For the Farrells, jiu-jitsu is a family matter. Black belt Mark, purple belt Cathy, and their two kids, Alessio (AO) and Ryder all train out of Austintown, Ohio, but tonight, Mark and Alessio are down in Austin, Texas to share the stage at Fight 2 Win 146.
For both Mark and Alessio, the journey here began at a young age. Now 40, Mark started as a wrestler when he was just eight years old, continuing through his four years in Division III at Thiel College. Seven years later (and 50 pounds heavier), Mark returned to the mats, this time as a jiu-jitsu practitioner.
“I started at first just to get back into shape and lose weight, as I knew it was something I would enjoy because grappling is something where my heart has always been vested,” Mark told the Jiu-Jitsu Times. Eleven-year-old Alessio was introduced to the sport even younger; Mark says that his son was “in a baby carrier” the first time he came into the gym. As soon as “AO” turned four, he was training, too. “He was one of the original members of the kids’ competition team at Next Level Martial Arts at six years old and has been competing ever since,” says Mark.
The dream of having the entire family on the mats has some merit, according to Mark. He cites health and exercise as being two of the benefits that come from making jiu-jitsu a family activity, but there are positive mental impacts as well. “A lot of life lessons come from jiu-jitsu, and we all go through a lot of the same ups and downs, so we can relate more with one another on and off the mats,” he says.
Understandably, though, when you share your passion and your house with the same people, there are bound to be a few disagreements. “A few cons include spending a lot of time together, which comes with being annoyed with each other easily, so we need to know when to step away and have some time to ourselves,” says Mark, adding that despite this, the family has bonded faster than a “typical family” because of their shared involvement in the sport.
Mark acknowledges that he’s probably more nervous for Alessio than his own match tonight at F2W 146. Any stress, though, is outweighed by the joy he feels at being able to share the stage with his son. Given that Mark is already a F2W veteran and Cathy has also competed on the stage, Alessio knows what to expect when he himself gets to step up and test himself tonight.
“We are blessed to be on this stage competing as a family,” says Mark. “Not many people get to say that. There’s not added stress as much, as we have to take the time to make sure we are both prepared for our matches.”
Being a parent who trains and having a kid (or two!) who also trains can be a challenge, but having navigated it throughout his entire time being a parent, Mark has learned a few tricks along the way. “For me, it’s twofold. Communication is important in that you need to talk through any and all situations that arise on the mat and how it could apply to off-the-mat situations. But most of all, make sure you let them have fun. As parents, make sure that you aren’t putting too much pressure on them,” he says.
As Mark prepares to face Javier Gomez in their 145lb black belt gi match and Alessio prepares for his orange belt match against Zane Mangan, Mark keeps his goals for both tonight and beyond at the front of his mind. “I want to continue to share knowledge of jiu-jitsu and experiences with as many people as I can to inspire people to be better every day,” he says, adding that he wants to compete as long as his body permits while helping his family in their jiu-jitsu journeys. “There’s only one more Farrell to compete on this stage: Ryder. In due time, grasshopper!”
Fight 2 Win 146 will take place tonight in Austin, Texas and can be streamed live on FloGrappling.