Tag Archives: obstacle course

Exclusive Q&A with Mark Hatmaker

I’ve had the pleasure of attending Mark Hatmaker‘s seminars several times over the years, and I’m a big fan of his products.  Anyone who’s met Mark knows that he’s a killer coach, a walking encyclopedia of wrestling, boxing, and MMA, and a very, very busy man.  That’s why I jumped at the chance to interview him for this blog.

Mitch: Hello Mark.  I’ve been a fan ever since taking your class at Karate College back in I think it was 2003.  Thanks to agreeing to the interview.

Mark:  No problem, sir–thanks for asking.

Mitch: My club and I have been enjoying Volume 1 of your Street Defense Series.  I’m sure you’re relieved I won’t be emailing to pester you about release dates anymore!  So…when can we expect Volume 2?

Mark: I’m glad you are enjoying the street-material, as for the release of Volumes 2 & 3, I wish I could be more specific–they’re all in the can, so to speak, and optimally it would be nice to be able to study the material as a whole as I’m not a fan of separation or segregation of knowledge but the powers that be (Paladin) understand the production end far better than I do. My guess is that we will see the other 2 volumes any time between now and March. How’s that for vague?  Volume 2 will cover our unarmed responses to several classes of weapons attacks, both static and fluid and volume 3 is a video encyclopedia of drills that we use to seat (cull) skills from the first two volumes.

Mitch:  Okay, I promise I’ll wait until March before I pester you again.  I noticed that you’ve been doing the obstacle course stuff pretty regularly for a while now.  Can you tell us a little about that?  Can we look forward to a book or DVD on the subject?

Mark:  Yes, indeed, love the obstacle course race movement. Big, big fan. My goal this year was to hit 2-3 per month. A knee injury knocked me out for 90 days of that goal but now I’m back to wrapping it tightly and have hit 3 in the past 3 weeks including a 13 miler, this past weekend.
I see obstacle course racing as a nice little gut-check for conditioning all the while enjoying the pure fun of playing like a kid in over-grown playgrounds. On an application/utility side I use them to hone flight drills that we have been doing for some time. In our street work we take the fight or flight dictum seriously. All folks grounded in reality know that evasion is far preferable to engagement and yet, to be honest, I see nothing but engagement from the real-world tactics side of things. Yeah, I know it’s sexier to do knife disarms all the time, but referring to the fight or flight response, as all credible real-world purveyors do, without addressing specific flight/evasion skills in a variety of environments is mere lip service to what is at least 50% of the defense game. (I’d wager it’s more than 50% myself).

You are correct in that we will be putting pages where our mouth is in this area, we’re are currently in the production phases on an upcoming book on obstacle course racing called MUD, GUTS, & GLORY. Its focus is two-fold. The first, building the conditioning/training tips to help do well in such events and the second is to provide specific skill sets for evasion or obstacle/environmental engagement. The best way to scale a muddy wall, efficient fast-crawl technique, that sort of thing.

Mitch: My son shares your appreciation for mud runs and obstacle events and I’m sure he’ll be the first in line to buy a copy.  He’s seriously contemplating an assault on Ninja Warrior.  I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts you’ve watched that show.  Am I right?

Mark:  Looove that show! Also, a big, big fan of WIPEOUT. I’d love to hit that show if/when the knee hits 100%. So many of the courses appear strategy-proof and it would be a blast to hit something so absurdly anti-skill.

Mitch:  Let me say that if go on WIPEOUT my face will be cemented into a permanent grin.  I’ve often thought that there should be some kind of extreme event geared specifically toward martial artists.  I blogged about it but nobody seemed to notice.  Am I alone in this, or have you ever thought about how that might be done?

Mark:  That is an interesting idea. It seems that a mix of evasion/obstacle interaction with stations for conflict drilling would be the way to go. On a smaller scale that’s the idea behind volume 3 of our street series but expanding that to the macro-stage would be a dream, or a living hell–depending on your point of view.

Mitch:   Maybe somebody with expertise and love for both martial arts and obstacle course events will make that happen.  Hint hint.  But I won’t harp on that, I’ll move on.  Most all markets consolidate as they mature, so it’s no surprise that UFC has become the NFL of MMA.  Still, I miss the excitement of the 1990s.    Do you see anything on the horizon that will revolutionize martial arts the way UFC did?

Mark:  That’s a great question. Personally, when the UFC added lighter weight-classes I couldn’t have been more pleased. Having that full-spectrum of fighters is manna for the fans. I, myself, would like to see female bouts added to the UFC. There are so many seriously talented women in MMA I’d love to see them get a shot in the big show, so to speak.

As for new developments, I’m fixated on your obstacle course/fight idea. Seems that such camps/events that would allow real-world competitors to challenge themselves would be rife with possibilities.

Mitch:   Girls on UFC, a real-life Ninja Warrior event – that’s exciting stuff!  What do you think is the most exciting thing going on in martial arts right now?

Mark:  Most exciting thing? I’m old-school, I’m easy to please. Anytime I see a bout with crisp boxing, solid takedowns, some hard, aggressive riding I’m about as stoked as you can get. For me, it’s less about what’s new on the horizon than it is seeing what’s old being honed and done really, really well. Not an exciting answer I know but there you go.

Mitch:  I should have known you’d say that.  Ever the pragmatic perfectionist!  My first martial arts instructor used to say that advanced martial arts means doing basic martial arts really really well, and I think that’s true.  Look here, I really appreciate you taking the time to consent to this Q&A session.  I know how busy you are.

Mark: You’re welcome Mitch.  Thanks for asking, let me know when she’s up on your blog, and have a good one!


What a great interview, and a load of fun. Here’s a little clip of Hatmaker in action from his Youtube feed.

Tartarus: The Final Exam of Self Defense

For a couple of years I have been thinking about how cool it would be to stage an outdoor adventure event open only to, and designed expressly for, martial artists.  I even drew up an outline of the rules and created a logo.  Clearly if I was going to do it I would have done it by now.  So I’ve decided to just put it out there and let other people take inspiration from my idea.  Maybe a consummate martial artist with a penchant for mudding events — someone with the time and the resources — could pull it off (this means you Mark).

To get a feel for what I’m envisioning, imagine a mash-up of Tough Mudder, MMA, and American Gladiators, with the spirit of Sasuke/Ninja Warrior.  This would be a virtually impossible challenge where martial artists get together not only to test their skills and fitness, but to give each other feedback so that somebody can beat the course.

Anyway, here is my outline.


TARTARUS: The Final Exam of Self Defense

“There are no winners — just survivors”

Tartarus is a self defense challenge course  open only to martial artists.  Credentials are required.  A photocopy of a membership card, belt certificate, coaching certificate, etc. must be presented at check-in.

Tartarus seeks to create an environment for testing self-defense readiness, in terms of both technique and fitness.  The course is made up of ten (10) stations which will test these areas in specific ways.  The event is styled, in both spirit and structure, to encourage cooperation between participants; to promote an environment wherein participants coach, teach, and learn from one another so that, with effort, knowledge, and a bit of luck, someone will be able to complete the short, but virtually impossible, course.

Because of the nature of the event, each entrant is expected to participate not just as defender but as a challengers on the course.  Rolling schedules, assigned by lottery, will determine starting times for defending and challenging.  Eight (8) challengers are required to man the course; therefore each entrant will be required to be on the course nine (9) times — once as a defender and eight (8) times as a challenger.

The objective: finish the course without quitting, timing out on a fitness test, being disqualified, or being “killed.”

The following are grounds for immediate disqualification:

  1. Failing to start at scheduled time
  2. Failing to complete the course within 20 minutes
  3. Failing any self defense test
  4. Going backwards on the course
  5. Straying from the course
  6. Use of forbidden strikes, holds, or other techniques
  7. Mis-use of restricted techniques
  8. Injuring another competitor, intentionally or otherwise, so that he or she is unable to continue
  9. Loss of self control, arguing, fighting, or disrupting the proceedings on or off the course

You must show up with:

  1. Proof of martial arts experience
  2. Mouth guard
  3. Shin guards
  4. 4 oz. MMA gloves, open fingered
  5. Tiger Claw Pro-Spar headgear w/ Clear Face Shield
  6. Groin protector or cup

Definition of the term “Killed”

Tartarus is not a death sport!  For the purposes of the event, an entrant, whether a defender or challenger, is considered “killed” if:

  1. He or she turtles, ceases to defend, assumes safety position, or otherwise huddles up in the face of blows
  2. He or she taps, quits, or otherwise throws in the towel
  3. He or she is struck with weapons accumulating to 3 or more points (see Weapons below)

Contact Rules

Injuring a fellow player so that he or she cannot continue will result in immediate disqualification.


Blows should be sufficiently hard to register visible movement on the part of the person struck (“trembling shock”), but not hard enough to cause deliberate injury or unconsciousness.  Again, injuring a fellow player so that he or she is forced to exit the event will result in immediate disqualification.

Defenders should strike with enough force to escape; challengers should strike with enough force to deter the defender from progressing through the station.

The following strikes are expressly forbidden:

  • head butts
  • all strikes to joints, groin, and throat
  • strikes whose intent is to break the skin (scratching, ripping, gouging, etc.)
  • all blows to the back of the head
  • stomping of a downed person

The following strikes are restricted:

  • elbows and knee strikes are allowed, but only to the torso, arms, and legs (no joint strikes).
  • sweeps, trips and throws are allowed as long as they do not result in anyone being dropped onto the head.


Adversaries should wrestle with full force until a lock or hold is obtained, at which point the advantage player should slowly increase the intensity of the
applied technique until the other party submits by slapping the mat or shouting “tap!” Anyone who taps or cries out “tap!” should be released immediately.

The following wrestling techniques are expressly forbidden:

  • choking or strangling with the fingers
  • gouging, scratching, or pinching
  • hair pulling
  • fish hooking (ripping at the orifices of the body)
  • tearing, raking, scratching and biting
  • any technique designed to break the skin
  • any technique that involves dropping onto the head.


Weapons will be blunted wood with 1/2″ foam outer layer.  Strikes to extremities will be counted as 1 point, those to the head or torso 2 points.  Any defender or challenger will be considered “killed” after taking 3 points.

Overview of Course

The circular course will be chalked out in a grassy field, hilly if possible.  Ten (10) zones of various shapes, each approximately 150 sq. ft.,  will be demarcated and separated by pathways approximately 3′ in width and from 15′ to 50′ in length.  Each zone will be populated with either challenger(s) or a fitness apparatus.

Defenders must progress through the various zones to face the fitness tests and self defense challenges.

Station # Station Name Notes


25 Burpees Time-out after 2 mins


1 on 1 Unarmed Progress through the zone without being “killed” by one unarmed challenger


50 Squats w/ Sandbag (approx. 25% body weight) Time-out after 1.5 mins


2 on 1 Unarmed Progress through the zone without being “killed” by two unarmed challengers


100 Wall Touches Time-out after 2 mins


The Pit —  4′ x 20′ corrugated pipe Progress through the pipe and past the challenger waiting at the midpoint without getting “killed”


25 Pullups Time-out after 1.5 mins


1 on 1 Unarmed vs. Weapon Progress through the zone without being killed by one armed challenger


50 Log Hops Time-out after 1.5 mins


3 on 1 Weapon of Opportunity Progress through the zone facing 3 challengers without being “killed.” Weapons available for defender to locate and use.