Michael Brown is a third-year Navy Corpsman attached with First Battalion 9th Marines at Second Marine Division. Jonathan Walsh is a 10-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps and serves as the coach for the Camp Pendleton Submission Wrestling team. FIGHT! Magazine editor-in-chief spoke with both soldiers while they were overseas to fight on the Fight Night for Heroes card in Mosul, Iraq. For more on the event pick up the Nov. issue of FIGHT! Magazine at one of our retail locations across the U.S. and Canada.
FIGHT!: Were you a grappler before you got into the Marine Corps?
Walsh: I wrestled my whole life and then coming into the Marine Corps, you just and wrestlers are drawn to one another because you still want to wrestle on some level and then one thing just leads to another, you know, especially everybody so excited about fighting and everything like that.
FIGHT!: You say that everybody’s so excited about it—
Walsh: All of our—the guys that we wrestled with all the time, everybody was such big fight fans for Vale Tudo events, MMA-style events. I mean it was a long time ago so they were still calling NHB and Vale Tudo and I followed it from the first time that I actually found out about it, which was 1993. My dad brought home UFC 1 and said, ‘you’re going to like this; let’s sit down and watch this,’ and we watched it from then we tried to find every event like that in the world and there wasn’t as much media publicity on stuff like that so it was a little bit harder but it almost made it a little bit sweeter when you found like a DVD of like Japan Vale Tudo You’re like, “oh my God, this is the Holy Grail; this is a secret—I love it.” So the guys that were into it started trying to just figure this stuff out on our own, I mean you never went out where I was at. There wasn’t at the time, I didn’t know about any Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools anywhere or anything like that, so we were trying to figure stuff out on our own and when I fell into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I was in a gym on base in North Carolina and I was rolling around with a couple guys and I’m sure that we looked ridiculous to the guy that was watching us and I asked him if he wanted to roll and he was like, ‘no but I have a place that you can come train if you want to,’ and I was there that night and he wasn’t there that night. The instructor was there. I love the guy dearly now but he was a little peculiar at the time when I met him. Welcomed me on the mat and he proceeded to beat the crap out of me for a good two hours and I’ve been hooked on submission wrestling ever since.
FIGHT!: I mean it’s obvious from the other night that MMA is very popular with the troops as a spectator sport. Now what about—I mean are you guys a rarity for people, well obviously you’re a pro fighter so you would be somewhat familiar, but in terms of the troops, you’re training mixed martial arts or you’re training Jiu-Jitsu. Is that a rare thing in the military or no?
Brown: Yes, it’s just there, time makes it difficult. I’m sure if soldiers had more time to train, they would. A lot of them would prefer to do other things, though, as far as what they do with their free time. That’s the difference between us and them is we’re willing to sacrifice our free time to go train.
FIGHT!: You know, that’s interesting. So explain to me your average day when you’re training and your duties as a soldier.
Brown: Ok. Typical day would be I wake up 4:30-5:00, go PT with my Marines or if they’re not doing anything that morning, I’ll go do something myself whether it be swim, run or lift, one or the other, depending on what I had done days before, I’ll try to work something else that morning, immediately go to work 6:30-7:00 after I get done working out, you know, work lunch from about 11:00-12:00, it varies sometimes and then back to work till approximately 1700 which is 5:00 to 5:30 every day and then I get off work, bring my stuff with me to go straight to he wrestling gym after work so I go straight from work to the wrestling gym and from there I’ll train from approximately 6:00 to 8:30-9:00 every night. Every single day I do that.
FIGHT!: Do you think you’re a better soldier because of [MMA]?
Walsh: I think I’m a better Marine, absolutely, because I am a pro fighter, because the discipline goes hand-in-hand. The discipline it takes to be a good Marine, and I’m not just talking about a Marine that doesn’t get in trouble and goes to work and does mediocre performance every day. I’m talking about somebody who wants to excel and succeed above others because it’s the same in fighting. I just don’t want to get in there and fight and it’s not like I don’t care what happens. I take losses very, very hard because I train very hard. I put 100 percent of my life into the training and if I lose the fight, I feel that I put 100 percent in the wrong effort at the time and I just can’t live with myself for that so the day we get boots back down in the United States, I’m going right to my gym, jet lag and all, show the tape to my coaches—this is what I did wrong, this is how I felt—and we’re going to move on from there and we’re going to constantly move forward.
FIGHT!: That’s the adapt, that’s the whole Marine [mentality]—
Walsh: That’s that Marine mentality. And I had that mentality somewhat before I came into the Marine Corps, being a wrestler. I was very disciplined to do certain things and they channeled it and used it for good to make me a better Marine. They just taught me how to use it in the everyday work environment and then in turn I took that added discipline that I’ve had for years and put it into fighting. You’re never not going to see me out there running. You’re never going to see me not doing the hard work that it takes for a fight just because I ultimately think like, ‘oh, I’m better than this person.’ There’s never a chance that I ever think I’m better than anybody and I always think that I have to work harder than you and that’s the only way I can beat you. And if you worked harder than me, you’re probably going to beat me. That’s how I feel.
FIGHT!: …so you say that being in MMA helps you to be a better Marine. Does being a Marine make you a better fighter?
Brown: I agree as far as the discipline that it’s put in me as far as wake up at this time, you do this at that time. As far as prioritizing needs versus wants, so to speak.
FIGHT!: The military has given you that discipline.
Brown: Yes, absolutely. I definitely think it’s given me a mental toughness side to it too as far as, you know, I go out with the Marines, and I do everything that the Marines do. As far as the mental toughness side, …just wanting to do something you can’t and having to just sit there and bear it and bear it and bear and I think it definitely gives me a little edge and… makes me a little more headstrong and mentally tougher.
FIGHT!: [to Jonathan Walsh] What about you? Does being a Marine make you a better fighter or does it hinder your fighting?
Walsh: I mean, in some aspects it is a hindrance and other aspects, it helps. I one hundred percent agree with the mental toughness thing if only for the fact that I can put up with the worst conditions for the worst amount of time. Nothing that I can do anywhere else will be any worse than anything I’ve ever done as a Marine.
FIGHT!: You’ve been deployed, right?
Walsh: I’ve been deployed for several times, I’ve been in combat. Nothing I will , ever do will put fear in me of the unknown, fear of, ‘I don’t’ know if I can do this,’ anything. That will never happen. I will go one hundred percent until I find out this wasn’t where I wanted to go and in some cases that’s not good either, but that’s the mentality I take towards it. Right now, it’s helping me. I believe that it helps. If I didn’t join the Marine Corps when I did, and go through those experiences, I don’t think, honestly, at my age, that I would have the drive to completely re-invent the wheel for myself and take it this route and I’m glad that I did that.
FIGHT!: [to Michael Brown] How about you?
Brown: Like he said, you know, it definitely put a lot of drive in [me]. I believe it’s helped and not necessarily for the training side of it, because when you’re busy…doing your job, you’re not training, so it takes away from the time of training like we discussed earlier as far as getting time to train, getting your superiors to understand that you need to train to fight. It’s just a lot of them don’t understand; a lot of superiors don’t understand the sport. They are getting to know it a lot better though, due to the fact of Marines that have gone before me, John Walsh, Brian Stann, who’s made it a very, very successful career. You know, they’ve paved a path so to speak, for me in the military, and MMA in the military. They have paved a path for [the rest of us]. And that’s just a couple [of guys]. There are more out there that have made it just a little bit easier for me to train and experience MMA while serving in the military.
FIGHT!: So one last question. This is going to be an article that a lot of people are going to read and we’ll probably send thousands [of magazines] out to military bases. What would you say to superiors who don’t get it…about the sport and mixed martial arts and how it relates to active duty military personnel?
Brown: I understand…I joined the Navy and they are in charge of me and that is my job. I have to perform that job…that is the priority of their thinking. [I would say] maybe just understand that it a good think that I take the extra steps after my job to train, keep physically fit, all the things that I’m doing that others aren’t. It’s an extra-curricular activity so to speak.
FIGHT!: But it makes you a better soldier, a better asset to the military.
Brown: Yes. Yes, I do agree. It makes me more productive, keeping me in shape, more energetic at work and accomplishing tasks, definitely more efficient.
FIGHT!: [to Jonathan Walsh] How about you?
Walsh: I’m going to say for the commanders, I one hundred percent understand the stand they have to take as commanding officers to have an effective unit. They have to have their people there; they have to have their people healthy. If the Marine Corps and the military would embrace the sport aspect of this so much to where they would encourage their troops to train at something—
FIGHT!: How specifically could they do that?
Walsh: If I was running the program, the first thing I would do is write a curriculum for grappling, write a curriculum for striking, and write a curriculum for cardio. You gotta pull money out of a hat with this type of stuff, you know? Where’s the funding going to go? Is the funding going to go for new tanks or is the funding going to go for a world-class MMA gym on our base, you know? You make do with what you have, ok? And we can make do with what we have. If you have facilities on your installations, with the proper instructors and not someone that’s been through a six-week course, ok, and in my position I’ve been come to every now and again and asked what I would do about it and I think like at first I was a little, a little hesitant just because I’ve paid for my training out of my own [pocket], I’ve worked and I’ve used my own time to facilitate me learning these techniques, training these techniques and now they’re like, ‘we just want you to teach us this stuff for free,’ ok? Do I ever want to make a business out of this? Yes…my ultimate dream is to own my own gym and have my own staple of fighters some day and hopefully people will want to learn from me. If I can do that right now for the Marines, that’s what I want to do. I see it as a good thing as opposed to a slap in the face to where you just give us all your knowledge that you paid to learn. I see it as a good thing. You need to have the right temperament to be an instructor. There are some guys who are great fighters who can never be instructors. There are some guys who are not good fighters who become great instructors. You need to have the right temperament.
FIGHT!: What is that?
Walsh: The right temperament is an open mind to your way is not always the best day and you need to help this person as much as you can and give them the tools that you have and then if they can use those tools, it makes them better. If they can’t, as their coach, you need to actively seek out things that will make them better even if it’s outside your realm of expertise if you ultimately care about their future and how they’re going to do and I think that’s the right temperament. And patience is very important and a good work ethic. Even if you are one of those guys who is naturally talented and naturally athletically gifted, you still have to have a hard work ethic, especially with the competition that’s around these days.
FIGHT!: Training is—
Walsh: Yeah, training is training. It one hundred percent is. Now that being said, I know there are Marines and soldiers who train, but it’s going to be a difficult process to weed out the fakes from the legitimate people. That will be very important and that will be one of those things that can only happen in time. But to have a place for guys to train on the base is only going to promote physical fitness at first. Like I said, my curriculum: the cardio, the grappling, the striking. Ok, some guys prefer standup. Some guys prefer grappling. They can go learn those disciplines but not before they have the cardio. So you have to make it, you have to make it a step-by-step process. Before you’re even allowed to do this, you have to do this, and that’s only going to promote physical fitness.
FIGHT!: And just to be specific…obviously you do physical training in the Marines, but your guys are obviously at a much higher level of physical fitness than the average Marine or the average Marine is at higher level than the average person, is that correct?
Walsh: That’s true, and it think it’s just because we want to be and it’s not that any other Marine couldn’t put his running shoes on and go get in the same shape that we’re in, it’s just that it isn’t always fun to just run three or four miles three times a week and sing cadence the whole time. That’s a necessity; it has its place. It does have its place, but if you make it to where the person wants to do it, then they set goals for themselves that they want to achieve and once you set a goal for yourself, at least for me, if somebody else sets a goal for me and it takes me a while to get keen on it, you’re not going to see great results. If I set a goal for myself, you’re going to see the best results that you can see at the fastest rate that you can see them and I think that would just benefit the military as a whole and the mentality of it and [how] you feel when you’re done training. You know a lot of these guys in the military, and myself included, get a little post-traumatic stress disorder. It happens. You’ve been through a traumatic experience and stuff like that. I never found for myself personally that sitting in a support group talking about it has ever helped me with anything. I’m just, I don’t respond to that type of therapy. Me training every day is a happy day regardless if I’m ever going to be a world champion or if I’m never going to be a world champion. I need to train every day. That’s my life. That’s my sanctuary. That’s where I feel the safest in the shark tank getting punched by fresh guys for 30 minutes. That’s where I feel the most safe because I trust those people and when I’m finished with the training, and even if I was angry before, you’re too friggin’ exhausted to be angry afterwards. I think there’s a lot of military guys who are frustrated and they don’t even understand why and they don’t think that they have post-traumatic stress disorder because they’re not frustrated at the war. They’re just frustrated; they don’t know why. They’re very short-tempered, they’re very off even keel, almost of an imbalance and being better physically fit only promotes better mental health ultimately and I think if you want to get medical with it, or anything like that, scientific with it, you’ll find that it’s true. I think that can only benefit every unit to have guys who are more mentally fit because the physical fitness is the easy part. The mentally fit is the hard part, but you know your body works as one great weapon so the better physically and mentally fit these guys are from training MMA—
FIGHT!: The focus of MMA training helps you with the anxieties of war and like you said, the goal setting and whatnot, the focus that you have to go through in training—
Walsh: Absolutely. The focus absolutely helps, and it helps you drown out things. I’m not one of those cases where I have an extreme circumstance that I think of all the time, but I do know that when I come back from a deployment, I’m very irritable, I’m very short, even to my loved ones and I don’t know why. I would fly off the handle at the smallest thing that shouldn’t even be, [that] your voice shouldn’t even be raised about. I would be very upset and wouldn’t know why and I find the more that I train, the calmer, more rational person I become because ultimately you are a martial artist and that is the martial way.