By Dustin Turner

In a nondescript building that looks more like a warehouse than a gym, Mark Greubel turns uncoordinated, nonathletic – and often overweight – people into kickboxing world champions. His true passion, however, is helping people.

It started when he was growing up in the Barton Village area of Augusta. “I was about 14 when I got in a street fight over racist stuff. This guy thought I was Chinese and wanted to fight me for some reason,” Mark says, pointing out that he is Korean. “So I got into a street fight with this kid, and I didn’t know how to fight on the ground. He tackled me. I put my arm out to brace myself and completely destroyed my elbow. That was life-changing incident for me.”

He made a vow to myself that he would never be a victim and would help others not be victims. “I really started taking my training seriously then. I put my focus on real protection, real training. I got into bojuka and my instructor, James Skinner, brought the warrior out inside that I never knew I had.” 

Mark was a successful boxer and kickboxer (two-time world champion), but the injuries started to pile up. After four surgeries before his 24th birthday, Mark decided to go into coaching. He coached his brother, who became the first six-time International Kickboxing Federation (IKF) world champion. Mark’s first student became the first seven-time IKF World Champion.

“I was asked to coach the WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organizations) Team USA after one of my fighters beat a kid on the team and went on to win silver in the world championships, and I have been doing that for 12 years.”

Mark enjoys training fighters and turning out champions, but his true passion is what he does at Greubel’s Mixed Martial Arts facility with Sean Murphy, his friend and general manager. “We want this gym to be people’s Disney World, their escape. We want there to be good vibes here.”

Mark, Sean and the other instructors work to create a family environment with a focus on self-improvement. Through martial arts training at Geubel’s, children have turned around their grades and fended off bullies; adults have lost weight, come off medications and gotten in shape. The goal is to gain self-confidence while learning self-defense.

“That’s what keeps us coming here every day,” Sean explains. “Seeing transformative changes in individuals. What it boils down to is this: Nowadays, you go to the doctor and get medication; that’s the simple fix. But the side effects outweigh the benefits. But if we do preventative medicine – i.e. come into a gym atmosphere and work out – you’re going to set yourself up for success.”

One such success story is of longtime friends Keith Antione and Eddie Singleton. Keith, 53, came to Greubel’s weighing 605 pounds. He now weighs 360 and is about to step in the ring to fight Eddie. At 68 years old, Eddie has lot 45 pounds and has come off all of his diabetic medicine. Mark is quick to explain that this is a friendly bout with full sparring gear.

Sean tells their story: “These guys have a relationship that goes back two or three decades. Eddie sort of goaded Keith into fighting him. It is so funny to watch those two pick at each other. Now, remember, Eddie is 68 years old. Keith was working two jobs. He literally put his second job on hold to train to fight Eddie.”

“Yeah, Eddie has been training his butt off for this,” Mark adds. “He is in better shape than a lot of my fighters right now.”

The sparring and bouts are rare, though. In fact, some people are nervous when they come in, Sean says, because they have seen UFC on television and think they are going to get punched in the face. “The fact is that 95 percent of everybody who walks through our front door has never done this before. Only 5 percent or less actually spar or fight. Most people are in here doing something that is new and fun to them and that takes the monotony out of working out.”

Greubel’s MMA loves to work with children, too. Whether through the after-school program for Steven’s Creek Elementary, the annual summer camp or regular classes, children as young as 5 are learning the basics of self-defense, gaining valuable life lessons and getting a good workout.

“The kids learn boxing and kickboxing, then roll right into jujitsu,” Mark says. “So they learn to fight on their feet first, then they learn to fight on the ground. For girls, it is super-important to be able to learn to fight and defend themselves being on their back. Jujitsu is based on leverage and position. You can overcome someone who is much larger and stronger than you. It is a great self-defense art.”

Self-defense goes back to Mark’s original mission – to keep children from becoming victims in a school setting that often includes bullying. “What have we done to prepare our children to handle those situations? A confident, capable child is less likely to get in a fight. An unconfident child who is pushed to the brink is far more dangerous. He starts grabbing weapons and thinking catastrophic thoughts. That’s someone who is going to bring guns to school. That is someone who is not confident.”

Sean underscores the importance of teaching life lessons. “We reinforce to kids – and their parents – the concepts of self respect, self-discipline and self-awareness. We want kids to build good habits. They learn that everything is earned. There is no entitlement. If kids stumble – whether it’s here or at home or school – we help them get back on track.”

The good habits learned from time in the gym translate to success elsewhere in life. Take 6-year-old Xander, for example. “He was doing terrible in school,” Sean says. “Within about six weeks of training, he completely turned around his grades in school to where he is excelling and is at the top of his class.”

Greubel’s MMA believes strongly in giving back to the community. They work with the REC’ing Crew in North Augusta and Hope for Augusta, a Christian outreach for at-risk youth. “We help kids by teaching them basic self-defense and some life lessons along the way,” Mark says. “Kickboxing and martial arts are the draw, but they learn how to deal with social pressures and how to engage with people effectively.”

Greubel’s is working with the Charlie Norwood Veterans Administration Medical Center. Using martial arts, they work with veterans who suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety and more.

“In the military, you are in an environment with a lot of camaraderie and structure,” Sean explains, “and you come back, the structure is gone. Then, many come back and are disabled. They are told they can’t work and can’t do things. There’s an opportunity for self-loathing and depression. Our goal is to get these guys – and women – into something that can get them out of this dark place. Give them a little pat on the back so they can say, ‘OK, I can get over this challenge. I can get through this day and into the next day.’”

Right now, it is a local pilot program, but there are discussions of turning it into a national program. Mark thinks that is a goal he can easily achieve. “Being involved with Team USA and being the head coach, I have access to hundreds or thousands of schools across the nation with other instructors who would be more than eager to jump in and help out, copy my program and implement it in those hospitals.”

Whether people come to Greubel’s to fight competitively, lose weight, learn life skills or learn self-defense, Mark wants to make sure it is always a family atmosphere. “Here, everyone knows each other. It is great to have this network of friends who have this one strong emotional commonality because we are pushing ourselves to the brink over and over, day in and day out. And when you are doing that alongside your brothers and sisters in here, those friendships become super-strong.”

There often has been a misconception that martial arts are for the strong and athletic. Mark has a different philosophy: “Many martial arts schools make instruction so difficult that only the strong survive. I think martial arts is for the weak. It is for the people who actually need it. The ones who need it the most are not very athletic, not very coordinated.”

Mark has won world championships and trained world champions. He has been the head coach for WAKO Team USA for more than a decade. He helps anyone willing to learn how to never be a victim. So what’s left? To put Augusta on the world stage for martial arts, of course. His ultimate goal is to one day host the kickboxing world championships in the Garden City.

“I want to put Augusta on the map for something other than just the Masters.  We could be the Masters of Kickboxing, if you will. There are so many talented people here that just do not get recognized. And we can compete with the best in the world.  I know – I’ve done it. I’ve taken guys with less than five fights, and they win silver medals in the world championships against guys with close to 100 fights. What we are doing here in Augusta, Georgia, is on par with anybody else in the world. 

I know why God put me on this planet. I know how I can help and contribute, and that is what I am going to continue to do.”

This article appears in the December 2018/January 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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