Mixed Martial Airman

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Nathan H. Barbour/Released)

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — The silence of a wooded courtyard is broken by the crack of flesh and bone against the base of a tree. It is legend that one who is trained in Muay Thai will be able to chop down a banana tree using their hardened shins. This legend drives a young man, with dreams of being the best, to repeatedly assault the tree. It is padded but it does not give. Even the sturdiest heavy bag securely anchored to the floor would give in to the power of this fighter testing his might.

Senior Airman Jeremiah Garber, 355th Maintenance Group analyst, wants to take his mixed martial arts game to the next level.

The amateur fighter arrived at the secluded Tucson ranch as the high Arizona sun blazed through the trees and flower bushes of the sanctuary.

He already knew the drill: he must prepare immediately for the arrival of his Muay Thai trainer, Ricky Phrathep, who allows no rests.

Garber is not a novice; he started wrestling at an afterschool club before he was even attending classes.

“[The instructors] didn’t know I wasn’t in school yet,” said Garber. “I just went to the club like I was in school already.”

Kru Ricky wastes no time, instructing Garber to get his shoes on because they are practicing outside today.

Garber knew he was about to be put through the ringer.

“We work our bodies to a point that they’ll never have to reach in competition and then we’ll start working on some techniques and live sparring,” Garber said. “We always train like that so when we do get to sparring, striking and head-to-head competition, it’s as if we’re in the fifth and final round.”

Garber found his footing at a seventh-grade wrestling tournament. He lost a match, but with hopes to only reach second place, he pinned the rest of his opponents. To his surprise, Garber had actually won the tournament because the opponent he originally lost to was defeated.

“I never won a tournament [until that day], and then I won six in a row.” Garber said. ”That’s when I knew I could do it.”

Already sweaty from a warmup exercise consisting of lifting dumbbells, log jumping, and shadow boxing, Garber observed as Ricky described the proper technique to drag a log with a rope tied to it. When the rope is handed to Garber, he must drag it approximately 50 meters back and forth until Ricky says to stop.

Garber stays motivated by imagining the growing distance of separation between him and his competition with every new level he takes his training.

After his 18th birthday, Garber fought in only one official MMA fight. A few months later, he joined the Air Force. It would be years before Garber would have the opportunity to fight in a cage again.

Garber found a jiu jitsu class when he first arrived in Tucson. He spent hours upon hours perfecting his ground technique. Once he felt it was strong enough, he started Muay Thai to improve his striking abilities.

“I really like the speed and technicality of Muay Thai,” Garber said. “If I go against a kickboxer, grappler or brawler who’s just relying on their athleticism and physicality, I can cut those things away and cover and strike.”

After more than 30 minutes of high intensity drills, Garber shook his arms to continue blood flow back to his hands. He and Ricky then entered a nearby dojo and began to practice the techniques that will give Garber the edge he desires.

“Muay Thai is very similar to kick boxing,” Garber said. “The difference is that clenches, knees and elbows are vital for it to be effective. You always have to picture each part of your body as a weapon.

By utilizing Ricky’s extensive knowledge and experience, Garber intends to expand his arsenal to its maximum potential. He envisions his hands being molded into powerful clubs, his elbows sharpened into deadly knives, and his knees swinging with the might of sledge hammers.