The Power Dynamic Between Coach & Student: It Can Be Fulfilling Or Horrifying

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As a martial artist, your coach can be the most significant part of your journey or the worst. Either way, they will be essential to your growth, and it can be tough to find the right one to help you become the practitioner you want to be. I had the privilege of experiencing both types of coaches firsthand during my journey, and thankfully none of them were Joshua Fabia, but one guy was pretty close. 

Many of us can learn a lot from our coaches, whether from their mistakes or their strengths. Unfortunately, former coaches have taken advantage of many martial artists, and it is a significant problem.

The dynamic between coach and student is a powerful one. If you start training under an instructor at a young age, they may even become a parent figure as the years pass. This scenario was the case with a few of my previous training partners from the more impoverished areas in Puerto Rico. 

Those guys didn’t have a father figure growing up and started training mixed martial arts under my coach to get away from trouble and find an outlet for their anger. The older they got, the more they saw their coach as a father figure that kept them out of trouble. But, one day he caught a fighter training boxing at another gym and banned him from our gym for being a traitor.

The fighter got emotionally crushed and was lost for a time. He just didn’t know where to go due to the lack of mixed martial arts gyms and jiu-jitsu gyms in Puerto Rico at the time and eventually stopped training after showing so much potential. 

The same coach decided to “save” his other fighters from greedy managers and manage them himself. He took 30% of their fight purse and signed them to four-year contracts because he knew they wouldn’t have anywhere else to train if they rejected his offer.

The responsibility of being a coach is way bigger than most people think. There is a substantial psychological effect that less than honorable “mentors” often manipulate, especially when they see you as a solution to their own life struggles. There have been many unfortunate events where martial artists have been driven into trusting their coach but end up getting betrayed. Diego Sanchez and his former coach, Joshua Fabia, are great examples of this. 

Joshua Fabia came into Diego’s life when he was at his most vulnerable. Knowing what he was going through at the time, Fabia took advantage of the situation and manipulated Diego with unorthodox training practices while also acting as his manager at the same time. He even took over as Diego’s power of attorney and controlled his social media accounts, often talking to fans as if he was Diego. 

Thankfully, they parted ways in May 2021, but not before shining a spotlight on these unethical practices.

Many great coaches have used their power to create champions or made their students better human beings through their guidance. Robert Drysdale was recently seen pushing a fighter to his break during a corner chat between round of a UFC fight because he knew he had more to give. 

John Danaher also comes to mind. He is a walking encyclopedia of information regarding everything that involves martial arts and has produced some of the greatest combate athletes of thie generation including George St Pierre and Gordon Ryan.

Martial arts, in general, is a very precious thing to pass on from generation to generation when done right. If I didn’t do martial arts, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My parents signed me up to practice Kung-Fu as a teenager, and I wanted nothing to do with it at first. I had an attitude problem growing up, and it got me into trouble a lot. But, my parents kept pushing me to train even though all I wanted to do was to play video games all day and yell at my television.  

There were two Kung-Fu instructors; one was my biology teacher, and the other, my Spanish teacher. So, they knew who I was before I started. It was tough being the class clown now because I knew I would get beat up at the dojo by them after I got out of school. 

The more I went to class, the more I fell in love with martial arts. It was shaping me to be more disciplined. My instructors even let me borrow their UFC DVDs back when DVDs were a thing and told me about their favorite fighters. I owe everything to those two Kung-Fu instructors, and even though I don’t practice their art anymore, I always carry their philosophy with me.

The gym you train at should feel like an environment where you can make all the mistakes in the world without concern or judgment, and the coaches leading your team should be the ones creating the atmosphere and setting the standard of behavior.

People who train martial arts come from all walks of life, whether working an office job, serving in the military, or your local bartender. There is no telling what their days were like before walking into the gym, but a good instructor can focus their emotions in a positive direction. 

Coaching styles do get passed on through lineages just like a child learns from their parents. Therefore, any toxic traits passed on from the coaches would set an example that it is ok to act a certain way once they become a coach themselves. So if you ever consider wanting to be a coach one day, just remember that it’s not a regular day job. Give it the life-changing gravity it deserves.



Gian Carlo is a 10th Planet Blue Belt and a comedian from Puerto Rico. He currently resides in Albuquerque where he trains under "Nasty" Nate Harris, and hosts 2 podcasts (Unemployed Commentators & The Shoot)

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