To begin, I’m no world class martial artist who has multiple titles, nor have I competed around the globe winning championships. I’m no Shamrock, Lidell, or Gracie and don’t pretend to be one. Who am I? I’m a Fighter. I’m a fighter who has studied, practiced and competed in MMA and have decided to write about my experiences and growth in such. To tell a little about myself I started in the arts like most children my age at the time, watching the legendary Bruce Lee and others and then trying to duplicate their every move. TV at the time, around the age of three was a magical thing and everything on it seemed so real and fascinating. I remember running around my Kingwood, Texas house pretending to be a ninja fighting off multiple opponents flipping, dodging, and making up cheesy dialogue. In fact, my love for the arts was so huge that every year for Halloween until I was about fifteen I was a ninja. It wasn’t until I was about eleven that I really started to take my fantasy of martial arts and turn them into a reality by joining a free Kung-Fu school close to my house in Jersey City, New Jersey. My heroes at the time were Bruce, Van Dam, and of course Hulk Hogan so I thought “Hey, this is my time to be like the guys I always tried to be”. I’m not going to get into all the details of my school, or my studies by my teacher Sir Hank, but instead focus on explaining the lessons the arts taught me. Kung- Fu was my first step of transitioning from TV duplication to real life martial arts. I noticed that even though I could mimic the moves I saw on screen the application of the moves were different and required certain aspects that television could not give me. Fortunately once I mastered this concept I became very good at performing katas and my sparring improved tremendously. I studied the Bo staff, Tiger Style, and within 8 months I became a brown slash 3rd degree. My training consisted of intense sparring, technique focusing, mental preparation, discipline, speed and agility. I shortly found myself being bored with the lack of competition and challenges only provided by my teacher, so unfortunately and stupidly because of my ego and self righteousness I left my school and decided I needed no further training. Many years went past and even though I left my school I still practiced my Kung-Fu and even started to incorporate Boxing into my training. At the age of fifteen I moved back to Texas and lived in the city of Houston until I enrolled into the United States Marine Corps at the age of nineteen. Not knowing at the time, but this transition would help mold me into the fighter I am today.
The Lesson in between
Marine Corps life had a way of promoting competitiveness from the start of boot camp to actual combat and was still in me until I discontinued service. Guys tested each other and challenges of brain and brawn were always constant. Who can run faster, train harder, shoot better, learn more, etc. was a common contest that if excelled would quickly set an individual above their peers. My personal favorite besides marksmanship was fighting. This was my strongest point and I shortly found out no one in my unit could beat me. I quickly became a “targeted” man and everyone challenged me for the title of best fighter in the unit. Because of my wins I felt invincible with my Kung-Fu and knew no one had the skills to defeat me. My speed, and agility were unmatched and it didn’t matter if I was going against a boxer or kicker I remained victorious. One fellow by the name of Victor who later became a close friend of mine was at the time my biggest rival. He studied a style called Combat Do Jujitsu and was considered a solid wrestler and submissionist who like myself had no problem winning a fight. I heard of his kind of fighting and knew a little about Mix Martial Arts competitions because of turned pro wrestler Ken Shamrock and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), but leaned toward traditional martial arts because that’s what I grew to know. The Marines taught a style of this kind of fighting that consisted of ground techniques and striking but I still favored my Kung-Fu because no one had the skills to beat me using it. Also after witnessing short clips on TV, throughout the years I dismissed and criticized it as silly rolling on the ground and mere hugging. At the time I never really fought against a real good grappler and saw the style as a whole stupid and useless. My defense was that Kung-Fu’s agility and speed would never allow a person to get on their back, better yet allow a person get that close. I couldn’t understand why a person would want to wrestle when a knock out would be a quicker victory. Although we had our differences on martial arts Victor and I became very good friends who both appreciated fighting and competing and one day after weeks of debating we decided to spar in private to finally settle the matter of whose style was the best. The out come…….After years of success and confidence I was awoken to the reality that my style was flawed. Immediately I opened my eyes and came to the conclusion that I must learn the ground game just as well as I know striking. And who would be a better teacher than my biggest rival.
One must unlearn
A sponge is the only word that I can use to describe myself at the time of my new training. Because of our different styles, Victor taught me ground and I taught him striking. I shortly became infatuated with the ground style that beat me and promised I would never lose to ignorance of another style again. I practiced Jiujutsu, and started incorporating some Muy Thai into my striking. I watched videos, read books, sparred, trained, and dedicated myself to becoming a complete but smart fighter. I trained to have the poise and unorthodox style of Kazushi Sakuraba, the fierce kickboxing striking of Bas Rutten, and the conditioning and submissions of Frank Shamrock. I noticed that ground fighting took more time and thinking and in order to be good at it you must have complete control of your body and movement of your opponent. Every hand placement had a purpose and it only took the slightest mistake to turn a fight. Although I crossed trained on takedowns and submissions I still loved striking and decided that since every fight starts standing why not try to end it there from the start to avoid a ground conflict that might but you in a bad situation when handling multiple opponents. Continuing to cross train, I furthered my skills by learning a little Aikido while on a seven month deployment to the Mediterranean by a Navy fellow that was on my ship. Remarkably this extra training allowed me to submit and take down my opponents with the fluidity of Kung-Fu but, with the submissions and joint manipulation of Jujitsu. It was a wonderful transition that put me a step above all competition. Victor and I continued fighting people that challenged us and always dominated our adversaries with greatest of ease. Our reputation as the two best fighters in probably the whole battalion was so big that dozens of people were willing to pay just to see us go head to head. Even with tons of offers and what could’ve been a decent pay day we declined all the proposals and honored each others style and fought and practiced only in private. We didn’t care about giving a good show, the fact we would get paid, nor the recognition or acceptance of our peers, like true fighters we fought for self pride and improvement and to us that was all that mattered. Sadly, because of personal reasons Victor had to leave the Marines leaving me to train and study by myself. Although I lost a good friend and a sparring partner that day Victor helped me improve my fighting skills in ways that I was to bias and ignorant to explore. He taught me to unlearn and embrace fighting as a fighter and not a style. I had to learn that styles don’t win fights. Fighters who master styles win fights and for those reason I thank him and owe him.
More of the same
Time went on and I had several people wanting to train under my tutelage but I refused because at this time I had developed a style that was unique only to me and to teach it would be hard for others to grasp. I finally gave in and started training a young Marine that I found worthy to teach because of his persistence and heart. Surprisingly, after two months of training he started to take my teachings for granted and secretly started spreading rumors that he could beat me and take my title. Once I received word of these accusations and discovered they were true I stopped his training and vowed never to teach again. At first I felt betrayed and used but, realized that this is truly what competition was all about. One will do whatever it takes to be the best. And I was the best then it is only fair to want to take me out. My former student’s verbal assaults and challenges were funny and childish at first, but after weeks of his attacks I grew angry and impatient and accepted the chance to show my former student who truly was the teacher. After planning a fight date I tapped him out with a heel hook in about 20 seconds which is ironic since he claimed I only knew arm submissions. After our bout I continued training and found my self slipping away from striking and concentrating solely on my ground work and wrestling. I crossed trained with several wrestlers and seemed to prefer wrestling takedowns compared to the takedowns and throws of jujitsu. Even though I was a solid fighter and trained hard I was never satisfied with any of my improvements. I always saw how a maneuver could be better or done differently. My obsession for better ways and stronger attacks grew as did my hunger for worthy competition. Luckily, I found two Marines in my unit named Roger and Russ and started training very heavily with them. Roger was a practitioner of Shooto and was very experienced in several other martial arts including Muy Thai, Wing Chung, and Karate. He had competed in several MMA tournaments and was considered a real contender. Russ was just learning Mixed Martial Arts but excelled very well in the stand up game and Muy Thai. He had no real experience but, his drive and heart alone made him tough to beat in a fight. The three of us trained and shared techniques honing on each others strengths and weaknesses. Roger improved my striking while also showing me a few tricks in Jujitsu. Russ was a huge help by being a good training and sparring partner. As time passed we all grew into solid fighters and got bored of the simple local tournaments and side bets. We all wanted more.
Underground Street Fighter
Because of the lack of competition I wanted to better my fighting, but didn’t know exactly how so I decided to take an associate’s advice and start underground fighting in different towns and cities. After spending some time researching and talking to people I soon found my self almost every other weekend standing in a cheap boxing ring, a home made fighting cage, or in the middle of crowd of drunk, reckless, people getting ready to fight some unknown person for anything from $300 to $700. It was no UFC or Pride tournament, but it was my way of seeing where my true skills were. Street fighting was brutal and very dangerous for at any time anything could go wrong and you were left fighting for your life instead of money. It was organized in some ways and some fights did have some rules, but overall it was as hard core as it got. There were no stats or record keeping. No one had a belt or trophy to win. And there was no insurance. It was simply fight, win, and get paid. Some people questioned me fighting and wondered why I didn’t try fighting professionally. The answer was as long as I was in the Marine Corps I was military property any type of activity especially fighting that was not a military approved function was not prohibited. If I would’ve gotten hurt or seriously injured I would’ve probably been Court Marshaled and even worse kicked out. It was a risk I took, but knew pushing to go pro would be too obvious and my command would have investigated. I was a fighter who just wanted to fight and street fighting was the only way I knew about doing so. During my underground fighting experience I had about 22 underground fights that took place in Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville, Wilmington, and Durham in the state of North Carolina. To this day I remain undefeated and have gone against men of all shape, size, and color. I’ve gone against excellent fighters and poor fighters. I’ve faced fighters who demonstrated superb skill and fighters who demonstrated no skill. I have knocked out pure brawlers and have tapped out practitioners of multiple martial arts. I strived to always find the next challenge and was never scared to face someone I thought was better than me. It was all about going head to head, overcoming adversity and standing victorious when the smoke cleared. Martial arts were an escape of all my pain in world. I saw it as a way to see if my training was all for nothing or was I growing not only as a fighter but as a person. I didn’t care about getting hurt or getting hit; my biggest worry was failure and not fighting to my potential. I put fighting first in knew fighting was my life and I lived to fight.
(Names changed to protect persons)
I am Rebel, Thinker, and Fighter