By Mark Geletko
Mark Geletko is as tough as steel, fitting since he’s a Pittsburgh native and a former steel worker. He’s also a recently retired Marine Corps sergeant major and the coach/manager of Fight Club 29, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms’ premier fight 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 Ju Jitsu, boxing, pankration and combat grappling tournaments throughout the West Coast.
He preaches the “fight mentality” for a reason: He believes it’s part of the Marine Corps’ warrior ethos, and training for the physical hardships a man will face in martial arts competitions will make him stronger and more prepared for what his career in the Corps may throw at him. Before leading Marines and Sailors into competition, he developed a warrior ethos on his own.
He was a Pennsylvania and Ohio Golden Gloves boxer prior to coming into the Corps, earning gold and silver medals in 1982 and 1983 as a light heavyweight. He also boxed in tournaments in the Marine Corps, earning gold and silver in the late 1980s. He competed in amateur Muay Thai, earning a 4–2-1 record as a heavyweight in the late 1990s. Prior to retiring, he was a certified Marine Corps Martial Arts black belt instructor trainer.
Geletko praises the Marines who have raised their level of combat mindset through martial arts and offers a great experience for those interested in competing.
GOT WHAT IT TAKES?
Since starting our team five years ago, Fight Club 29 has racked up six team gold medals in California Grapplers Extreme Submission Grappling Tournaments, three team silver medals in the California State Pankration Championships, and three team silver medals Armed Forces Pankration Championships. The club has seven state or armed forces pankration/combat grappling individual champions and has qualified 10 fighters for the United States National Pankration/Combat Grappling Team. Team members have also competed in USA Boxing and Brazilian Ju Jitsu tournaments, earning an excellent reputation in the Southern California Mixed Martial Arts scene. The team has a great amount of success, despite a rotating roster and several overseas deployments of team members. Marine Corps Community Services Sports is very supportive of our team and gave us varsity team status.
If you think you have what it takes to be a member of the MMA community or simply have an interest in martial arts, the road to success isn’t going to be easy. A true fighter sticks to a strict training workout that pushes his body to the limit. Ordinarily, my team participates in three daily workouts: Physical training with their units in the morning, a lunch time conditioning workout and evening practice, summing about four hours total. My fighters incorporate pool workouts, conditioning drills and rotating stations to give their bodies the stamina required.
TRAINING LIKE A FIGHTER
One of our most challenging workouts is our circuit regimen called “Fight Gone Bad.” It consists of five stations, lasting one minute each. One minute rest is awarded after completing all five stations. This circuit simulates a five-minute round in a fight. The circuit is completed five times simulating the five rounds in a championship fight.
The stations consist of push presses with 25-pound dumbbells, box hops on a 3-foot box, wall balls with a 15-pound medicine ball, suitcase squats with 35-pound kettle bells and ball slams with a 15-pound medicine ball.
When sticking to intense workouts such as these, I recommend eating six small meals a day and drinking plenty of water, supplemented by a good sports drink. This will keep your body fueled to stay in the fight.
My advice to competitors is to find multiple training partners. “Steel sharpens steel” and fighters learn from each other as much as their coaches. We encourage our fighters to be well-rounded and train in boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling and Ju Jitsu. Try to compete whenever you get the chance. All of these things will only make you an overall better competitor and a better warrior.
Competing in mixed martial arts is definitely not for everyone. However, the Marine mentality and warrior ethos lends itself well to the competitive MMA scene. The training and level of competition only makes Marines more disciplined and driven, which carries over into their careers.
The MCMAP program is a good place to start because it gives the Marine an overview of many forms of martial arts. I highly encourage Marines to dive into MCMAP and to attain the highest belt they can. Along the way I guarantee they will meet like-minded Marines that have a martial arts background and are willing to train with them. That is exactly how I came to form this team. I was teaching as a brown belt and working on becoming a black belt instructor trainer, and I kept running into Marines who were grapplers, Brazilian Ju Jitsu practitioners, Muay Thai fighters, etc. I taught them, learned from them, and it blossomed. Every base does not have an MMA team like ours, but I guarantee they have a MCMAP program at the various unit levels. Get in there and find some training partners. From there, you may find a team or even start one – you just have to get in the game.
It takes some guts to train and then step in the ring or on the mat in competition, and I respect any man who does it. However, most Marines come from a background where they are not afraid of competition or a challenge, that’s why they chose the Corps. I do not see any really negative consequences to training and fighting, especially with a successful team with a good reputation. It’s all character building. Whatever hardships we experience only make us stronger. I highly encourage Marines to seek out training and give it a try, whether it is a high-level MCMAP program, or an actual team that competes, the benefits largely outweigh the drawbacks.
FIGHTING THE CYNICISM
Occasionally, leaders are hesitant to allow their Marines to participate in our program. There is a myth that MMA produces many serious injuries. Although injuries sometimes do occur, the associations that we compete in are regulated by state and national associations and have outstanding referees and officials. Furthermore, MMA coaches around the Corps, who are usually active or retired Marines, run safe, well-supervised training sessions. The athletes are so well conditioned and trained that they are highly durable and less susceptible to injury. In my career, I have witnessed more Marines get hurt playing basketball in their running shoes, than in martial arts.
Article provided by the Marine Corps Blog.