Before you throw your dukes up, it’s best if you know what you’re doing first. Through proper training, you’re more likely to win a fight than to walk away with nothing but a ringing headache and the taste of blood in your mouth. Winning a fight isn’t that simple. You must prepare.
Just as Marines make ready for war, fighters prepare in advance to execute a solid beat down … especially in the cage.
There are a few Marines at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., who have raised their warrior ethos to another level as mixed martial arts fighters with Fight Club 29 – the base team.
Fight Club 29 is a group of 12 Marines and three sailors who, on their own time, train and compete in submission grappling, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, pankration and combat grappling tournaments throughout the West Coast.
“The team allows Marines and sailors to take advantage of the rich Southern California mixed martial arts scene,” said team manager and coach Mark Geletko.
The combination of cardio endurance and strength training involved in preparing for a fight easily transfers to Marine Corps physical training programs and supplements the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, Geletko added. Training to fight prepares the Marines for their combat fitness and physical fitness tests like no other physical training.
James E. Clark, a coach and a fighter with the team, said there’s being in shape, and then there’s being in “fight shape.” For those who have been there, they’re definitely two different standards.
“The fittest combatant wins,” Geletko said. “It’s also a huge mental advantage for a fighter knowing that he is in top condition coming into the competition and that he holds that advantage over his opponent. A fighter should also spend equal
time on all aspects of his game – striking, grappling, wrestling and submission – to ensure that he is not one dimensional coming into the fight.”
The average Fight Club 29 fighter spends four to five hours per day training in preparation for an upcoming fight or tournament. This includes morning PT with their unit, conditioning during their respective lunch breaks and evening practice. When a tournament or match is two or three weeks out, the fighters are usually in for Saturday morning practices in preparation. Sunday is always a rest day.
The team starts each evening’s training session with at least a half hour of conditioning drills. The drills consist of kettle bell exercises, agility drills, speed work or strength training. After warming up, the club splits into two groups with the coaches – one group works on grappling while the other spars or works on striking.
Normally the team runs “live drills,” where the fighters grapple or spar at full speed for three to five minutes. This is done so fighters are accustomed to a real fight.
“We will often slow it down later in the practice to let the fighters drill the techniques at a slower pace to ensure correctness,” Geletko said. “We try to keep practice flowing quickly for the two-hour period so no time is wasted.”
Geletko, who recently retired from the Marine Corps at the rank of sergeant major, favors his Friday training days; thus making it a rough training day for his fighters. He likes to test their endurance and conditioning at the end of the week, knowing they will have enough recovery time before Monday.
The training begins at lunchtime. The team musters at the Combat Center Training Tank, commonly known as the swimming pool.
- Jump into the pool and swim from one end to the other. (100 meters in an Olympic-sized pool)
- When you complete the lap, exit the pool and do 20 pull-ups, 20 elevated pushups (feet on a bench) and 20 triceps dips using the bench.
- Repeat this set for eight repetitions. You will have completed an 800-meter swim and 160 repetitions of all three exercises.
The pool training regimen generally takes Fight Club 29 about 40 minutes to complete. Clark said he recommends using the buddy system for a spotter, especially on the pull-ups, then eating a high protein meal when the session is over.
After the pool, the Marines are back to work at their place of duty. Although they’re loyal to the team, they’re committed and sworn by oath to serve the nation in the Marine Corps. This comes first, Clark said, who serves as a gunnery sergeant and the communications chief for 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
“It’s important our fighters stay as committed to their duties as a Marine as they do to the fight team,” Clark said, who also doubles as the teams grappling and nutrition coach.
“In Twentynine Palms we are dealing with a majority of combat deploying units,” Clark said. “To keep in good standing with the units aboard MCAGCC, we stay flexible and understanding of our fighters’ needs to train and prepare for deployment. It is that mentality that I believe has allowed us to keep a steady flow of both new and old fighters returning after they serve their time forward deployed.”
The Marines are back at practice by 5:30 p.m. to find five workout stations in their dojo and Geletko holding his stopwatch. Their Friday evening workout consists of circuit training, rotating to each station every minute. Geletko said this is conditioning at its best.
Fighters perform each station exercise for one-minute as quickly and correctly as possible. When the minute is up, Geletko notifies them to move on to the next.
Geletko said the full circuit simulates an official five-minute round. All exercises have a method to the madness, especially the leg workouts. Those exercises help release testosterone from the quads where most of it is stored, and circulate it through the body to strengthen it and promote muscle growth.
“There is a one-minute rest between rounds, just like a fight, and then it begins again,” Geletko said. “We execute five rounds with the one-minute break in between. This simulates a championship fight – five five-minute rounds. This conditions our fighters to be able to go hard for the whole round in a fight.”
A fighter has to prepare himself mentally by training properly for the fight and having confidence in his preparation, Geletko said. If he enters that event sure of his readiness to meet the challenge, he already has a leg up on his opponent.
CLOSING THE WEEK
“Fridays’ training is a great close to the week and simulates the stamina needed for a competitive match,” Clark said. “It’s important to simulate the rigors of not just what the body must go through, but what the body can take. The fighters get plenty of time to recover, even if we run a technique practice on Saturday, so they are ready for Monday. I strongly encourage them to rest on Sundays and let the body recover”.
TIME TO FIGHT
Stepping onto the mat or into the cage, the fighter has to mentally map out how he wants the fight to go and what techniques he wants to employ to make the fight go his way early on.
Geletko said fighters work up a light sweat about a half hour before the fight. They mentally prepare to use the striking combinations and grappling techniques they have practiced. They warm up striking on boxing hand mitts or Thai pads, then grapple at a medium pace with a teammate to get loose.
“It’s usually a last-minute confidence building talk and game-plan review that marks the last step for preparations,” Geletko said. “If a fighter has trained hard and prepared well, he’s ready to brawl.”
Geletko said mixed martial arts in the Marine Corps is an extension of MCMAP and the Corps’ “warrior ethos” as Marines and sailors.
“Marines are naturally competitive and most were athletes before joining the Marines,” Geletko said. “Many were martial artists prior to joining, so it’s a natural transition. Our club, and the others like it throughout the Corps, is an extension of what we do as Marines and a great way for the fighters to be involved in a positive atmosphere that enhances their fitness and warrior abilities.”