Hand to hand combat is an important part of training for every service member, but that doesn’t mean that every service member knows how to fight. In the Marine Corps, every recruit must earn their tan belt (the equivalent of a white belt) in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program before graduating from recruit training. From there, how high you climb in the belt rank structure is based on your job, your unit’s training schedule, and how fervently you’re willing to pursue getting punched in the face. I can’t claim to be good at a lot of things, but I’ve always been good at getting punched in the face.
By the time I had achieved a brown belt in MCMAP, I had begun training as a part of Fight Club 29. Under the incredible coaching of Sergeant Major Mark Geletko, a group of us would meet in a steel hanger under the beating Twentynine Palms, California sun and proceed to spend our chow times, evenings, and weekends conditioning, training, and beating on one another. On the wall, Coach Geletko had painted the words, “Today I do what no one else will, so tomorrow I may do what no one else can.” This statement permeated throughout his training methodology. He worked you hard, pushing Marines further than even they thought they could go, and rewarded your efforts with a sincere respect and a sense of comradery.
During my time under coach Geletko, I competed at a civilian tournament, winning both of my bouts despite fighting a weight class up due to a poor turnout in the class I’d cut weight to compete in. Soon thereafter I received change of station orders. I hung up my gloves and walked away from the world of competitive martial arts in pursuit of new challenges in a new duty station, but a part of me always missed the time I spent training for what, in my mind, is the purest form of physical competition.
Throughout the next few years, I would earn my black belt, but also undergo a series of surgeries that would ultimately culminate in my separation from the Marine Corps. Nursing my wounds and my ego, I enrolled as a full-time student at Framingham State University in Massachusetts and took what I thought was my rightful place on the elliptical machine at my local gym next to a pleasant older woman named Gladys. She and I would watch Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan interview celebrities on the TV mounted on the wall in front of us and through my sweat, I’d lament internally about a time when training hurt because it was supposed to, not just because my body had given up.