In Memoriam - Steve Hannah

Mitsuyo Maeda--Helio Gracie--Rickson Gracie--Pedro Sauer--Steve Hannah

I told him I loved him and that he was leaving us an incredible legacy. Steve was my best friend and he’s loved and missed by us all.”
-Jesse Hernandez

The BJJ world has lost a unique individual in the person of Steve Hannah.

Steve passed away Friday afternoon, January 26, 2007. He was a native of Liberty, Missouri and just 41 years old. He bravely fought a year-long battle with a malignant brain tumor and died peacefully while taking a nap in his own home, in his own bed.

Steve, awarded his black belt by Professor Pedro Sauer in 2006, was a uniquely talented and compassionate individual who touched the lives of many with the sharing of his time, talent and treasure.   Always driven to excel, Steve was not only a highly-regarded Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and instructor, he was also an accomplished physician, practicing Radiology at Liberty Hospital. At the time of his death, Steve was even pursuing a law degree. But it was his personal qualities of caring and dedication which made him an incredible friend to those who knew him.

Like all pursuits Steve undertook, he applied himself to grappling with single-minded determination. His Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu career began roughly twelve years ago when bjj was still unique in the world of mainstream martial arts. It didn’t matter that Steve had to drive four hours to train under Rickson Gracie student, Rodrigo Vaghi. All that mattered was understanding this “new form” of ground fighting. In addition to his private lessons, Steve trained several times a week with Jesse Hernandez, a devotee of Jiu-Jitsu whom he had met at a local judo club. Steve and Jesse became best friends and training partners and they would roll with each other until the very end of Steve’s life.

Intrigued with the idea of learning from the Gracies themselves, Steve finally decided to join the Rickson Gracie Association. He trained personally with Rickson and everything that was shown to him, Steve applied religiously. He became the de facto coach of a small group of guys whom he taught in his basement, a training space they all fondly referred to as “the bat cave.” Steve was dedicated to the tenets of the “old school” Helio Gracie-style of Jiu-Jitsu and would make his students drill techniques repeatedly. He was meticulous in his approach to the art and fully committed to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

After some ups and downs with teaching organized classes, Steve finally attained his brown belt and shortly thereafter met Pedro Sauer. It was upon this meeting that Steve’s life changed. He said meeting Professor Sauer was “like an answer to a prayer” and he would always credit Rickson Gracie and Pedro Sauer as “his greatest influences.” Steve would not only tell his friend Jesse how impressed he was by the art and efficiency of Pedro Sauer GJJ, but also how much he admired the professor as a “man of great character.” It was Steve’s hope to represent that same kind of character to his own students.

Steve was diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor in November, 2005 and, with surgery and treatment, he battled hard for a little more than a year. He was such a fighter that, despite being a brown belt when diagnosed, Steve fought against his pain and compromised conditioning to achieve his lifelong Jiu-Jitsu goal of being a black belt. After months of radiation and other treatment, Steve pushed himself through intense mat training with the goal of demonstrating for Professor Sauer his abilities in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Steve was never handed anything; he worked for it all, and one of his fondest memories was of sparring with other brown belts before Professor Sauer and being awarded his black belt from the man he respected most. Steve had finally done it.

Steve was a bold follower of Jesus Christ and his friends remember him as someone who was prepared to lovingly give an answer for the reason he had faith. “The Christian faith is historical and evidential,” he often said. “It’s never a blind faith.” Steve not only took every opportunity to tell others about salvation through Jesus Christ, but he also liked to tell his friends that he “couldn’t wait for the resurrection” and the promise of exchanging “this mortal body for an immortal one.” Because Steve was so confident in his eternal destiny, he wanted his family and friends to celebrate his passing rather than mourn, therefore he requested no memorial service or funeral be held.

Steve is survived by his soul mate and wife of 18 years, Anne, and his four children, Emily, Claire, Ethan and Christian.

Steve, we love you and we miss you. 



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