UW-Eau Claire student uses Mixed Martial Arts training to grow

Hannah Herzfeld learned MMA with no previous experience



The University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Mixed Martial Arts Club poses for a picture in after finishing competition at the 2013-2014 Hudson Grappling Tournament. Hannah Herzfeld (left) earned second place at the competition.

Story by Austin Mai, Op/Ed Editor

UW-Eau Claire junior geology major Hannah Herzfeld wanted to find something to keep her active when she arrived on campus as a freshman.

Two and a half years later, she couldn’t be any happier with what she found.

“I didn’t really know anyone,” Herzfeld said. “I wanted to try something new and get out of my comfort zone, so mixed martial arts was pretty out there.”

Mixed martial arts is a full-combat sport. Simply put, it’s organized fighting. And UW-Eau Claire has a student organization all about it.

Officially listed as the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Mixed Martial Arts Club, the club meets three times a week in the wrestling room in the McPhee Strength and Performance Center.

Herzfeld didn’t know what to think at first, but quickly grew interested in the club.

“The first practice there was only one girl and she wrestled in high school,” Herzfeld said. “I saw her just tackle this guy to the ground. I said I wanted to be like that from the first day.”

Tackling people to the ground looked fun, but Herzfeld had no idea how much work it’d take to become proficient.

“I didn’t really do sports in high school,” Herzfeld said. “I wanted to do something active, although I didn’t realize how active MMA would be.”

Herzfeld described herself coming out of highschool as a “band kid,” as well as shy and quiet. In fact, she still considers herself reserved. And, she’s still in band. The University Band, to be exact.

These things aside, she joined the club her freshman year and never looked back. She quickly learned there was a lot for her to catch up with, especially considering most of the club’s members wrestled back in high school.

She first started wrestling whenever an opportunity presented itself.

“My friend was a good wrestler,” Herzfeld said. “Whenever she’d run the gym session, I’d work with her.”

Herzfeld continued to work on the mat, but she began to transition from wrestling to Jiu-Jitsu training.

Jiu-Jitsu, a Japanese martial art, is a grappling-based method for close combat. The user relies less on striking, and uses holds, throws, pins and joint locks to immobilize the opponent.

At first, Herzfeld struggled with her transition. She had worked on form and pins while wrestling, but Jiu-Jitsu required more practice and patience.

Hunter Promer, club president, said Herzfeld had patience from the beginning, and it’s gone a long way with her development.

“It’s crazy how she’s changed,” Promer said. “She’s been in the club just about as long as I have. It’s been really cool to watch all of us grow and develop together.”

Promer said most of the members who join the club already know about MMA in some form, but having someone like Herzfeld join with no prior knowledge and watching her elevate her MMA game since then is a great story for the club.

“It’s been great,” Promer said. “This semester she hasn’t come to the club as often, but she’s still working on her craft.”

The club regularly participates in the Hudson Grappling Tournament in Hudson. The Jiu-Jitsu tournament gives the club an opportunity to show how well they have trained, and use their skills against others in the area.

Herzfeld’s first time at the tournament didn’t go very well.

“My first year was really rough,” Herzfeld said. “I was really scared in the tournament since I hadn’t done anything with sports in high school.”

The more Herzfeld trained with the club, the more she saw the sport of MMA blossom inside her. She started to see it less as physical training, and more like a mental chess match of sorts.

“I know we’re still fighting,” Herzfeld said with a laugh, “ … but it’s much more of a mental game than most people think. To the fan, it might look like I walked towards my opponent and missed two punches. In reality, I was putting myself in a better position for my next move.”

The next move is what keeps Herzfeld going.

“There’s something electric about having different martial arts to use in a competition,” Herzfeld said. “It’s good to keep my ground game solid, but striking is where you can end the fight sooner than later.”

Herzfeld developed her striking in the club, working on both traditional boxing and kickboxing, but soon found herself in a situation she didn’t expect.

Coaches from the local gym, The Grind, started to drop in and occasionally work with members of the club. After Herzfeld started to work with one of the coaches on her striking, she was sold.

Herzfeld began to train at The Grind more regularly and soon found herself deciding between her university club or The Grind.

As much as she’d like to attend both groups’ practices, she’s already juggling her time around class, studying and working during the weekend.

Herzfeld in the guard of an opponent at the 2013-2014 Hudson Grappling Tournament.
Herzfeld in the guard of an opponent at the 2013-2014 Hudson Grappling Tournament.

“I wish I had some more time,” Herzfeld said. “Between school and work, it becomes a lot after a while.”

Roughly 20 hours a week in class and another 20 spent studying takes up most of her time. Add on the 10-15 hours spent working on the weekends, and Herzfeld still dedicates 10-12 hours a week at The Grind.

Steve Gibson, coach and owner of The Grind, works with Herzfeld primarily as her striking coach. He is a former fighter and covers different disciplines including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai, along with wrestling, boxing and kickboxing.

Gibson said she’s great and has many qualities coaches look for in a young fighter.

“She’s not afraid to get hit,” Gibson said. “It’s hard to develop that sense of confidence. She’s also an outstanding listener.”

He credits good listening as one of the most important traits needed to train at a high level. Gibson said at the pace they train at, asking questions is vital as well.

“You need to understand everything that’s happening around you,” Gibson said. “You need to ask questions like ‘Why am I getting pinned?” or ‘Why did I get hit in the face right there?’ to succeed in the sport. (Herzfeld’s) listening puts her in situations where she understands what’s happening.”

As a result, Gibson believes Herzfeld is ready for active competition. However, finding competition for her is proving difficult.

“We don’t want to put her up against someone with five fights under their belt,” Gibson said. “We want to give her a shot against someone just as new to MMA, ideally someone with three or less fights.”

So Herzfeld waits and continues her schooling, work and

training. But in the mean time, there is a fight Herzfeld has already won through MMA.

“I didn’t have very much confidence,” Herzfeld said. “My confidence has improved with MMA in the gym, but it’s also improved outside of it. I’m still kind of quiet, but MMA has definitely opened me up.”