Jan Gaetjens (right) at NAGA D.C.

During my short time as a sportswriter, I’ve found that tracking down fighters for interviews is the hardest part of the job. So, you can imagine my surprise when Georgetown University junior Jan Gaetjens almost immediately took me up on my offer.

Gaetjens is one of the founders of Georgetown University Mixed Martial Arts. The team is an unofficial student group that rolls out mats in a public use room and trains. Members have competed in amateur MMA matches and grappling tournaments.

You might be shocked to find a fighting club on the grounds of Bill Clinton’s alma mater. You might make the obligatory and lazy Fight Club comparison. However, in reality, the team is taking part in the purest form of sport.

The team motivates itself. There are no coaches. There is no money or desire for television coverage. The purpose of training is self-improvement. The fighters strive to better themselves. In the words of Aikido black belt Stan Wrobel, “[the] practice of such an art is a way of revealing to ourselves the finer and clearer representations of who we truly are.”

On top of that, if more MMA clubs start on campuses, perhaps high-level wrestlers won’t be the only prospects coming from collegiate ranks.

ProMMANow: so how did the club come about?
Gaetjens: I was actually just in the gym on campus one afternoon two years ago and saw a kid in a SPRAWL t-shirt. I asked if he did MMA, and it turns out he trained out in California. We started rolling together a few times a week, just using the gym’s stretching mats. From there, it was kind of a word of mouth phenomenon.

ProMMANow: How experienced are you and the rest of the guys in the club?
Gaetjens: Out of the six of us that compete actively, we all train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu outside of here at school. In the general membership we’ve got people who have never even thrown a punch or attempted a takedown in their lives. I have my black belt in Kung Fu and played pretty competitive soccer in high school. I also wrestled a bit too.

ProMMANow: So how did you get into MMA as a fan?
Gaetjens: I actually started following Japanese MMA in high school kind of just out of curiosity, since it was up my alley of combat sport interest. I ended up getting hooked. I used to love watching Chute Boxe guys like Wanderlei [Silva].

ProMMANow: As a fan of the sport and club leader, what are the most annoying questions outsiders ask you?
Gaetjens: It’s a tie between “Why would you do that to yourself?” and “How many people get hurt in practice?”

ProMMANow: Have you tried to become an official student club, and if so what obstacles have you faced?
Gaetjens: We’ve applied twice now, and we were rejected citing a lack of space on behalf of student activities.

ProMMANow: What do you think is the real reason?
Gaetjens: What’s funny is that we’ve been able to put our own mats in a public use room on campus and train without interfering with anything for two years now.

ProMMANow: What benefits would being an official club get you?
Gaetjens: Well, mainly access to school money.

ProMMANow: You recently told me you were upset about an article in The Georgetown Voice written about the club called “MMA fights for support after fighting each other.” What about it upset you?
Gaetjens: Some of the wording was really alarmist. When I read it, you know, whole segments were dedicated to the threat of injury mostly. The front-page headline also included a lot of Fight Club references.

ProMMANow: What about the Fight Club references bothered you?
Gaetjens: It was just surprising given the fact that they were the ones who approached us about doing the article. I figured that suggested at least some basic familiarity with the sport and would result in them avoiding those kind of negative cliches you tend to hear out of people that haven’t gotten past the old human cockfighting adage.

ProMMANow: What are your personal goals in MMA and what are your goals for the club?
Gaetjens: For me this is a recreational thing that I’m pursuing at an [amateur] level. As far as the club, I just want to see MMA at Georgetown outlast me being here. Most of us are juniors and seniors so continuity is on our minds big time.

ProMMANow: Do you consider yourself a fighter?
Gaetjens: (laughs) I’d say so, as loaded a term as I feel like that’s become.

ProMMANow: So, you feel like since training you would be more confident in a street fight situation?
Gaetjens: Absolutely, which is something I really appreciate out of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu especially that I don’t feel I got with Kung Fu before.

ProMMANow: How does training give you a different view of the sport as a fan?
Gaetjens: I mean like I said, I fell in love with those Chute Boxe guys cause of that ultra-hyper-controlled-chaos striking that I feel a lot of people are attracted to, but now experiencing the technical first hand, definitely brings your attention to finer points that wouldn’t stick out otherwise.

ProMMANow: What amateur events does the team compete in, and what are some of your collective accomplishments?
Gaetjens: We compete as a team in North American Grappling Association (NAGA) and now Grapplers Quest events. Then, individually we also have three guys that compete in full contact amateur MMA. We brought home three medals at NAGA D.C. last year too. Basically, we’re more successful than Georgetown’s football team

Editor’s Notes: Georgetown fields an NCAA Division 1 FCS football team. In 2009, the team went 0-11. Gaetjens, himself, took third place in the Men’s No-Gi novice cruiserweight division at NAGA D.C.

ProMMANow: Describe a typical team practice.
Gaetjens: We show up at 6 p.m. and teach some basic grappling to people interested in learning for about an hour. Then, at 7, we, who actively compete, get on the mats, do our warmups and stretching, do technique drills for about and hour then free roll in a winner stays in format for an additional hour. On Fridays, we do a sparring night, headgear and MMA training gloves for about an hour and half of doing three-minute rounds.

ProMMANow: How many students at other schools are going to follow your lead and start an MMA club at their school?
Gaetjens: (laughs) I called it. 20 years from now every Big 10 school will have MMA to attract wrestling recruits with career training for fighting after college.

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