His martial arts journey began when he was only 15 with Karate and Aikido, but his ambition would swell and lead him down the path of more combative art forms. While living in Birmingham, England, he made the decision to incorporate kickboxing and eventually boxing into his training with the sole purpose of improving his hands.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Marcus jumped head first into competition in both sports. Luckily, he had tremendous training partners with national team experience.
“I realized very quickly that I didn’t enjoy Karate and Aikido because I didn’t want to do forms. I just wanted to fight. …I got lucky by having high level guys to work with from day one.”
Marcus’ ability to switch itineraries on the fly and learn new things was instilled in him during his time in the military. In 1997, he joined the Swedish Special Forces (Rangers), a unit known for turning boys into men.
It was during his time there that Marcus truly acquired the fighting spirit. A serious injury as a Ranger left him crippled for two months. It was a depressing transition to go from being an athlete and Special Forces Ranger to not knowing if he was ever going to walk properly again.
“It really made me grow as a human to realize the limits that we set for ourselves—just something as simple as the distances that we have to cover in a day walking-wise. I would say it’s impossible, I could never do it. So you learn very quickly that your limitations are set by yourself and to really test what you’re capable of as a human. That was one of the biggest things. And also the fighting spirit, not just as fighter, but just not to give up and keep going. That was definitely one of the biggest things that I’ve learned as far as growth for myself.”
After leaving the military, Marcus attended the University of Kent, where he started the Kent Kickboxing Club. British Universities Sports Association (BUSA), which is the British equivalent to the United States’ NCAA, didn’t include kickboxing as an official sports program. But Marcus’ club grew into the biggest club at the university, even surpassing Rugby. It eventually became a BUSA recognized sport after Marcus spearheaded a plan to host the first nationals.
Marcus took home a medal that day—both in actual competition and innovation. In 2000, he was awarded “Sportsman of the Year,” and to this day, kickboxing remains a BUSA accepted sport and the largest club at the University of Kent.
Professional fighting was prevalent in Marcus’ mind, but coming from an academic family, he chose to finish out his studies before pursuing a career in fighting. After graduating with a B.A. in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management, Marcus moved to Mexico to begin his professional fighting career. He continued to excel in kickboxing and eventually won a world title in a five-round title fight at K2 Promotions, a growing organization in Mexico.
“It went well, especially fighting in Mexico and professional kickboxing, but there’s no money in it. I actually won a world title, although I don’t consider it a big, recognized title. But I won a five round fight for a world title in Mexico, and I was doing well. I was planning on continuing fighting pro, but I’d probably make more money working at McDonald’s in the U.S. than fighting pro kickboxing in Mexico. But it was for the love of the sport, and I loved what I was doing.”
Marcus’ journey eventually trekked northward into the United States, originally to join the military which didn’t pan out due to post-9/11 restrictions. While working on a Master’s Degree in Sports Management at California State University, Long Beach, in 2002, he got into Krav Maga while serving as a kickboxing instructor at the Krav Maga Worldwide headquarters in Los Angeles.
But none of that quelled his love for kickboxing and boxing. Krav Maga was hors d'oeuvres, and boxing was the main course Marcus pursued in making a living with his fists. Professionally, kickboxing was relatively non-existent in the States, which meant he would have to focus on boxing. The swift change in sport occupations didn’t impede Marcus’ success, as he was named the runner-up in the 2004 Golden Gloves tournament and the runner-up in the 2005 Title Boxing World Championships.
As Marcus competed in boxing, he started to see the growth and popularity of Mixed Martial Arts. Like a siren out at sea, MMA called out to Marcus the same way kickboxing and boxing had done many years ago, and he answered the call after working with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Wander Braga.
“He said, ‘I’ll teach you Jiu-Jitsu.’ And I said, ‘I’ll show you boxing, but I have no interest in learning that ground stuff, I don’t like that.’ But once he goes, ‘Just come in here, let me roll with you once.’ We were rolling, and he tapped me out without using his hands.”
Marcus was hooked ever since that moment. He took it as a personal challenge to improve his grappling, including wrestling, and compete in MMA professionally. His journey through MMA saw tutelage under the legendary Rickson Gracie, Rafael Cordeiro and UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum. In 2009, he made his professional MMA debut and won by TKO in the second round. The following year he was already competing in Strikeforce, which was one of the biggest MMA promotions in the world.
Marcus eventually moved on from competing and opened System’s Training Center. The mission philosophy at System’s Training Center is to offer a family-oriented type of environment where anyone can feel comfortable coming in and learning. There are two locations of business in the Los Angeles County area—Hawthorne and Encino.
“The philosophy when we opened System’s Training Center was we have a great fight team, we have some great, tough fighters here and they’re very nice guys. But your average Joe that walks in here gets intimidated. They see guys with cauliflower ears and tattoos. They don’t look like they’re very nice people but they are. I want a family-oriented type of environment where anyone can come in. We have kids training here from the age of 3 to—I think our oldest member is in the 60’s somewhere. We want people to feel comfortable and train alongside and be trained by actual fighters that are professional fighters that know what they’re doing and not just telling you to do something.”
Marcus has appeared on Celebrity Fit Club, the Tyra Banks Show, Dr. 90210, I form med (with Anna Anka) and the National Body Challenge on the National Geographic Channel. He has also trained several celebrities, including Sasha Baron Cohen, Rachel McAdams, Brendan Fraser, Hilary Swank, and Erika Elaniak.
Although he enjoys the wide variety of clientele he trains, Marcus is perhaps most passionate about helping people learn how to protect themselves.
"It’s my mission to help people learn how to protect themselves—the people that can’t usually, people that kids have bullied, women in domestic violence relationships that have been sexually attacked or raped—to get them ready and feel empowered and feel like they’re never going to let that happen to them again and stand up for themselves. It’s become somewhat of a life mission."
For more information about Marcus Kowal or Systems Fitness Center, please visit marcuskowal.com or systemstrainingcenter.com or find them on social media.