big names that helped him train from an early age, the only way to establish a professional presence in a highly competitive community is by building credibility. This “cred” is earned by participating in as many matches as possible. Expertise comes from exposure to the real elements, rather than by just practicing in a gym or dojo.
Starting out as a lower belt fighter, Cornelius had his share of wins, but also a slew of losses. Never one to lose focus of a goal, however, Keenan utilized all his wins and losses to further study his delivery and brush up on skills that would set him apart from other fighters. Little did Keenan know that his enthusiasm for Jiu-Jitsu would later on become his profession or, most appropriately, his absolute passion.
This is precisely what sets Keenan Cornelius aside from so many other fighters: his energy and passion are the factors that drive him to crush goals, elevating him to the ranks of other internationally acclaimed athletes.
Kennan Cornelius won his first International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) Grand Slam as a purple belt. Rather than remaining in this category, he continued to evolve within the sport, earning higher ranks and wining coveted titles under each new category and belt. He was promoted to brown belt under Team Lloyd Irvin.
Shortly after their split, and after joining Atos Jiu-Jitsu, Keenan continued to win match after match under the brown belt category. However, once in Atos, he was promoted to black belt under the mentoring of Andres Galvao, who is an eminence in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu universe.
Creating the Moves
In order to make his technique more personal and precise, Keenan created new positions, within the rules of Jiu-Jitsu, that worked quite effectively for him. Some of these he called
- The Worm Guard
- The Squid Guard
- The Gubber Guard
All these positions were made for both offense and defense, but they were mainly created as signature moves that would maximize his level of energy during a match, thus making it easier to bring an opponent to tire out and end up into submission.
Not Without Controversy
As Keenan’s star rose among the ranks of competitive fighting, and as his creative style proved effective for him, it was inevitable that his presence would cause a degree of curiosity, and even doubt, among rival competitive fighters.
Keenan’s professionalism and innovative spirit were put under close scrutiny by fellow fighters. Their claim was that the guard techniques created by Keenan were not legitimate, and that they would not work in a “real fight” scenario.
These arguments generated a series of debates among different communities of Jiu-Jitsu practitioners and enthusiasts all over the internet. The big debate was about whether or not creating techniques was an acceptable practice among athletes.
Keenan Cornelius’s response was unapologetic. He was secure in this strategy and felt quite sure that the techniques would help maximize the physical interaction of fighters. From the moment he began to experience criticism, Kennan was, and continues to be, ardently vocal in defense of his signature moves as well as his sport philosophy.
A Household Name
Fearless and passionate, Keenan stuck to his guns and continued to develop new and creative fighting techniques. His techniques were scientifically accurate, meaning that they could be taught to other fighters, and be repeated, with similarly successful results. Soon enough, Keenan Cornelius’s followers started to apply his techniques, and also began to win matches and tournaments on their own. That “street cred” that is so important to rising competitors was solidified by none other than Keenan’s followers and future students.
As a result of his rising popularity and meteoric achievements, Keenan Cornelius is now a household name among practitioners of Jiu-Jitsu.
From the year 2012, to 2016, Keenan Cornelius has performed in hundreds of matches and tournaments, most of which he has won as a brown and black belt. All his efforts, his wins, and his creativity, have earned him the credibility that most athletes need in order to become masters and mentors to so many hopeful practitioners.
You can see Keenan in symposiums and conferences around the world. He currently resides in San Diego, California, where he continues to serve in the field as a consultant and trainer.
The Jiu-Jitsu star’s dossier includes the following wins:
- International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) European Open Champion – Weight & Absolute (2018)
- IBJJF Pan American Champion (2018, 2015, 2014)
- IBJJF World No-Gi Champion (2014)
- IBJJF Asian Open Champion – Weight and Absolute(2018)
- IBJJF Pro League Champion (2014)
- FIVE Grappling GP Champion (2013)
- IBJJF American National Champion – Weight and Absolute (2017)
- IBJJF/Japanese Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (JBJJF) Japanese National Champion (2017)
- IBJJF-JBJJF Asian Champion – Weight & Absolute(2017)
- IBJJF Summer Open Champion, Boston – Weight & Absolute (2017)
- IBJJF Summer Open Champion, Chicago – Weight & Absolute (2017)
- IBJJF Seattle Open Champion – Weight & Absolute (2017)
- 2x Nogi IBJJF World Champion – black belt
- Abu Dhabi Combat Club (ADCC) 2nd Place (2015, 2017)
- ADCC 3rd Place – Weight & Absolute (2013)