Posted by: Drew | March 10, 2009

Cage fighter: USCG Petty Officer Dave Stahl prepares for the ring

Story and photos by PA3 Mark Jones

Most evenings at Global Martial Arts in Virginia Beach, Va., the room is filled with the sound of fighters striking heavy bags, instructors coaching students on technique, and a pervasive air of determination amid martial artists pushing themselves to attain expertise in combat fighting.

Some of the necessary qualities for success as a fighter are continuous readiness, diligence, and a can-do attitude.

Stahl poses for a portrait at the Fifth Coast Guard District headquarters in Portsmouth, Va.
Stahl poses for a portrait at the Fifth Coast Guard District headquarters in Portsmouth, Va.

These valuable qualities and others equally important can be acquired in many ways, but in the case of Petty Officer 2nd Class Dave Stahl, much of it came from his experiences in the Coast Guard before he began training in the martial arts. This determination and attitude serves him well when he’s locked in a cage with another man intent on knocking him unconscious.

Stahl, a yeoman for the Coast Guard Investigative Service in Portsmouth, Va., is an amateur mixed martial arts fighter.

Mixed-martial-arts fighting is a sport with origins as far back as the ancient Grecian Olympic Games where “Pankration,” which literally means “all powers” and involved a combination of boxing and wrestling styles, was the most popular event. It has also found venues in various forms around the world throughout history. Its mainstream attention as a modern sport arose recently with the popularity of televised competitions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Many of these competitions originally had very few rules or restrictions, banning only such acts as biting, eye-gouging, and other flagrantly unsportsmanlike techniques. Fights typically went on without time limits until one competitor submitted or the other fighter knocked him out.

After several years of disfavor and legal backlash, mixed-martial-arts fighting eventually re-emerged as a regulated sport with the introduction of weight classes, timed rounds, judges, and more restrictive regulations. As a result, it is more widely accepted in popular culture and fights are held in cities and regulated by the same organizations that regulate boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai fights.

As an amateur fighter, Stahl’s fights are more restricted than professional fights. Amateur fighters are forbidden to use techniques such as headbutts, downward-pointing elbow strikes and standing knee strikes to the head. In the future, however, he intends to fight professionally.

Stahl catches Ryan Beasley's leg and throws a punch as the two spar before class at Global Martial Arts in Virginia Beach. Stahl and other Global teammates help prepare Beasley for an upcoming fight by taking turns fighting rounds with him.
Stahl catches Ryan Beasley’s leg and throws a punch as the two spar before class at Global Martial Arts in Virginia Beach. Stahl and other Global teammates help prepare Beasley for an upcoming fight by taking turns fighting rounds with him.

After fighting a few times and training almost every day for three years, Stahl says his instructor, Mateo De Los Reyes, head coach and owner of Global Martial Arts, recommended that he fight professionally.

“A lot of guys come in and they want to fight amateur just to see if they can hang,” De Los Reyes explained. “Then when they’re done, they lose interest in fighting. Dave has been fighting for a while now and he is just getting more and more interested in fighting, so I told him that going professional is something to think about.”

“If you’re going to put yourself in danger – and you do – by putting yourself in a ring with another person whose goal is to hurt you, knock you out or make you submit, you should at least get paid for it,” De Los Reyes added. “Why fight for free for the entertainment of others while the promoter makes money on the fight?”

“This is something that I want to continue to do indefinitely,” Stahl added. “Why fight amateur when I could go to the next level?”

Stahl began training in the martial arts when he was stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C., in 2005.

“I had just turned 21, and I was new to the area, so I didn’t really know what was around,” said Stahl. “I didn’t want to just go out drinking and play video games, so I decided that I needed to find something more constructive to do to keep me out of trouble.”

He found it initially at Team Trident, a mixed martial arts training team in Elizabeth City. There, he began learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Combat Submission Wrestling and Jeet Kune Do.

Stahl throws punches as Chris Gaither holds pads during a training class at Global Martial Arts. Drills such as these enhance punching technique and speed while emphasizing combinations.
Stahl throws punches as Chris Gaither holds pads during a training class at Global Martial Arts. Drills such as these enhance punching technique and speed while emphasizing combinations.

He started with grappling and Jiu Jitsu competitions without striking, but wanted to move to full-contact fights. At first, Stahl’s supervisors were concerned with his involvement in this violent and seemingly brutal sport, he said. They were worried he might get injured outside of work, interfering with his ability to perform his job.

“When I went into work and showed them the trophy I had won, they were a little bit more comfortable with it. They didn’t really give me any trouble about it after that.” he said.

When he arrived at his current unit, he explained up-front to his supervisors that mixed martial arts training and competition are what he does on his off time.

“I explained to them that I do this, so if I show up to work one day with bruises or a black eye, they know I wasn’t out doing something bad. It’s just something that happens sometimes,” Stahl explained.

Fortunately, Stahl’s Coast Guard duties and his MMA passion do not interfere with each other. He works during the day as the office yeoman for CGIS, and he works out in the evening at Global Martial Arts Academy in Virginia Beach. Since his job is administrative, minor injuries he might sustain from his rough-and-tumble hobby would not negatively impact his ability to do his job.

Far from impeding his practice, Stahl says the Coast Guard has a strong impact on his drive to improve himself and apply his effort constructively with discipline. Throughout his 7-year Coast Guard career, he says he has been pushed to excellence constantly by his shipmates and supervisors.

This, he says, has a definite impact on his ability as a mixed martial arts practitioner, because it takes the same kind of drive, focus and effort to be a successful fighter.

Global Martial Arts owner and head coach Mateo De Los Reyes instructs as Stahl demonstrates the triangle choke, a technique using the legs to immobilize one of the opponent's arms while cutting off circulation to the head.
Global Martial Arts owner and head coach Mateo De Los Reyes instructs as Stahl demonstrates the triangle choke, a technique using the legs to immobilize one of the opponent’s arms while cutting off circulation to the head.

“I wouldn’t be the Coast Guardsman I am today if it wasn’t for the people above me and around me who taught me and pushed me to improve myself, and I wouldn’t be the fighter I am today if it weren’t for my coaches and teammates at Global,” he said.

Stahl currently focuses his training on Combat Submission Wrestling, which, as the name suggests, focuses primarily on using take-downs and submission techniques such as joint locks and choke holds to end fights with submission. He also trains in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai.

In the Coast Guard, you learn how to do something, and then you put it into action,” Stahl said. “Everything that you learn, you use. It’s the same way with fighting, you learn the technique, you learn how to do it, and then you do it.”

Stahl says he learned to “switch on” when things get serious from Senior Chief Petty Officer Heath Jones, his former supervisor aboard Coast Guard Cutter Seahawk, a patrol boat homeported in Carrabelle, Fla. He taught him to keep his head in the game when he needed to stay focused.

“It’s like I have a switch,” said Stahl. “I’m a happy guy and I like to have fun, so I laugh and joke. But when it’s time to get serious, I can flip that switch.”

According to De Los Reyes, this attitude translates to a good outlook on training.

“He can come in and train hard, and be lighthearted afterward,” said De Los Reyes. “He can joke and laugh on the mat but still get a lot out of training. He has a good work ethic.”

“You don’t have just a one-man boat in the Coast Guard,” Stahl said. “You’ve got a whole crew. In Martial Arts, it’s not just one guy fighting another guy in a ring, you’ve got all the other guys you train with and you’ve got your coaches.”

“Global Martial Arts is like a family, and the Coast Guard is like a family,” he elaborated. “It’s not like there’s only one guy going to work, and it’s not like there’s only one guy going to a fight. Really, there are so many people who contribute to that, it’s the people in the background who help you along and point you in the right direction.”

“I am just truly blessed to be where I am in the Coast Guard and in MMA,” he said.

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Responses

  1. Thank you for the great write up on him, I loved the pictures as well.


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