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Ian Lawler looks over his students as they perform exercises during his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class at Neo Warrior MMA N’ Boxing Gym. Lawler, a hospital corpsman at Rober E. Bush Naval Hospital, volunteers his time to teach mixed martial arts before and after work three days a week. He is a purple belt in Brazilian Jui Jitsu.

Photo by Cpl. Sarah Dietz

The Fighter: Corpsman overcomes obstacles to chase passion

14 Dec 2012 | Cpl. Sarah Dietz

Ian Lawler is a fighter.

On the mats, in a ring, or in a cage, Lawler fought for his purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

To gain a new experience with life and to find new challenges, Lawler left his home in Summerset, Ky., and joined the Navy.

 Lawler is a family man. His wife, Tasha, and his daughter Aaliyah, are something he fights for at home. His wife is pregnant again. Lawler might be in for a couple of more rounds soon.

Lawler’s father introduced him to fighting at the age of 12 to stand up to bullies; to stand up for himself. He was always smaller than the average kid.

He has been fighting ever since.

Fighting for Work

Lawler always wanted to be a professional fighter. He achieved that at the age of 19 by winning two fights.

He joined the Navy when he was 20 when he realized he needed a change.

“I was in a dark time in my life and I thought the military would be a fresh start,” he said.

He had to put his pro fighting career on hold, but that didn’t mean he stopped fighting.

At Naval Hospital Corps School, Great Lakes, Illinois, he started teaching his classmates Jiu Jitsu in the lobby of his barracks. The commanding officer gave Lawler an allotted time in the gym to teach when the class got very popular among the students.

Lawler knew how to fight, but he didn’t really know how to instruct others in this martial art.

“I was looking at YouTube videos to help me teach,” he said. “When I left the school, I left the class in the hands of a guy who was a blue belt and had a knack for teaching.”

As Lawler progressed in the military, his fight career took a heavy blow, and a series of injuries left him in a seemingly downward spiral.

He attended the Basic Reconnaissance Course at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., but had to drop out of the course due to a hip injury.

Later, Lawler was attached to 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Weeks before the unit’s deployment to Afghanistan, Lawler suffered an ulcer burst in his intestine, fighting for his life during pre-deployment training. He was air-lifted to the hospital and placed in surgery.

He recently received shoulder surgery due to multiple tears in his right shoulder.

Lawler looks at his injuries as a hindrance, not a deal breaker.

“It helps me be hungry to fight,” he said. “The military aspect at this point with being injured doesn't really pose any threat to my passion. But, when I’m ready to compete, I’m sure it will aggravate to some degree but no one put a gun to my head and said sign. My goal is to be back in the gym.”

Fighting for Family

Balancing family and his passion for fighting is important to Lawler.

“Balance is a challenge. People who are not martial artists, cannot understand. We strive to train as long and as hard as we can. The only way to counteract that is simply make the most of your time at home. Do your best to incorporate your family into your passion so they don’t feel left out of what can quickly become a major part of your life,” Lawler said.

“Fighting has always been a huge impact on our lives,” Tasha said. “He has always found some way to integrate it into the conversation. He talks about it all the time.”

Lawler met his wife Tasha while attending McCreary Central High School. They were married in 2008.

“We are from the middle of nowhere; we really didn’t go on dates.” Tasha said. “The first time we hung out, we sang karaoke.”

Lawler’s wife also knows a thing or two about fighting. Tasha enlisted in the National Guard in 2009 but couldn’t continue when she fell off a 20 foot obstacle and broke her right foot and leg.

“I always wanted to go into the military, my plan was to go active duty after I got my nursing degree,” she said. “We were having issues at the time. I was going to be put in the next training cycle, but my grandpa told me that my family was more important so I chose not to.”

Though the experience didn’t go the way she thought it would, she can see the impact it had on her life, even today.

“I think God used the military to mold me into a better person,” Tasha said. “I made a 180. I became very strong in my walk with God, I felt like I could take on anything.”

The day after Tasha exited boot camp, her grandfather died, giving Tasha a devastating blow. However the family tragedy grew the family closer.

“My family is stronger because of it,” Tasha said. “He was my crutch, and it forced me to stand on my own.”

It was a fight, but Lawler and Tasha fought through the pain and early marital struggles, and are stronger now from their fight.

“I live by this,” Lawler said. “I am a Christian first, husband, father, fighter, then corpsman.”

Lawler’s family is growing, as he is planning on adopting his 11-year-old niece and Tasha recently found out she was pregnant.

Adopting their niece, Danielle, is very important to the Lawlers.

“I came from a rough abusive childhood and she is growing up similarly,” Tasha said. “I want to give her a chance. We have always treated her like our daughter. I want to start working with her and preparing her for college. No one in my family went to college so it was really difficult for me to prepare for it.”

The adoption process however, is a fight. After three years, the Lawlers finally have temporary custody. They need to wait another year in hopes to receive full custody.

Fighting to Fight

Lawler’s love for mixed martial arts started early in his life growing up in Summerset. He moved onto amateur kickboxing and boxing when he was 16 and later went on to learn Jiu Jitsu.

“I had a rough time in middle school, I was very small,” Lawler said. “I traveled 40 miles to train three days a week in Jiu Jitsu. My coach would shut off the lights and make us fight. It was amazing how much our technique improved over a few months.”

On top of his own career, Lawler offers his time to teach others to fight before and after work three days a week.

“I can take a guy with no fighting experience with the desire to fight and make him a fighter and competitor,” Lawler said.

He has won the Grapplers X Advanced National Championship in 2011; the Grapplers Quest Advanced Absolute Championship- declaring him the best fighter in the advance division regardless of weight class; the U.S. Grappling Advanced Absolute Championship and Advanced 175 pound championship.

Lawler will be preparing to fight in the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation Tournament in October – an invitation only event.

Until then, Lawler continues teaching mixed martial arts at Neo Warrior MMA N’ Boxing Gym, a local gym in Twentynine Palms, and watches his students apply what he has taught them in competition. His love for the sport gives him a big thrill out of teaching and then watching them compete.

“Being a martial artist makes you look at life differently,” Lawler said. “Each time you compete you get a different sense of who you are as a fighter. I’ll be doing this until I die.”

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms