Colorado Springs, Colorado is developing quite a name for itself in the world of MMA. Many fighters live and/or train here, either because it’s their home or because the 6,000 foot plus altitude aids in their cardio and stamina. Quietly making a name for itself among families and fighters alike is one of the area’s top training facilities, The Defense Institute. Sensei Eric Lalone and Shihan John Petrone own and run the two locations of the Defense Institute. I sat down with Sensei Eric Lalone to catch up with the goings on in Colorado Springs.
Craig Nelson: Okay, how ’bout a little background? Who and what is the Defense Instutute? When did it start, and why?
Eric Lalone: The Defense Institute is a Martial Arts school in Colorado Springs that started in 1998. We originally began it as a training center for the Special Forces contracts that we had been hired for. It then expanded into a Kickboxing program, a Kids program, and a Fitness Program. MMA wasn’t even really big at that point, but it was starting to get some contestants on some of the shows. Back then it was still called NHB or UFC style fighting.
The Defense Institute was started by myself, Eric LaLone, and John Petrone.
CN: Cool. So, tell me about Eric and John, what do they bring to the table, and why train at the Defense Institute?
EL: The Defense Institute is not a one-size-fits-all training facility, and we are most definitely not for everyone. We train hard, with a lot of intensity, BUT we are safe about it. Whether you are training for the cage, the ring, or the street, we’ll make sure you are prepared to not just win, but to dominate.
Let’s take the MMA program. It is all encompassing. A lot of centers will have a night of Jujitsu, maybe a night of Thai, and then a night of Boxing. The problem is there is NO crossover from one to another. Boxers get in and try to work the body. Kickboxers get in close and lock up to avoid the knees. In MMA, both of these will get you grabbed up and thrown to the ground. So, my point is, you need to have the crossover in all your training, everyday!
CN: If I am a fighter, wanting to train at Defense Institute, what experience do you have that would benefit me?
EL: I don’t like to talk about myself too much because it’s not what I can do but what I can teach the students. However, I do know that people don’t want to learn from some half-ass guy that doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about so here it is.
I’ve been training in the martial arts since I was a little kid, back in 1982. I’ve got Black Belts in Karate, Kickboxing, Jujitsu, and Vee Arnis Jitsu. In 1993, I was in the ring for the first time and it’s continued from there. While I was in the US Army I won the Fort Carson Heavyweight Post Boxing Championship, The Colorado State Heavyweight Kickboxing Championship, and the United States Heavyweight Kickboxing Championship. I was fighting in Mixed Martial Arts before it was even sanctioned. I’ve been involved in every aspect of the sport as a Promoter, Matchmaker, Referee, Ring Announcer, Corner, Time Keeper. Hell, I’ve even helped the ring card girls. This type of experience is what I pass on to all of my fighters and they obviously benefit from it.
What has ended up being my biggest claim to fame though was in 2003 when I fought Keith Jardine, pre UFC, in a kickboxing match and knocked him out in the third round at Mike Winklejohn’s Gym.
CN: So, would it be accurate to describe The Defense Institute as a family oriented gym, with a strong focus on fighters?
EL: The Defense Institute is certainly family orientated, however we do not run Family Classes like you see at the typical traditional schools. I’ll talk to you later on about our junior team as well.
Do we focus on fighters? Yes, but only those that want to compete. We don’t push anyone into it. You’ll get a lot of gyms that only focus on fighters and they put them into competition too early. If you want to fight for me, you’ll have to give me 6 months minimum to make sure you are ready. This is for the fighter’s safety as well as the reputation of the The Defense Institute, and our fight team, The Viper Pit.
Don’t underestimate that either. That is a powerful thing to have supporting you. Not only do you get into the cage with a whole group of people behind you, but these people are not just students, they’re like your family.
I’ll get a lot of guys and girls that see local fights or they watch the UFC and all of a sudden they’re at my door wanting to be the next Tito Ortiz. If you put in the time and effort we’ll be there for you. We’ll set up the fights and take care of everything. If not, we still welcome you to come learn, train, and be a part of The Defense Institute. Fighting is not for everyone but that shouldn’t stop you from learning.
CN: Tell me more about the junior team…
EL: This spawned from a new concept that I started in 2010. In the state of Colorado, MMA is illegal for anyone under the age of 18. A rule that I definitely agree with. Do I think that certain kids can handle MMA? Yes, I’ve had a long time student at 16 years old compete in MMA out of state! However, I’ve seen what some of the schools do to their competitors and I certainly see problems arising if they were allowed to have kids compete.
Back to the junior team. I wanted to do something for our kids training, so I started the Junior Viper Pit Competition Team. This was based around what I call the Mixed Martial Arts Season. It is 10 weeks of training in Semi-Contact Kickboxing and Submission Grappling. We end the season with an Under 18 tournament in what we’ve been training in. Each competitor is required to compete in both events. This gives the kids a taste of competition, the butterflies in the stomach, as well as the feelings of victory, defeat, or both. Our 2nd annual statewide tournament is on August 6th this year.
After the success of last year’s season, I wanted to give those kids that were ready to step it up to the next level a chance to do so. So we formed the Full Contact Kickboxing Team. We are currently practicing for Amateur Kickboxing and Boxing and we are getting the kids the much needed experience to take them down to the IKF World Classic in Florida in 2012.
CN: So, tell me about some of your fighters, I know that some of them have fights coming up soon…
EL: One of the great things about The Defense Institute is that you never really retire from the sport. You simply change positions. If you’re not competing then you are training up to be a corner, or an instructor. I would love for all of my students to go on and teach programs of their own.
We have three people competing on Steve Alley’s Kick Down in Denver on July 16th. They are Sam Martinez, Jon Nelson-Griffith, and Abie Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a veteran of the cage and is coming off a first round victory from May. However both Sam and Jon have just turned 18 so this is their first time fighting MMA in Colorado.
Sam Martinez won his first Kickboxing match by 2nd round TKO in February as a member of the Junior Viper Pit. Since then he has been anxiously awaiting his birthday so he could step up and fight under MMA rules. He fights at 135lbs and is a very scrappy and agile young man.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had one student compete under age out of state, and Jon Nelson-Griffith was that competitor. He has been with me since he was nine years old, and has earned his Second Degree Black Belt. He was more than ready to compete and he proved it with a First Round tapout due to strikes in his fight debut. He has matured quite a bit in the last two years and bulked up to 175lbs. He’s put on the muscle not only for this competition but Jon will be shipping out to Navy basic training in August to fulfill his contract as S.E.A.L. Operator.
We are expecting to go out there on the 16th, put on a great fight, show the crowd the hard work these three have put in in the gym, and walk out of the cage with three victories.
CN: Very cool. Sounds like they are trained up and ready to go. If you had to pick one thing readers would take away from this article about Sensei Eric Lalone and the Defense Institute, a philosophy perhaps, what would it be?
EL: Our motto at The Defense Institute is “If you want art … BUY A BRUSH!” It’s a slogan, saying, what have you, that people can really relate to. Martial Arts can be so many different things; Tai Chi in the park, Point Sparring at a karate tournament, or a 4 year old Black Belt demanding that everyone call them “Sir.” The Defense Institute is none of that and it’s really refreshing for a lot of people that don’t want to get caught up in all the traditions, rituals, and esoteric bullshit that goes along with it.
Simply put, we teach you what works! No matter where it comes from. I am the biggest thief on the planet. I steal information from everyone and everything and continue to learn everyday. Don’t get caught up in your own ego!
CN: Kind of like Bruce Lee’s “Absorb what is useful”, eh?
EL: Exactly. I think Bruce Lee would have embraced MMA wholeheartedly. I just don’t want to see people going out there, having their heads filled with crap, all in the name of TRADITION. There are too many sources out there to get great information.
CN: Ok, so who is your favorite superhero, and why?
EL: Spider Man! Has been since I was a kid. It all went back, and I’m going to date myself here, to the PBS show, The Electric Company. I’d watch every morning and they either had Spider Man or Vowel Man. Vowel Man was some cartoon that he would change the meaning of words by adding a vowel and he would save the day. HE SUCKED! Even at 5 years old, I knew you had to Kick Ass to save the day, not change a stupid word. And that’s what Spider Man did. He kicked ass!
CN: Nice! I agree wholeheartedly.(lol) And I remember that show! Any shout outs you’d like to give? People you want to thank, that kind of thing?
EL: I really just want to say “Thank You” to all the people that trust me and give me the opportunity to impart my knowledge to them.
Specifically, I have two people that have really shaped the way I train people for competition and they are; 1. My first instructor Inasio Anzures, he introduced me to the martial arts and kickboxing, his instruction kept me out of trouble as a kid and moved me in the right path. 2. Johnny “MO” Moncayo, 5 time World Kickboxing Champion, he really took me under his wing and showed me exactly what training and fighting was supposed to be like.
CN: Very cool, it’s important to have people like that to make an impact on you when you’re young, and I am sure that you are that person for many of the people you train. Any last thoughts you’d like to leave us with?
EL: Thank you for the kind words!
To Jon, Sam, and Abie … Go out there and TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS!
CN: Amen, brother, and best of luck to you and your fighters in all their future endeavors!
EL: Thanks! Take care.
Image courtesy of The Defense Institute