Muay Thai Profile: Coach Jason Farrell of Level Up Gym
Inside The Mind of Coach Jason Farrell
It only took about five minutes of back and forth emails for me to see that few people can rival Jason Farrell’s passion for martial arts.
The head coach at Level Up Gym out of Bowie, Maryland revels in his love for all things hip hop, film and of course, Muay Thai.
While countless people in the US Muay Thai scene know Coach Farrell as one of the friendliest and hardest working coaches in the game, his true claim to fame thus far has come from his incredible construction of a myriad network spanning from coast to coast with nearly every major coach or fighter being a part of it.
Let it be known, Mr. Farrell knows how to network– and does so with a welcoming disposition and only one objective: to grow the US Muay Thai community into something that the rest of the world will be unable to ignore. Coach Farrell was kind enough to sit down and address the following:
- His background in the sport,
- How to develop a striking system from the ground up.
- Getting ready for this year’s WKA World Tournament in Spain.
Steve Eisman: Tell us a little about yourself. What’s your background in the sport?
Jason Farrell: I was born in Florida, spent most of my life in Maryland. I grew up in Martial Arts– started off in Tae Kwon Do and competed every chance I got. I never lost a TKD Tourney.
Later I started focusing more on Kyokushin. I competed in Kyokushin also as much as possible. I wanted to train Muay Thai badly after seeing the film ‘Kickboxer’— but there were no Muay Thai gyms near me.
I’ve trained in as many Martial Arts as possible over the years. I always viewed Martial Arts as a giant puzzle and each style has a piece that completes it. So I have spent most of my life trying to complete that puzzle and create a style of my own in a sense.
I’ve always been heavily influenced by Bruce Lee. As a kid I read his book and pretty much adapted his mindset that it was ok to adapt, and in many cases necessary. Over the years I have tried to master every stance, every guard, to truly understand them offensively and defensively. Which is what has made me be able to build naturally off what my students come in with. Instead of fighting against their body type, or natural stance, I do my best to improve it and teach them how to be as efficient and effective as possible.
When my focus was fighting, I wanted to be slightly different every fight, so there was never any way to prepare, so I would switch to southpaw, or use a more Dutch style, sometimes use a more upright kick and keep heavy style that’s more traditional, and I have developed a Philly shell system for Muay Thai and Kickboxing that from the outside in looks like it’s dangerous to the person using it, but is very strategic and tricky to deal with when applied properly.
So my students that become fighters will use these different styles/stances individually, and I can give them what I would do in the fight. One of my fighters Patrick Rivera can use them all the same as I do. He is going to be a great fighter.
SE: When and how did you make the transition from competitor to coach?
JF: I didn’t really plan to make the transition from competitor to coach. I was training at Lloyd Irvin’s MMA Gym originally. I started off focused on MMA, but Muay Thai was always where my heart was and over time that was where my focus went.
About a year and a half after I began training I was offered a teaching position at one of the new Team Lloyd Irvin affiliates and as that program grew quickly another of the affiliates offered me a job teaching there as well.
My original thought process was to teach and be able to train full time. As we started developing fighters though it got tougher to balance. All of the coaches are also competitors at these gyms so there was no real “head coach”. To be a fighter you have to be selfish in a sense, and I didn’t feel like I couldn’t be a good fighter and a good Coach.
So I kind of bit the bullet and made the choice to focus on coaching. I didn’t intend for it to be permanent. In my mind I always thought I would return to competition, and I still think about it every day, haha, but as I started helping bringing these fighters up, I felt it was my obligation to see it through.
I spent 5 years building up two programs at these two MMA gyms, but I always felt that I wasn’t able to really steer the program the way I wanted too. Also, I had to get approval to get the fighters fights from the gym owner, and a lot of the time he said no. So I was at a point where I wasn’t fighting anymore, because I made a commitment to prepare these students to fight, and they weren’t fighting either. So it just seemed like I was wasting my time.
I reached a point where I was deciding on opening my own gym or moving to San Diego and focusing on training and competing again. Like I said though, I felt I had made a commitment to these athletes and this area so I decided to stay and open Level Up.
SE: Tell us about LvLUp and what type of principles/striking system you raise your athletes under.
JE: Our striking systems is really basic as far as developing a foundation goes. I created a system that’s literally like painting by numbers. The idea was always to give them less to think about in the fight.
I think what makes it effective though is it works in any stance, and is cross platform applicable. It works in Muay Thai, it works in Kickboxing, it works in Boxing, and it works in MMA. But it is simply a blueprint; each fighter will use different pieces different ways and leave out the stuff that doesn’t flow natural.
I also put a ton of focus on defense. I feel that is something most fighters lack. So they have a core striking system at their foundation, but I develop them all individually. None of them fight alike. The only consistent thing you will hear about our team is that our boxing is really good. Which is one thing I do put a lot of emphasis on.
Other than that I teach them how to recognize people’s different stances, to give them the visual cues on what the entry point attacks are, and how those initial attacks will open up others. Knowing how to fight a specific stance should play out like rock, paper, scissors, but they are showing you one them ahead of time. So a guy comes out in a scissors stance, we smash him with rock, he comes out in rock stance, we cover him with paper, etc.
SE: What is Sparmageddon? And as a follow up question, The east coast Muay Thai scene is among one of the most tight-knit unions anyone has ever seen. What type of contributions are necessary to make to maintain good relations with gyms like Stay Fly, Rami Elite, Weapons 9, Five Points, etc when you are fighting one another every month or so?
The sparring events idea came from going to cross train at other gyms. Which is something I always liked to do. If I go on vacation anywhere, I always look up what gyms I can go train at while I’m there. Cross training is so helpful in my opinion.
For newer people it helps them defeat those nerves that come from unknown, getting out there and training in a place outside of their comfort zone, with people they don’t train with regularly, it’s literally the way you “level up”, and in my opinion something that brings you closer to the feeling of going somewhere to compete. The more hours we can log like that, the more relaxed you can become competition time.
Also by bringing all these amazing gyms together here on the East Coast, it only raises our level as a region. We are all learning from each other and getting better. So as opportunities come up to fight in bigger promotions fighters from our region are more prepared. For me it’s a way to contribute to the legacy of East Coast Stand Up. Not to mention it just fun in general. Getting new people, seeing people you know from the fights, getting a chance to know them better. It brings that Martial Arts as a lifestyle to life.
There are still gyms/coaches that have the old school mentality where cross training isn’t good, or that your enemies with other schools. I think that’s usually more of an ego issue though. They feel like if they come here it’s like saying they had to come here to get better. I view Level Up as a collective effort though. Other gyms coming here makes US better and I have no problem going to other gyms or sending my fighters to other gyms without me to get in work.
Being prepared should be the important part in my opinion. And if we compete against each other, we will do our best to put on a good show. We have competed against Capital MMA I think more than any other gym, and they are at every sparring event, and we have gone to train with them multiple times as well. I consider Coach Steve Rosillo one of my great friends. It doesn’t have to be beef.
SE: The WKA world tournament is just a few months away. You were there to corner your fighters last year in Italy. What was that experience like?
JE: Last year’s trip to WKA Worlds was an awesome time. That was where Rami and I got close. I had three fighters there last year. Patrick Rivera won Gold in Both Muay Thai and Kickboxing, Jared Tipton won Silver in Kickboxing, and Bronze in Muay Thai, and Luther Smith won Silver in Muay Thai, and Bronze in Kickboxing.
It was great to meet some of the other Coaches I had looked up too personally too. Not to mentions last year’s team was phenomenal! They brought home 17 golds I believe. We all stay in touch still and keep each other updated on upcoming fights. I’ll be traveling to Spain with the US Team again this year with my fighter Erin Jimenez, and have committed to cornering a few other fighters I know are going also.
To find out more about Jason Farrell you can listen to his interview on the Muay Thai Guy Podcast.
Also make sure to check out his gym’s Facebook page for updates on events like Sparmaggedon and more!