Robert Abrantes is relaxed, calm and collected. Each stroke is delivered carefully to his canvas. A design unfolds, and as time wears on, the finished product moves into focus. Working like a painter before an easel, Abrantes draws from an array of tools and techniques. However, he doesn’t use brushes and paint. Instead, he uses raw flesh and toned muscle. His blank canvas doesn’t rest on an easel – it’s the body of his opponent.Sergeant Abrantes, and Staff Sgt. Daniel Sandlin are Martial Arts Instructor Trainers with the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion at School of Infantry (East), Camp Geiger, N.C. In between the hours spent at their physically exhausting work, which begins as early as five in the morning and often goes until dark, they train and prepare themselves for their demanding past time – participation in mixed martial arts tournaments.
“I professionally began [MMA] a year ago after coming through training here, but didn’t really start seriously training until after I met Sandlin,” said Abrantes, who has competed in five official fights, with a record of three wins and two losses. “I’ve always been competitive by nature. It’s sort of the same principle behind being a Marine – wanting to be the best. I like seeing the progression and development of all the hard work you put in.”
In addition to advancing in the professional world of fighting, Abrantes attributes a lot of his growth as a teacher and leader of Marines to his participation in MMA.
“I feel I’ve grown a great deal,” said Abrantes. “The mental toughness you get from having them lock the cage with you inside it, and additionally through me ‘destroying’ my body, helps me reach new levels.”
By learning to push himself, Abrantes explained that it has helped him gain a better understanding of how to push his students.
“Just the mindset helps – sparring everyday gets you used to it,” said Abrantes. “It helps you easily assess how every Marine must be fought a little differently in order to benefit the most [from the training].”
In addition to reaching new levels of physical and mental toughness, their preparation and participation has allowed Sandlin and Abrantes to further develop their patience as instructors and as fighters.
“Fighting is a game of chess, not some barbaric event, and that patience carries over.” said Sandlin. “We try to get [our students] into that mindset. We try to instill our students with that patience and get them thinking of the end game.
“[MMA} helps a lot – that leadership and dedication transfers over to teaching,” continued Sandlin. “You learn greater levels of self discipline and that helps you encourage discipline as a leader.”