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Chimaira’s Mark Hunter on MMA: ‘There’s Really Nothing Quite Like Kicking Something’

Over the course of his career as the frontman of Chimaira, vocalist Mark Hunter has been waving the flag for American heavy metal. But the aggression doesn’t end once he’s offstage. Hunter is a mixed martial arts enthusiast whose early interest in karate was supplemented by a subsequent appreciation of Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu. Hunter says an early diet of Bruce Lee and Shaw Brothers movies sparked his interest. “I was running around the house kicking the sky and punching imaginary bad guys,” he tells Noisecreep.

“I think my mother noticed that I had a lot of pent up energy and she knew that martial arts were a good thing.” She enrolled him in a karate class at a local YMCA at the age of 6, but he left after six years. “You had to be 16 to get a black belt,” he continues. “I was ready by the age of 12, and I didn’t really want to wait, so I lost interest and started gaining more interest in music.”

Once Chimaira took off, Hunter relegated martial arts to something that would have to take a back seat to music, since he was touring constantly and wasn’t ready to go back to finally get his black belt in a class full of kids. But again, movies ignited an interest.

“When I saw Ong Bak, I’d never really seen anything like Tony Jaa before in my life, and I wanted to learn what he did,” he says. Hunter started searching for local places that taught Muay Thai, and while working out at his gym, he struck up a friendship with another gym member, Mark Vanyo, bonding over ’80s martial arts movies. It turned out that Vanyo been teaching Tae Kwon Do, Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai for 20 years. And Vanyo took Hunter on as a private student.

“I started training with him one on one, and really got into it right off the bat,” Hunter says. “I don’t say I was ‘a natural,’ but I had some muscle memory left over from my youth, so things came a little more easily. I decided after taking lessons with him for a while that I was confident enough to be around people in classes.”

While Vanyo told Hunter that there were plenty of people his own age in the classes, another thing that may have helped convince him was the metal played during them. In fact, before he started attending the classes, they would play Chimaira. “It’s cool for him, because he was already a fan, and he got to teach someone that he was a fan of,” Hunter says, naming Metallica, Pantera, Slayer and Sepultura as other heavy bands played at the classes. “It’s a cool vibe up there, and he started doing a once-a-month Friday night fight, where students would have matches and all the families and friends could come by. It was kind of an exhibition to get people ready for real competitions. We just have a real good kinship and work ethic.”

Don’t count on seeing Hunter in the ring for any exhibitions, however. “As much as [Vanyo] wants to get me into a ring, he’s not going to,” Hunter says. “Honestly, that’s’ not where my heart is. When I spar, I don’t really enjoy it. Some people have that killer instinct in them, and they live for fighting and want to do it. My passion comes from the training aspect of it and the teaching aspect. I found that I enjoy that a lot more, and I feel like I can watch somebody and help them improve their game a lot faster than I would be able to improve my own. I would never say never, but I’m much more interested in training myself and teaching people.”

Hunter’s enthusiasm for MMA has caught on within the band as well, as drummer Andols Herrick started taking lessons. “We bring out pads and gloves,” Hunter says. “When we’re not at the weights gym, or doing a million interviews, and we actually have a few hours to kill, we’ll hit the pads and throw each other around a bit and have a good time with it. In Europe, it’s really hard for us to find gyms, and it seems from the research we’ve been doing that it might be easier to find martial arts schools. So we’re going to see if we can try to take some new styles and lessons overseas, which would be really interesting to throw into the game.” Hunter has already gotten some training in on the road, having taken several private Jiu-Jitsu lessons with Daniel Gracie in New York and Muay Thai lessons with Dr. Knee in San Francisco.

Atreyu‘s Alex Varkatzas is also into MMA and actually toured with Chimaira in 2003, but that was prior to either of them training. “I don’t think our paths have crossed since we started,” Hunter says. “I think that if we ever got a chance to tour together again or had the opportunity, I’m sure we would love to have a good time sparring, but it wouldn’t be anything malicious.”

One downside of Hunter’s hobby is that he’s got a chronic back problem, with arthritis in his right shoulder, spinal nerve damage in the center of his back and scoliosis in his lower back. “The older I get, the quicker I get injured,” he says. “Right now, I’m nursing a nasty lower back injury, and I haven’t been able to train in quite some time. It bums you out, because there’s really nothing quite like kicking something.”

So for the time being, Hunter is concentrating more on training while he’s off the road. “When I train, if I go hard for a couple of weeks, I develop an immunity to the pain. But I’ll go on tour, and wear out my back in a different way, so when I come back and start training, it’s really easy to flare up, and you can’t push through the pain sometimes. When I know we’re going to have a few months off, if we’re making a record or something, I like to do more core training before or during, while I get into the swing of things. Then I’m able to go and have a nice pattern, and don’t get injured as quickly or as often.”

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