Sheldon Marr: Pancrase-Winning Sensei and UFC Grappling Coach

Ann DainCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2008

Submitted by Ann Dain,

I've heard it said that if you enjoy your job that you will never work a day in your life. Sheldon Marr, owner of Grapplers Edge in Aurora, Co., exemplifies this philosophy.

In nearly every interview with fighters and promoters on the Colorado Mixed Martial Arts scene, the predominance of successful athletes have pass some time on the mats at Grapplers Edge. Located in a high-ceilinged basement of a Radio Shack store, the Dojo is hard to find but once stepping inside the door, it is clear that this is a haven for the serious athlete. There is a long broad staircase going downstairs just inside the entrance. The walls along the stairway are filled with neatly framed and cleanly arranged photographs of named athletes that have passed through the doors. At the bottom of the stairs, glimmering in multiple colors are dozens of trophies which, by their heights indicate the number of high-ranking grapplers that have represented this facility. The discipline that is important in both Jiu Jitsu and Pankration techniques is also exhibited in the extreme cleanliness of Grapplers Edge. It was immaculate -- no dust and no locker-room smell!

Sheldon Marr is the son of Wally Marr, a former Air Force Sergeant and Judo Sensei that introduced his son to his first taste of martial arts at the age of 5. He was not some wonder-child who exhibited his talent from the start but persistence and determination won over the young Sheldon who took some beatings both on the mat and from his older sister. Confidence came when Sheldon started wrestling in high school where he developed his own style of competition that combined his Wrestling and Judo techniques. He became nearly unbeatable until he broke his neck two days before his 18 th birthday.

Sheldon underwent major leading-edge surgery to fuse his 6 th and 7 th vertebrae through an incision entry at the front of his neck. For nearly the entire next year, Sheldon was held in traction by either a halo (holding his head steady with multiple pins through his scalp) or other various braces and/or collars. His doctors warned him against ever participating again in Wrestling or Judo. The broken neck occurred in 1976 when he was a Senior in high school. In 1977 Sheldon starting coaching high school Wrestling and against the warning of his physician team, began training and competing in Judo again in 1980. After a series of competitive wins, Sheldon accepted an invitation to join the U.S. Olympic Judo Training Squad at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in preparation for the 1984 Games. Although he never did participate in the Olympics, Sheldon remains closely associated with the Colorado Springs training facility and with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Although both Wrestling and Judo are Olympic medal competitions, Grappling or Pankration has not been part of the Olympic Games since 393 A.D. Pankration first became part of the Greek Olympia in 200 B.C. The word means: "All Powers" which in terms of the sport incorporates striking, throwing, holding, breaking and choking. It was eventually outlawed when it had transformed into more of a blood sport as matches were often continued until death.

Getting back to today, Sheldon Marr is a strong proponent of bringing Grappling into the Olympic Games. Although there was some lobbying and talk of re-introducing Pankration to the 2004 Games in Athens, there had been so many sports added to the 2000 Sydney Games that none new were added in 2004. The 2012 Olympic Games will be held in London and Sheldon Marr predicts that Grappling will debut in those competitions. He feels very encouraged now that Jason Townsend, formerly of Xtreme Couture MMA, is the new manager of Developing Wrestling Styles at the USA Wrestling Headquarters in Colorado Springs. Between Jason's new position and FILA adopting Grappling as a Wrestling style, the inclusion of this discipline seems to be on the horizon.

When asked his predictions for the future of MMA as a professional spectator sport, Sheldon sees it becoming more popular as Grappling becomes more mainstream. He also sees fans for the sport growing as the format expands to include other approaches such as the multi-team concept of the IFL. As he said: "The UFC is not the only show in town".

The young looking Sheldon Marr will turn 50 years old this year. Although he reports that he doesn't get down on the mats much these days, he was limping on the day of the interview in anticipation of another knee surgery after twisting it the wrong way because, yes, he was working with a student on the mats.

Grapplers Edge is only open in the evenings and on weekends. Sheldon Marr's 9 - 5 day job has been with the Denver Sheriffs Department since 1992 and as a Senior Defense Tactics Instructor with them since 1994. His instruction begins with verbal tactics to generate voluntary compliance by the perpetrator and then physical restraint techniques are taught for when verbal tactics fail. For the past 10 years, he has also been a Trainer for the FBI where once or twice annually he conducts seminars at locations that are always changing.

In spite of the busy schedule, family is a major priority for Sheldon. He is the divorced father of Nick, Cameron and Lauren and the time spent with them is very important. On the day of our interview, Cameron was snowboarding with his grandfather, Wally. Genetics are strong in the Marr family. Wally is by no means retired and wind surfs and mountain bikes when he's not on the ski slopes.

When asked if all of Sheldon's outside activities had caused him to consider a succession plan for Grapplers Edge, a note of pride came to his voice as he talked of his son Nick, now 23 years old. His father reports that Nick trains hard and is solid muscle. Sheldon also picked him as one of 4 amateur fighters who he identified as having quiet potential to be big in the MMA world. In addition to Nick, he mentioned Freddie Aguilar, Matt Lackey and Eric Koble. With Sheldon Marr's keen eye, these young men merit close attention as they compete their way up the ranks.

As the interview hour wound down to an end, Sheldon was asked if there were any events on his radar screen that he wanted to emphasize. He was very excited about the Pancrase Tournament being held the weekend of March 15, 2008 in Broomfield Co (check for details and some results). He acknowledged that some of the strongest competitors would not be there this year as they were training for the Olympics (in Wrestling and Judo) but he still felt that there would be a lot of talent to be witnessed at the event.

Sheldon's team came in 1st place with nearly 3 times the number of points than the team that came in #2!

Sheldon is also focused on the UFC event being held at the Broomfield Events Center on April 2 nd. Already Anthony Johnson is training at Grapplers Edge. He's been in Denver since the third week in February becoming acclimated to the thin mountain air and taking advantage of the skilled sparring partners he can find at the Dojo. UFC Veterans Houston Alexander and Karo "The Heat" Parisyan are also expected on the local mats and based on the reputation of Grapplers Edge, the list of visiting professional competitors is bound to grow before UFC Fight Night 13 on April 2 nd.

As I walked to my car following the interview with Sheldon Marr, I felt that I had barely scratched the surface of this man and his Dojo. From the office where we had our interview, there was a window that looked out on one of the Grappling rooms with mats both on the floor and on the walls. On this day, there were Grapplers ranging in age from 15 to 60. We had talked about the many well-known amateurs and professionals that had benefited from Sheldon Marr's coaching over the years but he stopped and insisted that: "It's not me - I've just been lucky to have attracted a lot of great athletes". The silent applause from the framed photographs covering the walls respectfully contradicted his modesty.