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Photo Information

Ryan Dean pins his opponent, Geoff Ross, during Summer Fight Night IV held at the Combat Center’s Del Valle Field June 21, 2013.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Lauren Kurkimilis

Warrior Culture

28 Jun 2013 | Lance Cpl. Lauren Kurkimilis Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

We won’t tell you what is one. We won’t tell you how to be one. Probably because we don’t know. There are guesses, ideas and theories. But it’s not for us to tell you what one is, or how to be one. What’s important is knowing you are one. Knowing what it takes to be one. Ask yourself. Are you a warrior?

We Work

If there is one word ingrained into the minds of every recruit that goes through a Marine Corps boot camp, it is discipline. It’s what brings them together as individuals to a fully functioning team. The many avenues they take, whether “enhanced” physical training or asphalt etiquette by marching, drives the transition to a complete warrior.

Within the ranks of the thousands of Marines, there are some that choose to focus on the bare bones aspects of fighting – hand to hand combat.

The Marine Corps has used a martial arts program that takes not only techniques from other fighting styles to incorporate a dynamic military combat style. Aside from the punches, the kicking, and the throws, the Corps also looked at the cultures that provided these techniques. They found that these cultures nurtured certain warrior qualities. The Marines took qualities as well.

“To be at any level of MMA or martial arts, there’s a certain level of discipline you have to have to go day-in and day-out,” said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Kessler, a black belt Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor. “We have a different type of discipline; to train when we’re tired, train when we’re hungry or when it’s hot or cold outside. You have to do what it takes.”

The brotherhood through bond is created by trust. Trust in their training, trust in each other, trust in their leadership. Marines incorporate the mind, body, and spirit to overcome.

“There is a definite bond created between two fighters in that setting,” Kessler said. “There’s a psychological aspect of fighting that is unique. You’ll see it a lot where they punch the crap out of each other and, at the end, they respect each other even more.”

These men fight, whether in an octagon or on the battlefield, not for bragging rights or to see who’s the bigger man, but for the ones they love, for their little girls, their admiring sons and their loving wives. They fight for their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and best friends.

Flipping the switch off is the honorable part of being a true warrior. They must know to practice self-control and to leave their aggression and intensity on the battlefield whether it is on the battlefield or in the octagon.

We Figtht

“It’s a lifestyle,” said Cpl. Arthur Powell, a fighter with Fight Club 29. “You completely commit. When you commit yourself to the Marine Corps, you abide by the training and the lifestyle and if you want to be proficient at MMA, it’s the same thing.”

Powell has been training for and fighting MMA for nearly six years and even though martial arts has been a passion of his for most his life, he proudly admits that he is always seeking improvement.

Countless hours in the gym and in training are what it takes to get the edge on an opponent and for Marines like Powell, which often means back to back slay sessions.

 “I’ve got to do double the work a lot of the time,” Powell said. “I’ll go to my unit (physical training) and run three miles, just to go train with the fight team and do the same three miles again. The only difference is I’m not in green on green, I’m in fight shorts. At training, from PT and MCMAP to (MMA) fighting, I’ve still got to give it 100 percent.” 

This level of dedication is what makes MMA fighters and Marines reach a higher set of standards. They don’t fear their body’s limits; they seek out those limits and then push it further.

Even up to the very last moments before a fight, the fighters rigorously warm up, running grappling and striking drills with piercing determination. They are hungry for the win and will fight through pain and discomfort until they get it. 

“It’s all about accepting not being comfortable,” Powell said. “When you’re in the cage, whether you’re standing up, throwing punches or on the ground taking them, you’re not going to be comfortable. And when you’re in Afghanistan sweating your ass off and missing your family, you’re going to be uncomfortable too. It sucks, but you’re always going to be proud of what you are and what you’re doing.”

When the fight finally presents itself, it might be expected for the two fighters to look at each other with hatred, envisioning total obliteration for the other, but instead, despite their determination and intent of what’s to come, they humble themselves to perform an act that distinguishes them as warriors instead of savages.

“They respect each other by shaking hands.” Powell said. “It’s not personal, it’s sport fighting and you show each other that respect. Most MMA fighters act that way no matter what their background. They act honorably.”

 These warriors have trained for months to prepare for one fight, three rounds and 15 minutes of brutality and athletic prowess. For approximately six months, they train for strength, endurance, power, speed, agility, mobility and aerobic and anaerobic conditioning, so they can defeat their opponent and come out at the end of those three rounds victoriously. They train not only physically but mentally as well.

When the first round begins, the respect is still present but the fighters flip the switch and wage war. In a rumble of sweat and blood but never tears, two men revert to the most primal forms of conflict resolution, beating the crap out of each other.  When the adrenaline is pumping, both fighters must remain intense yet focused, unpredictable yet controlled.

At the beginning, two fighters will shake hands like gentlemen and then somewhere along the way, after causing immense amounts of physical harm to one another, they end up hugging like brothers.

“Both fighters know what the other went through to prepare for that,” Powell said. “It’s a kindred bond, almost like they’re siblings.”

Once the decision is made and the winner declared, there is no more fight and no more disputing. All a fighter can do is prepare for the next war but before he can do that, he must first go home and get his nails done.

We go home

She is on the front lines. A gatekeeper on what is a warrior. If anyone knows or can tell you, she can. She lives with a warrior, she raises little warriors. She even sometimes has to don the armor of a warrior to protect and raise her family when her husband is away.

And she wears flower dresses. She wears perfume. She paints her nails. She stands incognito.

“Military families stay at home and they protect the homeland so that when a Marine or sailor comes back, it’s there for them,” said  Andrea Tatayon, family readiness officer, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. “Military family members protect the way of life.”

She doesn’t get the glory, the badges and a welcome home party. Tatayon may think it’s difficult, but she, and others like her who support their Marines, will never let it show. They don’t have to because they too are warriors.

“There is such a small population of people who actually stand up to protect the rights that everyone gets to enjoy,” Tatayon said. “I think that every single one who joins (the military) is a warrior because they wanted to step up and serve something greater than themselves.”

Being a warrior isn’t just about violence and brutality. It is about the willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others, the desire to defend.

In turn, family members become an integral part of the warrior culture, the keepers of the warriors’ hearts and well-being.  

“When they come back (from deployment) they’ve spent so much time around each other and in the mission that we will remind them that, when they’re around their family or their friends, it’s OK to put that warrior Marine aside, to just be you,” Tatayon said.

In this time, they can repair and they are reminded of what they are fighting for, why they sacrifice so much.

“The guy who will never crack a smile at work or soften his voice, is the guy who will go home and paint his daughter’s nails or lets her paint his,” Tatayon said. “They have to be a certain way, but they can’t be that way in their home life. They have to walk this very fine line.”

To be complete, a warrior walks that razor’s edge and on one side is war and the other is love. Without that balance they are not warriors. They are animals on the hunt and not men in the fight. In the wake of brutality, a true warrior must be humbled by humanity.
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms