North Texas Daily

Denton’s baddest man teaches mixed martial arts

Denton’s baddest man teaches mixed martial arts

Denton’s baddest man teaches mixed martial arts
June 13
13:21 2014

Trent Johnson / Editor-in-chief

The sound pops. Fists enveloped by boxing gloves of all colors bang against small rounded pads, creating an inescapable thud.

Arms ache with a burning sensation from numerous cycles of punching combinations, but no one in this building allows the fatigue to overcome them—there is work to do. In teams of two, men ranging in age from 16 to 45 are sharpening up their striking technique.

In the center of it all, gym owner Kirk Gibson dances in place, firing off combos of his own. Today the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has relieved himself of the traditional martial arts clothing and instead dons a light Under Armour compression shirt accompanied with athletic shorts.

“Don’t quit guys,” he says. “Get your elbows up on those hooks and make sure you exit, you don’t want to leave your head in there.”

Gibson is an athletic man but he’s not an imposing figure. He stands about 5’9 and weighs a modest 165 pounds. His face, while well groomed, features some grey scruff. It would be hard for anyone without previous knowledge to know he is an active professional fighter.

At 45, he is safely past his athletic prime, but that doesn’t stop him from performing and teaching the skills that define him.

Tonight is “mixed martial arts” night at Texas Elite MMA and Gibson is teaching the group the ins and outs of the 20-year-old sport. From striking on the feet to grappling on the ground, the mild mannered gym owner has experienced it all.

In the past 15 years, Gibson has gone from being a curious spectator of the Ultimate Fighting Championship to a business owner with everything from hard working student and prizefighter in between.

For most of his life, the Denton native has studied, trained and fought throughout the Southwest keeping his unwavering dedication to martial arts despite the ups and downs.

With the sport of MMA booming on a national level, the gym owner is now the head coach of about twenty hungry amateur fighters. With his knowledge of the fight-game and his personal knowledge aiding him, it’s his job to get his pupils ready for the physical and mental grind one will encounter when stepping into the steel cage.

BRAZILIAN JIU-JITSU AND MIXED MARTIAL ARTS

Founded in Brazil by the Gracie family in the early 1900s, Brazilian jiu-jitsu consists of a series of techniques focusing on the ground aspect of fighting and includes multiple submissions. Control, leverage and position are pivotal while performing at any level.

“Almost all arts you can open a book and there it is. Tai Kwon Do, Judo all of the moves are listed right there,” Gibson says. “Jiu-jitsu is not that way, you could pile up this room with books with techniques it seems like. It’s just always evolving, there’s just too much to learn. Way too much to learn.”

On November 12, 1993, another sport, mixed martial arts or “MMA” was founded at an event titled “The Ultimate Fighting Championship.” The “no-holds barred” spectacle pitted fighters with different martial arts backgrounds against one another in a tournament meant to determine which skillset was superior. Royce Gracie, representing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, easily dispatched of all his opponents, catching the attention of fighters everywhere.

The sport barely resembles those archaic fights with no rules or regulation now and has become a full-blown profession for young athletes around the world. With competitors using aspects of wrestling, striking and ground fighting, or grappling, MMA competitors blend all of these techniques. Bouts can be won by decision, submission or knock out.

“Without Brazilian jiu-jitsu, fighting would not be what it is today,” he says.

BACKGROUND UPBRINGING AND JUI-JITSU

Sitting atop a shelf at a local video store, a VHS copy of “The Ultimate Fighting Championship” was left untouched. With a case featuring the now iconic logo of a muscle bound white cartoon standing over the earth, it was only a matter of time before this old tape caught someone’s attention.

That someone was Kirk Gibson.

With an open mind, the future MMA fighter watched the first UFC event. His eyes were wide after seeing Royce Gracie easily dispatch all his opponents with an obvious size disadvantage.

Before this day, Gibson had never thought about the possibility of life as a martial artist.

Gibson was raised by his grandmother due to his troubled biological father who he says was simply an “alcoholic.” His mother passed away, but she didn’t have a role in his life before her death.

“Growing up, you know, as far as I can remember I never had a mom, I just didn’t think about it,” Gibson says. “My grandmother took that role, but I knew she was my dad’s mom.”

In his adolescence, he gravitated towards sports and was an athlete who competed at everything he could, including competitions of the contact variety such as football as well as the less physical activities such as Tennis.  Even as a player, Gibson always thought coaching could be an option, but not an immediate one.

“I just wanted to be on the team and lead a team,” he says. “I always wanted to teach people something. I always thought I was going to be a teacher or a coach, and I eventually found my calling.”

After graduating high school in 1988, Gibson got hired at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport as an import broker, a job he still has. The career entails clearing and delivering goods through customs for importers and exporters.

Juggling the airport brokerage with the occasional part time gig, he eventually found the VHS. After watching Gracie and his ability to control and defeat men of larger size, Gibson knew he had to learn whatever “that” was.

“I was always athletic and scrappy,” he says. “I wanted to know how this little guy was beating up all these giant guys. I thought ‘well I’m small’ so I wanted to know how he did that.”

Opening phone books and searching for gyms became a regular activity for Gibson as he searched for anything and everything that could get him close to what he witnessed Gracie do. After attending a freestyle Karate gym for about six months, he finally found a grappling based sport in Judo. He trained at Dallas Judo under legendary practitioner Vince Tamura but he received a rude welcoming upon his first visit.

“When I walked into the gym, I thought ‘no body in here is going to be able to take me pound for pound,’” he says grinning. “There was this old balding 55-year-old who looked like he was 70 and I couldn’t do anything with him. He choked me out very many times. It made me fall in love with it and learn it’s not about how tough you are.”

After the humbling sparring session, Gibson began to excel at the Olympic sport, winning numerous tournaments while earning his brown belt over the course of four years.

He was especially talented in the ground-grappling facet. After defeating multiple black belts at his gym on the mat he decided it was finally time to find a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym in Dallas.

Finding gyms in Dallas, Gibson bounced around for a bit before eventually settling at Mohler Jiu-Jitsu and Boxing. Here he would earn his black belt from Alan Mohler over the course of eight years—coming to the gym day in and day out.

“Kirk when he was training was always a hard-worker,” Mohler said. “When he came in the gym, he was always focused and listened well. Outside of the gym, he’s laid back and easy going.”

TRANSITION INTO FIGHTING

In a locker room, anticipation and nerves eat away at him. In a few hours, he will walk from the locker room to the cage where a man trying to blast him awaits.

The official notifies him it’s time. As he strolls through down the path from the arena’s underbelly to the battleground all of the worry begins to creep in. He knows he must overcome it, he knows the reality—someone will win and someone will lose, no matter what. Accepting this truth is the hardest part, not the fight.

As he gets closer and closer, he sees the man awaiting him in the cage. In his mind, it’s the best fighter he will ever compete against—Clayton Marrs.

“Ding” the fight starts.

The first round is rough; Marrs is taking him down over and over, repeatedly highlighting his wrestling prowess. Lumps and marks are beginning to surface on no matter what. Accepting this truth is the hardest part, not the fight.

“Ding” the bell rings.

In the corner advice is spewed and shouted, the changes must be made and his coach is urging Gibson to “stay low.”

“Ding” the bell rings.

The second round begins and Marrs immediately shoots for a takedown, but this time he anticipates.

“Bang.” The knee lands flush, simultaneous to Marrs dropping his head for the takedown. The result is a knockout win halting his two fight-losing streak.

“That’s my favorite fight,” Gibson says.

These are the moments Gibson yearned for as he trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Mohler’s. He wanted fresh competition, he wanted fights.

“I wanted to test my jiu-jitsu,” he says. “You don’t always want to train, train, train. You always wonder ‘what if?’ MMA is the ‘what if.’”

Though Gibson had the grappling aspects down, he acknowledges that training for a fight is a different animal. If you don’t bring “it,” you’re in trouble.

“If you wait for the fight to come to you, you’re going to get hurt more often than not,” he says. “If you hit a wall, you have to break through it. You’re not in there to play games.”

After more than 20 amateur fights, Gibson turned pro and found instant success winning his first two professional bouts. The euphoria of victory was short-lived however as the agony of defeat lingered when he lost his next two.

Another win followed the victory over Marrs in 2008. Gibson hasn’t won a fight since. With three losses in a row and five in nine fights, Gibson never competed in the UFC. In this business wins equate to opportunity in the big leagues, which leads to the real money. Neither are important to him.

“For me, I never fought for the money,” he says. “I always fought to say that I did it. I just kept doing it.”

Gibson hasn’t actively fought since 2011 due to major back surgery.

After a hard session of jiu-jitsu, he says he began to feel numbness in his arm. Injuries to the back are common in martial arts are common in martial arts and famously hindered UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz.

“I’ve landed on my head way too many times,” he says. “It finally caught up to me.”

COACHING THE GYM RATS

“You need to reverse him,” Gibson instructs, demanding attention from the various pupils crowded around him.

It’s 7:15 pm on a wet, cold night and he’s teaching his children’s class. He quickly paces between the four students, chomping on gum as he watches them perform exactly what he called for.

“Whew, these kids man,” Gibson says after observing the hard sessions between two of the boys.

In about an hour his adult students will be in the same position—attempting to learn new techniques in the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Days like this are now the norm for Gibson who always wanted to teach this specific form of combat to anyone willing to listen.

“These are all like my children,” he says. “Even on the days I don’t feel like being here, you can’t just not show up for your kids. You got to be there. This is no different.”

Along with the mats necessary for any jiu-jitsu gym, the building is full of toys prospective fighters salivate over. Walls are decorated with banners reflecting victories at various competitions around Texas. Corners are full of weights, heavy bags and dummies, used for demonstrating various moves.

Just behind the mat space, which encompasses the entrance, a small cage in the shape of a hexagon completes the fight gym image. Hard sparring takes place within those fence-like walls. If someone wants to compete at the highest levels, the activities performed here are designed to get the fighter ready.

“Six months with me, you can go in and fight,” Gibson says. “A lot of guys come in here and say ‘oh I can fight’ but they can’t beat our white belts. Train with the team, you’ll find out real quick.”

While teaching jiu-jitsu and training fighters has some interweaving, Gibson acknowledges that his mindset as a coach is much different than his approach to teaching. While gi jiu-jitsu involves sparring and grappling, MMA demands a harder-grittier version.

The main difference is the rules, as MMA involves multiple fighting styles while the other focuses on one. Getting people ready for punches and wrestling takedowns requires a tremendous amount of drilling and sparring, he says.

“Even before I started teaching jiu-jitsu, I wanted to coach fighters,” Gibson says. “I love MMA. It allows me to mix it up.”

As a brown belt in 2003, Gibson began to teach at a now defunct tae kwon do gym before eventually moving his business to the Denton Junior Optimist Judo Club for about a year.

During his years of nomadic teaching, Gibson only kept about half of what he earned, paying the other half to who ever owned the building. After taking out about $40,000 out of his 401K and savings, Gibson finally opened his own gym off Londonerry Lane.

With mats donated by the Judo club, Gibson began to develop fighters, jiu-jitsu practitioners and anyone else willing to come through the doors. Eventually moving Texas Elite MMA to its current location.

“Things were going really well over there, but our lease was running out and I began to look around for a bigger place,” Gibson says. “I just wanted to give my students a nicer place to train.”

FUTURE

Gibson is exhausted. He battled traffic to get back to the gym and everyone present can see the weariness in his eyes. Tonight, he will let one of his brown belts handle the coaching and he will go catch some sleep—a rarity for him.

Worrying about the gym and his students puts a strain on Gibson, but he enjoys the grind. Things are only going to get better for Texas Elite MMA as the gym has recently gained an investor with the plans of hopefully opening up a new location in the future.

While money has been an issue in the past, Gibson plans to hold people more accountable for their payments, but he assures that he is always willing to work with a person to get a good price.

“It’s not about money,” Gibson says. “I’ll work with anyone willing to come train with me. Prices are between me and the person.”

As long as students enjoy the training, Gibson will keep supplying his tutelage to young fighters.

“He’s a chill cat,” gym visitor Michael Anunda says. “This is a real cool place to train and Gibson is the guy in Denton. He teaches me cool stuff every time I come down here.”

No matter what happens, Gibson assures he will always be teaching somewhere. Through all the ups and downs he hasn’t lost his love for the sports of jiu-jitsu and MMA.

Featured Image: Kirk Gibson shows a student the technique of full guard. Photo courtesy of Bernadette Orona.

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