Interview with Mark Mireles

Here’s another interview, this time with Mark Mireles. Mark is one of the most decorated police officers in the history of the LAPD and also has extensive martial arts training. He’s written a couple books on street-grappling with Loren W. Christensen and you can find out more about him here.  Enjoy the interview.

Q: How did you get started in the martial arts? Was it a specific incident that drove you to them?

I can recall when I was 8 or 9 years old I began entertaining the thought of studying martial arts. I grew up in a suburb right outside of San Francisco and there was a large Chinese population in the city. That meant Kung Fu Theater on television every Saturday afternoon; Bruce Lee was on the silver screen, Game of Death had been released, and Chuck Norris was getting started with Good Guys Wear Black. The future was bright and Kung Fu seemed right for me.
There was a kung fu academy around the corner from my house and it had the look of what I thought a dojo should look like. I walked in for the free introduction lesson and learned the X-block in a nifty private room.  The whole studio was magnificent. There were pictures of dragons and tigers on the wall and the upper students were wearing black Gi’s.  This studio not only taught kung fu but it had also incorporated the word karate into the sign. With so much to offer, I could really see myself fitting into the world of crouching tigers and hidden dragons.  Looking back over the last 30 years, the term McDojo hadn’t been coined yet but this studio may have been the first of many.

Only one problem stymied my quest for kung fu greatness: no cold hard cash. I grew up with everything I needed but I certainly didn’t get everything I wanted.  Kung fu fell into the “everything I wanted” category.  The preferred method of fighting for my parents was a fighting art that was economic.  My dad was a master of the way of the intercepting wallet.  Sometimes life takes funny little turns.  You’ve heard the saying “be careful what you wish for because you may get it” well that wasn’t the case.  My circumstance was a twist that was beyond fate.  It was just being in the right place even though no one really knew what they were doing.  My dad selected the most economical marital art: Judo.

In the United States, Judo is taught in numerous Japanese-American cultural centers.  Judo is taught as part of the culture and not for commercial purposes.  That meant it fit my parents sole requirement.  The fees for learning Judo were nominal, a big hit with my folks.

What I learned quickly is that you paid in other ways.  Judo is physically demanding and taught in a very disciplined setting.  You paid with a little blood, a lot of sweat, and a few tears. Judo was fun, but it was also a lot of work and required dedication and reverence even at a young age.

Q: Did you naturally gravitate towards the grappling systems or was it a conscious choice for these arts?

After a couple years of Judo, I started wrestling (this was fee s it was offered at school).  My Judo background gave me an advantage in wrestling; the ability to throw.  Wrestling in high school continued to develop my throwing abilities and I also started to Greco Roman in addition to my catch-as-catch-can and freestyle wrestling.  When I got to college, I continued to compete in both Judo and wrestling and entered several national wrestling championships in Greco Roman, Judo, and Sambo. During that time period, I also wrestled in several international dual meets at the club level.

I also boxed a little when I was a kid which as also my first expose to cop at the police youth center.  I didn’t have any amateur fights until I was in the Marine Corps.  I really didn’t have time to train in boxing because I was wrestling a lot, but I did learn the basics and get into the ring. I fought some good guys and a couple of killers at that.  Outside of the Judo training, I was what you would refer to as a “western martial artist.”  The western fighting arts, boxing and wrestling, are often overlooked as being inferior to Asian fighting systems (this is a serious oversight).   This was especially true prior to MMA.  An average high school level wrestler with basic boxing skills is a very dangerous person on the street provided they have a combat mind set.  That’s because boxing and wrestling have hard sparing that breed’s physical toughness. That goes a long way towards self preservation on the street.

Mark Mireles with Gene LeBell

Mark Mireles with Gene LeBell

Q: When did you see a link that wrestling and Judo had combatives aspects that could be applied to the street?

As a kid and young adult I was competing in combat sports and wasn’t too concerned with what is now being called readily based self-defense.   Sports are what kids did.  I was a little small and maybe not the best athlete in town. The rejects and runts tended to get into wrestling.  I spent a lot of time on the mat. Video games were in there infancy, so I played my own version of Nintendo: wrestling, judo, and strength and conditioning.

It was really out of necessity that I began to examine the techniques of Judo, wrestling, and boxing as methods of self preservation.  When I was 23 years old, I joined the Los Angeles Police Department. Also while I was a cop I begin studying Jiu-Jitsu with Jean Jacques Machado and was introduced to many top-level MMA athletes and coaches.  That opened my eyes to other fighting arts.  I looked and studied at jiu-jitsu and other fighting arts as combative methods not as sports.

I went from sport to taking down bad guys.  There is a huge difference in wrestling on a mat or Judo on tamami’s and taking down a gangster that just bolted out a stolen car.  I had to make adjusts both technically and mentally.

Here’s the deal: The whole mission is different form Arrest and Control (defensive tactics and self defense for cops) and combat sports.  The same can be said of combat sports and reality based self-defense for civilians. There were several crossover’s (a throw or takedown for instance) could be modified for practical self defense.  Violence is situational and is different for people.  Violence for a street cop is one thing, a combat soldier it’s something else, in a bar brawl for a college kid it’s something different.  All that said, real violence is not a sporting event.

I recently read Rory Miller’s new book Meditations on Violence. This book is a must read for every martial artist and addresses the difference between real violence and Western martial arts training.

Fighting in the Clinch and Street Stoppers are books that look at specific positions that co-author Loren Christensen and I have encountered real violence in law enforcement careers. We are both street cops and not a police officer by name only, sitting behind a desk.

The two books deal with close contact and techniques that apply to situational violence. That situational violence being unnamed physical combat in a position of close contact (also known as clinching).  Loren and I examined what was out there (and what he had done) in the area of self-defense.  We designed Fighting in the Clinch and Street Stoppers as two books that deal with hands on positions of close contact.  Both books are different from each other, but revolve around a little touched on subject matter.

Q: What’s the most common misconception you see people have about grappling systems?

There are two extremes to grappling in our times: the first, grappling was almost completely ignored by the mainstream martial arts (that phase past in 1993). Then, the second phase was that after the initial UFC’s (post 1993) then grappling was the absolute.  Grappling was the Holy Grail rediscovered.

Much as what has been purported to be functional fighting was overly influenced by television and movies.  Then MMA hit and the reality of fighting became based on dueling in a cage (self defense was now predicated on entertainment).  I agree that ground fighting works there (especially if no one else is very good at it and one person is).   Both of the above models for fighting are not what real self-defense systems scenarios are based on.  Ground fighting is important, but is not the absolute system for the reality of street violence.

There is a place in real fighting for grappling, but most of it is for worse case scenarios, not a primary systems.  So yes, on must include ground fighting and takedowns into self-defense training. It also depends on what your goals for fighting are.  Modifications of wrestling and Judo have always served me well as a cop because I’m trying to put the bad guy down and get cuffs on him.  My takedown methods are designed to get the bad guy into a safe position and manageable position (preferable prone) and get the cuffs on him.   The rest of ground fighting has to do with survival not win a timed bout.

Sport and real fighting (real violence) are apples and oranges. I’ve never seen anything on street look like something choreographed in a move. Last week, I rolled up to a call where 15 skinheads were beating a kid at a party.  It looked like a pack of wolves, not an MMA fight.  I’ve seen people try to react to real violence like they had seen in a movie and they’re never successful at that (bar stuff). All this has been pointed out for years by numerous self-defense authorities. It keeps falling on a lot of deaf ears.   It never really seems to hit home with the mainstream martial arts crowd through, at least in my experience.  People believe what they want to believe.  Maybe it’s just a matter of Darwinism.

Mark receiving the Medal of Valor from Governor Schwarzenneger

Mark receiving the Medal of Valor from Governor Schwarzenneger

Q: How did you go about writing “Street Stoppers” and “Fighting in the Clinch” with Loren W. Christensen?

Like many who come to Wim’s Blog, I too am an omnivorous reader. When I began to focus on self-defense and arrest and control methods I began to read books from authors that had that had a street edge to them.  I read some good ones and some bad ones (taking a sport and attempting to make it combat effective is a bad one).  There was a lot of theory out there.  Knowing what I knew (and what I did for a living), I began to research books from professionals (criminals included) that had real world experience. I worked with Black Belt magazine regular Lito Angeles (he’s a cop) and we would bounce books off and authors off each other.  There was Peyton Quinn, Marc MacYoung, and Geoff Thompson. They all had good stuff. All of them had books that explored violence from a street fighters/martial artist prospective.  They all had great work out there and this was groundbreaking and unique stuff.

I picked up a few books that Loren Christensen had wrote. He was a guy that did the exact same job I did.  Having been a police officer for about ten years at the time, I knew what he was talking about just from experience.  Cops are the definitive experts at smelling bullshit.  Loren was the real deal and had a great writing style that added a lot of quick and dark humor which I quickly recognized as a physiological process (not quite a defense) for people that have actually been there and done that (a thousand yard stare for writers if you will).

After reading Anything Goes (one of Loren greatest books in my opinion) I contacted him via email.  We were e-mail buddies for a while and then he told me he was doing a book about riots.  I told him that I was on the front lines of the 1992 L.A. Riots as a younger copper.  I did a question and answer piece for that book and we began to discuss other ideas.

I then did the ground-fighting portion for Defensive Tactics: Modern Arrest and Control Techniques for Today’s Police Warrior. That book received excellent reviews and although I had a small part; the depth of Loren knowledge is a constant in that book.  Many subject matter experts (guys who do it and teach it for a living) commented that was one of the finest works they had ever seen on the subject.  While I was working on that, Loren had the idea to get the street fighting martial arts guys together to do a book.  You, Lawrence Kane, Rory Miller, and many others provide the chapter that created Fighter’s Fact Book 2: Street Fighting Essentials. That too was very good book as it brought a lot of credible expertise together.

As I was working on the above projects, Loren was mentoring me on how to write.  I could write the hell out of a police report with the best of them, but only defense and civil rights attorneys would pay for copies of those.  Loren actually spent a lot of time coaching me and evaluating my writing and making suggestions.  He was (and is) my writing sensei. He’s a great guy and I owe him a lot.

As I began to develop beyond writing in color crayons, Loren and I began to bounce around the idea of Fighting in the Clinch.  There weren’t any specialty books that looked at fighting options for this position.  Fighting in the Clinch offers a complete hybrid method for this unique and often unavoidable aspect of fighting. Moreover, what made this book unique was that there weren’t any books that look close in fighting or clinch combat from a pure street fighting prospective.

From that book, we came to the book idea of Street Stoppers the Martial Arts Most Devastating Trips, Sweeps, and Throws for Real Fighting.  This was our second book and received great reviews.  It’s again a specialty book that looks at taking the bad guy with attacks from grappling arts.  Trips, sweeps, and throws are explosive takedown methods.  The books draw from the best methods from across the globe and like the clinching book it’s very unique.  Both books look at violence from a trained street fighter prospective. There are just no other books that address the respective subject matters in such detail.

Close up of the cauliflower ear Gene presented to Mark

Close up of the cauliflower ear Gene presented to Mark

Q: What are the most important things about these two books?

They will make most martial artist step out of their comfort zone.  Everything in these two books will definitely improve street fighting ability.  We tent to gravitate toward things we are comfortable with. The martial arts are no exception to comfort zones.

The subject matter in both books are given cursory treatment or outright ignored. If the methods in these books are learned then this gives the marital artist a few more tools.  Both books are also great teaching reverence books for instructors.  The methods in these books don’t really exist in other books and are not treated as the meat, the main dish, in books that do address them.

Q: How is grappling in a street altercation different the ring or the octagon?

That’s a great question that provides an insight in itself.  Please let me broaden it a little to make a point.

I consider myself to be Reality Based –Self-Defense trainer.   I teach combatives and firearms to police officers, close personal protection specialist, and civilian alike. Each has a different learning need and I address those needs in great detail.

I’m also trainer at Big John McCarthy’s gym. I’m a professional MMA trainer and cornerman and have worked small shows all the way to the UFC.  My fighter, Hector “Sickdog” Ramirez, has fought two UFC Champions: Rasand Evans and Forrest Griffin, and also fought James Irving who fought Anderson Silva for the UFC light heavyweight title.  I have also worked with UFC contender Karo Parisian and host over others.

I know and teach defense tactics and MMA as two different subjects even though to the untrained eye they may look like the same thing. They are not the same thing. MMA is a sport and a real fight is some else.

I was teaching an MMA class (teaching the single leg takedown to jiu-jitsu dominate position) and had a deputy sheriff approached me at the break.  The deputy was asking me how he could incorporate that technique into his defensive tactics methods.  He went further in stating MMA should be taught at the academy. I stopped him dead in his tracks.  I told him that this was an MMA class and that MMA was a sport.  What he did in the jail and out on the street was not a sport. The needs were completely different.

Again, a subject Rory Miller goes into his book in great depth (Rory you owe me a beer).  I told him, on the street as a copper you want to take the suspect down prone and keep him prone.  Then you place handcuff on him.  No round, no crowds, no sexy ring girls. A single leg takedown may be the best option on the street but the civilian martial artist has a different goal then the MMA fighter that’s in a contest.

I think that deputies confusion (and he is not alone) comes from watching a very high intensity combative sport and saying that’s as real as it gets.  It’s easy to get a little consumed but fighting on the street is a lot different.  For me, handling a drunk and handling a suspect high on meth may or may not warrant the same level of force.  I’ll have to size it up real quick though.  You have a lot of other factors such as weapons, multi-suspects, prior knowledge of the suspect or sometimes none at all.  Civilians have yet another set of needs that dictate the tactics they will use.  Security professional have yet another set of needs.

Q: Do you have any other projects lined up for the future?

This week I walked into a Barnes & Noble and saw Street Stoppers on the shelve.  It was a really great feeling to see our book up there with so many other good books. As an author, it was very encouraging.

Outside of that, I’m always training, learning, and keeping that students mindset.  Right now, I’m really working on my teaching skills and trying to development myself into a highly effective martial arts teacher.  The writing has really helped in many respects.  When you write a book it forces you to break techniques down into steps. You go from just reacting to actually having to think about the details of movement.   I ‘m doing a lot of research into the best teaching methods.  I will do some more writing down the road but right now but my plate is full with police work and my security-consulting firm.

That’s it for the interview. Thanks to Mark for taking the time!

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Comments

  1. Hi Wim! I just read the interview. Well, this is a great interview with many important information about self-defense situations and after all these useful information about the books, I’m definitely interested to obtain and read “Fighting in the clinch” and “Street stoppers” carefully.
    Thank you so much writing this post!

  2. Hi Wim! I just read the interview. Well, this is a great interview with many important information about self-defense situations and after all these useful information about the books, I’m definitely interested to obtain and read “Fighting in the clinch” and “Street stoppers” carefully.
    Thank you so much writing this post!

  3. I absolutely owe you a beer, Mark. Loren speaks very highly of you.

  4. I absolutely owe you a beer, Mark. Loren speaks very highly of you.

  5. Good interview, Wim. You mentioned in your intro that Mark is highly decorated. Here’s how highly. It’s rare, as in really rare, for a cop to be awarded the Medal of Valor. Mark has received two of them; the last one was given to him by Governor Arnold himself.

    You look at how imposing he is in his workout gear, and you think, “Yeah, I’ll fight him – but I want a shotgun.” Inside though, he has a big heart, one that cares deeply for people.

    He’s a guy who has been tested countless times in and out of the ring but he doesn’t walk with a swagger or bellow to the world about how bad he is, as do too many MMA guys. He just trains hard, teaches with skill and uses his knowledge in the mean streets of Los Angeles.

    • Thanks for the info Loren; I didn’t know how rare it was. I don’t think we have an equivalent of the MOV over here so it didn’t cross my mind.
      I mostly enjoyed the no-nonsense replies he gave to the Qs. Just solid info from both his training and extensive experience.

  6. Good interview, Wim. You mentioned in your intro that Mark is highly decorated. Here’s how highly. It’s rare, as in really rare, for a cop to be awarded the Medal of Valor. Mark has received two of them; the last one was given to him by Governor Arnold himself.

    You look at how imposing he is in his workout gear, and you think, “Yeah, I’ll fight him – but I want a shotgun.” Inside though, he has a big heart, one that cares deeply for people.

    He’s a guy who has been tested countless times in and out of the ring but he doesn’t walk with a swagger or bellow to the world about how bad he is, as do too many MMA guys. He just trains hard, teaches with skill and uses his knowledge in the mean streets of Los Angeles.

    • Thanks for the info Loren; I didn’t know how rare it was. I don’t think we have an equivalent of the MOV over here so it didn’t cross my mind.
      I mostly enjoyed the no-nonsense replies he gave to the Qs. Just solid info from both his training and extensive experience.

  7. Good interview Wim.
    I hope ‘anon’ from the other comments thread reads this..

    • Thanks Brad, glad you enjoyed it. Yep, that’s exactly why I pointed him to the interview. Mark knows his stuff, and then some.

  8. Good interview Wim.
    I hope ‘anon’ from the other comments thread reads this..

    • Thanks Brad, glad you enjoyed it. Yep, that’s exactly why I pointed him to the interview. Mark knows his stuff, and then some.

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