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In the ring around Whatcom County

A ringside look at mixed martial arts and self-defense opportunities at Western Washington University and in the area

Students do various drills in the kickboxing class in Carver Gym in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 15, 2022. Kickboxing is stand-up fighting and is a type of martial art that differs from boxing because not only hands, but one’s elbows, knees and feet are used to fight. // Photo by Taras McCurdie

Have you wanted to get fit but haven’t found the motivation to run on a treadmill or bundle up and go outside? Or worse, have you or someone you knew ever faced a dangerous altercation that could have resulted in severe harm or death, and neither of you had an idea how to fight back for protection?

Good news. There are opportunities on campus and around Bellingham to learn the necessary skills to protect yourself and others if a dangerous situation were to arise. 

Rob Eis is a non-tenure track instructor with about 10 years of experience working at Western. He’s been doing martial arts for 40 years and has also been running a mixed martial arts school for 18 years called Unbridled Martial Arts, located in Bellingham. 

Eis began karate training in Bellingham in 1981. He said the town only offered karate, kung fu and taekwondo classes while having wrestling at the school. By the time he was a high school freshman, he was one of 12 athletes in the nation who competed internationally for the junior United States national team. 

In his mid-twenties, Eis started branching out. He said in the sport arena, karate isn’t continuous fighting like boxing but rather an intense game of tag for points. 

“I knew that a street assailant would not fight under any rules I’d been taught, so I trained in judo, western boxing, submission fighting, grappling, escrima, jiu-jitsu and muay thai,” Eis said. “Knowing I can fight with something innocuous like a ballpoint pen, a screwdriver, a pair of scissors, a rolled up magazine, a flashlight, or in a last resort situation, shatter a knee with a stomp or kick [or] eye gouge someone without them being able to stop me, I have taken a majority of the fight out of them.” 

Before coming to Western, Eis also worked as a juvenile corrections officer for Whatcom County and earned his certification as a Level II Defensive Tactics instructor.   

Each quarter, he teaches three beginning-level classes at Western: 

  • Martial Arts

  • Self-Defense

  • Kickboxing 

Eis said martial arts incorporates four different arts: kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, escrima and defensive tactics that addresses stand-up fighting, ground fighting and fighting with an impact or edged weapon.

He explained that self-defense is focused on detecting and avoiding, defusing if unavoidable and as a last resort, physically defending oneself. It incorporates moves not allowed in competition, such as strikes to the groin, knees, throat, eye gouging and biting, along with defending common attacks, baseball bat attacks, using a knife for self-protection and understanding the primary laws of self-defense. 

Kickboxing is more sport-oriented and centers for fitness and competitive fighting while standing up, he added. 

Fourth-year Alex DeChenne is currently in the mixed martial arts class. 

He said he’s really enjoyed learning how to fight and defend himself while also having Eis as the instructor.

Third-year Mich Ohata is also in the same class. 

“I joined because I enjoy martial arts,” Ohata said. 

He said he likes the enthusiasm the instructors bring and their guidance of the motions in the art. 

Landon Showalter, who has had many fights in his career, teaches at Arlington Kickboxing Academy, located in Arlington, Washington, about 50 miles south of Western. He also played a part in the establishment of Bellingham Mixed Martial Arts in 2010.

 “I didn’t choose fighting, it chose me,” he said. “As long as I could remember I have been obsessed with martial arts. [I] always dreamed of being a professional fighter [and] started watching UFC in 1990, and I was hooked. [I] got into mixed martial arts [in] 1999.” 

Showalter said that mixed martial arts saved him from a lot of life turmoil, and as his career was closing due to so many fights, his body was suffering injuries, and he knew it was time to hang up the gloves. But, he still wanted to stay active with martial arts and give back to the community through teaching.

“All are welcome at my gym,” Showalter said. “[It] betters people’s lives like it did for me.”

Eis said that people who train for longevity usually appreciate the health benefits on a physical, mental and emotional level and maybe after a long time, on a spiritual level.

“Teaching beginners makes me appreciate the fundamentals even more,” he said. “I am reinvigorated when I see someone learning something and making it their own. To have a student use a technique I taught them against me in free-sparring or free-rolling is what keeps the art alive.” 

If you are looking to fit one more credit into your schedule this spring, below are the three classes available on Classfinder under Physical Education (PE):

  • Beginning Martial Arts (CRN: 24094)  – Monday/Wednesday 11 a.m. - 11:50 a.m.

  • Beginning Self-Defense (CRN: 24095) – Monday/Wednesday 4:30 p.m. - 5:20 p.m.

  • Beginning Kickboxing (CRN: 24092) – Tuesday/Thursday 11 a.m. - 11:50 a.m.

Taras McCurdie

Taras McCurdie (he/him) is the sports editor for The Front this quarter. He is an aspiring sports journalist entering his final quarter at Western Washington University (WWU). Outside of school, you can find him freelancing for the Lynden Tribune, playing on the WWU club tennis team or running on the treadmill at the Rec Center. When chilling at night, he listens to throwback slow jams and ’90s hip-hop. You can reach him at 

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