Int. #1: Inside the Heart of Mark Hatmaker

Hatmaker headshotMy first Interview is with Mark Hatmaker, he is the owner and operator of Extreme Self Protection a clearinghouse of old school Boxing, Wrestling, Combination Man (the original MMA athlete), conditioning, and pragmatic street-defense information.

He is the author of over 15 books and over 175 training videos and counting.

For more information visit his site at



Q1. What significant change(s) on a human level, have you gone through over the last decade in direct relation to your work and how has it, if any, changed the way in which you teach/instruct?

The single biggest change for me over the past decade in both my personal and professional life is giving up on the concept of certainty. What I mean by that is that the older I get (I’ll flatter myself and call it wisdom when it might be nothing more than early onset senility) the less I am impressed or enthused about set systems, fixed curriculums, dogmatic answers in all domains not just martial arts/self-defense. Canned philosophical answers, rote religious tropes, ready-made political wisdom and all the rest strike me as being as little behind the curve.

Not to say that each of these answers may (or may not) hold some aspect of truth to them, just that they often seem to be intellectual holding places, excuses to stop growth and to assume a mantle of comprehension where none may exist. Most things in life are far more chaotic or dependent on chance than I assumed in my younger years. The more and more I grasp/embrace the randomness of life and complex systems the more it seems that I can get a little better glimpse of what might be useful-or my best guess at useful.

For a lengthy digression on this topic see the works of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Many ballpark his work as primarily belonging to the realm of financial observation, but I think he would disagree with that assertion. I myself find the philosophy of randomness is applicable to almost any and all areas of my life.

As for how it directly affects my teaching, I don’t dig set curricula at all, particularly in self-defense work. Instead I see greater wisdom in providing loose-templates of response choices, putting the athlete through a variety of stress drills and observing what movement patterns manifest for them and then play to their idiosyncratic strength. I find far greater success with this stress-culling process than me arbitrarily trying to overlay skill-sets on another individual.

Q2. Is there a particular incident/occurrence/situation you recall having directly experienced/been involved in that has deeply & emotionally touched and/or altered you and your perceptions of the world in general?

In regard to the first question, there was no triggering event to spark an “Ah, so this is how things really are” but since assuming this “the world is primarily random” stance I’ve had more than a few experiences that seem to confirm that we/I/everyone don’t really at a serious level understand the world we live in.

A simple enough experiment is to record all of your own predictions, everything from how much you think you’ll enjoy a vacation, to if this season of Justified will be any good, really any and all predictions. A habit of doing this has led me to reveal that I really have no idea for the most part of what I will think or do in this world. Keep in mind this is me predicting myself, presumably a subject I should have expert knowledge of.

I carry this experiment over into my observations of friends and family (privately, of course, no sense in saying “Man, you sure are wrong a lot”) and have noticed how often what others say, do, predict about this or that other person or event turns out to be so far off base. Even in light of our personal horrible prediction records, we carry on making predictions and taking them seriously.

If I’m getting too far into the weeds with this conversation feel free to ask me to clarify or shut up.

Q3. Have you ever thought of quitting the game altogether? If yes, why? And if you were to at this stage in your life (today) do something entirely different, what would it be?

You know I’ve not thought about quitting. I’ve had more than a few injuries that gave me pause to wonder how long this feeble body can do what it does, but at the cognitive “want to” level, I haven’t considered quitting, not yet.

Q4. Do you feel you were proverbially ‘born’ to do what you do, that this was your calling? Is there perhaps another thing you wish you would have done instead, or believe you are just as good at and should have perhaps explored instead?

Keeping in my mind my “belief” in chance, I really see very little aspects of my life that were the result of a direct plan. On one hand I can look over my life and see a direct line that seems to say “Yeah, this was destined, this event led to this therefore this” but that is most likely narrative fallacy.

I didn’t’ choose my parents, the country I was born into, my native language, where my parents lived, the myriad random influences that went into roiling around in my noggin that stewed into making me what I am. I sincerely think that much of life is chance and we respond to it as it occurs and it is only in hindsight often that things look a bit more linear.

Q5. How has your work affected your personal life in regards to the relationships with those outside our field/profession? (Professional, personal, familial, romantic, etc.)

I really can’t say I’ve seen any negative impact at all. I’m really at net gain, I’ve met some exceptionally kind, generous, lovely human beings within this field that have gone on the become friends outside of training. No complaints at all.

Q6. Do you have any regrets at all? If yes, which is the one that haunts you the most?

Regrets. Absolutely. Everyday. Fortunately most of them are in the small “r” version of the word regret. Any day I do what might be a time-wasting activity, a space-filler as opposed to doing something real, not always necessarily productive, well, that would be a small “r” regret.

Taking things, and people for granted always looms large in my mind. I like to think I’ve got my head wrapped around the appreciation habit but back-sliding is easy.

I find what helps me to keep on track is not to ask myself what it is I would like to do tomorrow as we always get grandiose with future plans and forget that more than likely we will manufacture excuses, instead I ask myself “What do I wish I did yesterday?” That question is a tonic that reminds me to correct regrets before I regret them if that makes any sense.

Q7. What are your proudest moments/achievements in both your private and professional lives?

Professionally, I’ve been mighty fortunate. Whether it be projects in the works, or projects that come to fruition, or the friendships I’ve made, or the “Hey, this is fun” look on someone’s face as they are training-I really dig all of that. We’re all essentially grown-ups “playing karate” I fail to see why we should take any of it seriously. Don’t get me wrong, train hard, yes indeed. Make it a serious hard-assed affair with all the fun sucked out of it. Seems a big mistake to me.

Personally, my wife, my daughter, life in general. I don’t like to use the word pride here as to me pride connotes that I had something to do with an effort, that I have earned a share in some success. I do like to use the word impress as it seems to get closer to how I feel when I look at the precious people in my life. I’m impressed with who they are and their accomplishments and reactions to the world and that in turn makes me mighty glad to have them in my life.

Q8. How do your friends and family outside the industry/self defense/martial arts world view what you do for a living? What are your thoughts and feelings about it?

It honestly rarely, if ever, comes up. I’m not a shop-talk guy. They know what I do for a living, I know what they do for a living and there it lies. I really don’t see what I do as being any different from a guy who works at a muffler shop, with the exception that that guy can fix a muffler and I can’t.

Q9. How often do you find yourself going against what you preach and teach, after all, we’re all human, we all have our ‘bad days’ and the like; and how often are you aware of it enough in the present moment to catch yourself do you think?

If we’re talking professionally-I’m pretty consistent. If we’re talking personally maybe 60/40 (that 60% being the bad side). I really do see life as pretty much a random process, one that can be responded to with grace, honor, appreciation, and humility, but despite how much I find predictions/assumptions/unwarranted judgements off-base more often than not I still can’t seem to completely give up making unfounded guesses.

In the areas of mundane things this doesn’t matter-for example, “I don’t’ think I like goat-cheese, oh, wait its pretty good.” Where it is a horrible habit is to see another human and judge a book by its cover, to make assumptions. Categorizing and labeling another human strikes me as devaluing and demeaning and I have to admit I don’t have this licked yet.

Q10. What now? Where do you go from here? Where do you see yourself in 10, 20 years both on a personal and professional level?

Prepare for a disappointing answer. I really have no idea. I no longer make long-term plans. Yes, I sock money away for “retirement” whatever that will mean in my case. I make grocery lists, I make monthly training schedules, I’ll outline a book or project I’m working on but I do zero “In 5 years I will have a pony-tail and have earned my helicopter license” plans.

I guess this makes me a short-term planner and a wait and see-er when it comes to the long-term. I’ll respond to what life throws at me as it really does all the throwing, and assume that I really don’t have too much of a say in the thing until life decides to ask.

Richard, I’ve got to say I really enjoyed this line of questioning. Whether my pseudo-philosophical maundering is of any interest to others I have no idea, but thanks for the opportunity to introspect all the same.

If anyone wants more info on our approach to conditioning, boxing, wrestling, MMA, and street defense go to our and have a browse. If you do have a browse and have any questions about the material, or, hell questions about the above discussion drop me an email always looking for the next friend.

Have a good one, one and all!

Mark Hatmaker