A lot of people are a bit grumpy first thing in the morning until they have that first (and second, or maybe third) cup of coffee.
For Pentagon MMA student Mark Felipe, Muay Thai is his morning coffee. “I find myself getting cranky if I’m not in the gym at least three times a week.”
It wasn’t always that way. Mark says his first class challenged him harder than he could ever recall being challenged—but it sparked something inside him.
“I thought, ‘Mother of God, what have I gotten myself into?!’” he recalls. “I remember being so worn out that to sign up for further classes, I had to use both hands to hold the pen steady. But I fell in love with Muay Thai.”
Mark says it goes even further than that – he credits Muay Thai and the Pentagon MMA community for keeping his body strong and his spirits up as he recovered from surgery to remove a brain tumor last year.
Despite the challenge, Muay Thai kept him coming back
Mark describes himself as someone who used to fall in love with a particular type of activity quickly, then drop it later when he lost enthusiasm for it.
“I go through periods where I get really into activities,” he says.
First, it was running.
“In the early 2000s, I was a runner. I ran 5k and 10k races, and ran the Marine Corps Marathon twice,” he recalls. “Now, I don’t think I’ve run more than five miles at a time since.”
“I used to lift weights, but a herniated disk and spine surgery put an end to that,” he says. “After that, bodyweight calisthenics were a lot easier on my back. But it just seemed like I was doing pushups, pullups and squats just for the sake of doing pushups, pullups and squats.”
One day, his wife drove by the Pentagon MMA building in Arlington and told him about it.
“I’ve always been interested in martial arts. I studied Isshinryu Karate at various stages of life, first in high school, then in my late 20s to early 30s. Then the kids came along….” he says. “Pentagon MMA is close to our house, so I came in to check the place out—and I’m still here!”
Mark has been at Pentagon MMA for close to three years, and he says he can’t imagine life without it—though his brain tumor diagnosis last year forced him to, for a short while.
Coming back after brain surgery
“The tumor wasn’t cancerous and wasn’t going to kill me, but it had to come out,” Mark explains. “Recovery from the surgery took three months. Having to take a break from training last winter was tough on me, but I didn’t have much choice.”
As eager as he was to get back to Muay Thai, his doctor warned him to take it slow.
“After being cleared for physical activity, my surgeon told me that drills are okay, but that I couldn’t spar. Obviously, getting hit in the head was—and still is—a bad idea. I thought, ‘maybe I’ll give Jiu-Jitsu a try—they don’t hit each other in the head.’” he said. “But not training just isn’t an option.”
These days, Mark’s face is a regular sight around Pentagon MMA again, and he said he loves all the positive ways his workouts and training have changed his body.
“I’ve lost about 15 pounds and three inches off my waist. Most of my pants are loose in the waist and tight in the thighs. And I have more energy,” he says. “But more importantly, it’s improved my state of mind. If I have a rough day, I know I’ll walk out of the gym happy.”
He also credits the friends and mentors he’s made at Pentagon MMA for his new outlook on life.
“Vivek and his staff don’t just run a gym—they’ve built a community,” he says. “It’s a community I’m glad to be a part of.”
When asked what he would say to anyone who may be thinking of giving Muay Thai or Jiu Jitsu a try, Mark says, “Give it a shot! If I can do it after having brain surgery, so can you!”