Mike Ciesnolevicz has known since he was 15 that he wanted to teach people lessons in the ring.
But a few years after Ciesnolevicz set his sights on becoming a professional mixed martial artist, he decided that he ultimately wanted to teach lessons to more than just his opponents.
“To be honest, I graduated high school and I did not know what I wanted to do besides martial arts, but I needed to find something to fall back on,” the 32-year-old Harrisburg, Penn., product recounted.
“I had a friend who went to a college two hours away from where I grew up and he took up health and physical education. He liked it and I thought I would give it a try. It came as a surprise to a lot of people—especially my teachers—because I got in my fair share of trouble growing up.”
Perhaps to the surprise of Ciesnolevicz’s teachers, he eventually graduated from Lock Haven University with a degree in health and physical education. He then went on to work as a substitute teacher, teaching “every subject out there” for everyone from kindergartners to high school seniors.
As Ciesnolevicz continued to work in the classroom, he carried on with martial arts—an endeavor that he regards as the first passion of his life—too.
“I would teach during the day, train at night and repeat that cycle all week,” Ciesnolevicz recalled. “When I progressed to the bigger shows, I did not need to teach anymore, so I put my teaching on hold. Sometimes I would pick it back up for a few weeks after fights when I am taking a break from hard training to give my body a rest.”
Ciesnolevicz noted that it would be something of an exaggeration to say that substitute teaching, despite the fact that you can basically work on your own schedule, is enjoyable all the time. But he is also quick to point out that, although the life of a substitute teacher can be a miserable one at times, his time spent in the classroom has long paid dividends when he enters the ring.
“It helped me earn money to be able to train and pay my bills,” noted Ciesnolevicz, whose 25 career matches include a pair of bouts in the UFC.
“Teaching also helped me learn how to structure and devise lesson plans to map out my training. Lastly, it has helped me (by giving me) something to fall back on and keep me occupied during the times I have been injured in my career and needed to take a break from fighting.”
Ciesnolevicz is currently on such a break—his most recent bout, on account of shoulder surgery, was a second-round victory in May of 2011—but he is tentatively scheduled to make his return on Impact FC’s card in North Dakota on Sept. 8.
Looking past his return, Ciesnolevicz hopes to build on his impressive record for the foreseeable future. But, like any quality educator, he is also taking a pragmatic approach to his career.
“I tentatively put myself on the five-year plan,” offered Ciesnolevicz, who is unsure if or when he will return to the classroom. “Anderson Silva is the best fighter in the world right now at 37 years old. I will probably stop around then. I wouldn't mind coming back and doing a retirement fight at 40 just to say I did one but who knows what the future holds?
“One day a time, for now.”
Ed Kapp is a contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations were obtained firsthand.