'Practise doesn't ever make perfect, it just makes permanent.'
Link to Marcus Kowal's website
It took me three years to fully unravel the effects of the bad singing teaching that had left me playing Twister with my gullet, clavicles and tear ducts.
But as MMA K2 World Title holder, gym owner and ex-Special Forces Ranger Marcus Kowal commented:
'Unlearning something practised over time does take a lot of stress and effort. Practise doesn't ever make perfect, it just makes permanent. In the middle of a fight I find myself performing moves against my opponent right there in the cage just as my coach has worked with me on them in the gym. That's one strength I have: an ability to chill out during a fight and hear my coach's voice. He's asked before if it was coincidence when I instigated a move at the time he called it, just going with my own instinct? I told him that, no, I was listening for him to call it. True, one time recently I stepped up on my right foot when he had shouted left and had to change that around, but still you get the idea.'
One thing he found performing stand up, which he does in downtown LA, is that nobody is there to call the next part of your routine. It's all about you being up there alone.
'Why would I do stand up? You not finding me funny in this interview, or what? Ha! Actually, I lost a bet and had to do a comedy set onstage. I thought, it's not my actual profession. What's the worst that could happen? They might not laugh. I might get shouted off. At least you're not in close proximity with some guy who's doing his level best to hurt you very badly.'
He sees similarities between a fight night and a stand up comedy gig.
'The sitting in the dressing room and waiting and waiting and waiting. And seeing the people on the bill before you doing their warm up, getting ready, going out, coming back bloodied up - literally if it's a fight, metaphorically if it's stand up. Sometimes if it's a fight they don't come back at all - stretchered off to hospital. I did very well my first stand up set, so I've been doing it quite a lot. It may be less painful physically, otherwise it's the same. A battle. But one thing that's not the same in a fight is that one of the two guys is going to have lost. From doing martial arts your learn to accept failure. It's okay to fail, not okay to give up. Every fight is going to have one winner and one loser. Losing is bitter to take, but you learn to accept that failure. Then the ego is kept in check. Self-criticism is something that society lacks. I see so many fighters who for whatever reason didn't get where they thought they deserved, and they start coaching and they're all about the shoulda, woulda, coulda and take things out on their students. As a human being I'd say, keep your ego in check. Why are you feeling that? What did your students do to you?'
And what differences between fighting and performing stand-up does he notice?
'I notice the time passing when I'm doing stand-up. In a fight, you're never aware of time. Other than for certain times when you're losing, then it's the slowest fifteen minutes ever.'
Another thing that has to be different, I say, is that a comedian can just walk into the dressing-room and then simply go straight out onstage.
'Oh, yes. For six weeks before a fight I'm in training camp. I start with my weight at around one fifty-five to one-sixty and fight at one thirty-five. I get down to one forty-three to one forty-four the day before the fight and then start water loading.' Making the body release water by, basically, flooding it. 'Like when you're in a desert and your body stops sweating because it knows it has to conserve moisture. The opposite. Your body goes into release mode. And it takes it twelve hours to realise - when you stop loading - that it won't be getting any more water.'
By then it's too late and Marcus will be down to one thirty-five for the weigh in.
'Then I start drinking again. It's not a healthy process, but it's only unhealthy for those last forty-eight hours. And then we're up to event day itself. I have no problem sleeping the night before, no. I relax on the day itself - watch funny movies. Don't do anything. Still recovering from losing weight. I get to the venue for about four or five pm, meet the doctor, have the rules meeting - a bit boring because it happens before every fight. Then it's check in and you're sitting in the dressing room and waiting and waiting and waiting. I'm not throwing up before a fight or anything, but I want to feel that there are some nerves around. If you don't have nerves, then you'll be careless. And I'm always relieved to know that my opponent is in the venue. I've had some no-shows that have really irritated me in the past. I had a pro-boxing fight cancelled the night before a trip to Thailand. Then my fight in Thailand was cancelled. Meant to be on the king's birthday. Guy was injured in a car crash, apparently. You live and breathe those fights like you're about to go to war!'
I noticed that a hard tone had come into Marcus's voice now. His voice up to this point had been laughter-shot, with a South African tang, but now it was flat. 'Injured, apparently.'
Perhaps because Marcus Kowal knows real injury, having been invalided out of the Swedish Special forces after an incident that might have paralysed him.
'I was playing floor hockey and a guy running a cross tried to jump over me and hit me dead in the spine. They weren't sure about me ever walking again. On a table, then a crutch back support. Seeming to make really quick improvement, and then wasn't able to move. Lying flat in the aisle of the bus to travel home. And in the Special Forces you were only allowed up to month off, because there was so much money that had been invested in your training. There's a sixty to seventy percent fall out rate during that training period. Non-release clause. I couldn't do anything for two straight months. Slowly got better - though there's still some inflammation there today, what, fifteen years later? - but I couldn't stay in the Special Services. So, what else to do? I'd always loved competitive sports and played them on a high level. I saw fighting as the ultimate competitive sport because you have to physically dominate an opponent. Ice hockey, for example, can get physical, but the idea is to get more points past the opponents, not to dominate them. We'd studied unarmed combat in the Special Services, but I really needed to improve my boxing. So I trained and ended up in the Amateur National Team in Gothenburg. I'd fight during uni breaks when I was back home.' He was studying at Kent University. 'It sounds neanderthal and weird, but I just love fighting. It's within us. Young kids wrestle. Puppies. Bears. You share a journey with the person you're fighting. It's never personal. They're there with you in the dressing room before the fight - this is going back to the event itself now - the same sitting and waiting and waiting and waiting. It's hard to describe. Possibly a form of Stockholm Syndrome? You've been through the same training as them. Only another fighter can understand that. As I say, not personal. Unless my opponent's fighting dirty - then I get angry. There are some dirty fighters out there, who can just inflict too much damage on an opponent. And by dirty I don't just mean the way they will do things outside the rules purposefully in the ring, I also mean steroids, whatever - anything that gives an unfair advantage, pushes a fighter unfairly up the ratings to compete for the bigger purses. Which is all relative anyway, because the sport is not well paid.' He has in fact said that he could probably have earned more over the years working at Mcdonalds. 'You do it for the honour. You train to have everything you need to fight within the rules.'
More and more these days he's passing this training on to others, rather than competing himself.
'I have a team of fighters and I'm about to open a third gym. I'm a businessman, an entrepreneur. Rare in a fighter. I love fighting, and it will always be part of my life. But I can't concentrate on that, and still be a proper business owner and a dad. I want to grow and build a solid, stable foundation to share what the Martial Arts have given me with the world.'
I hope he keeps succeeding.