Marcel Dragan

L to R: Thom Harinck, Marcel, Raul Catinas, and some other dude I don’t recognise.

Marcel Dragan recalls the quotation from William Blake’s ‘Proverbs of Hell’; ‘He whose face gives no light shall never become a star.’ Marcel was the first, and probably the most influential, coach of one of the world’s most talented heavyweight kickboxers, Raul Catinas. This interview provides insight into Raul, as well as Cor Hemmers and Ramon Dekkers, in addition to the culture of Romania and why a hard sport like Muay Thai flourishes under such hard conditions. It’s also a portrait of one of the most unselfish, decent trainers I have met during my involvement with the sport.

Athough, he persists in calling me Jerry. 

Where are you from in Romania? What’s the country like?

I am from western Romania from a region called “Banat”. I hope you will visit me one day, Jerry. People from Banat are very calm and friendly persons, but they are not afraid to fight when necessary. Warriors from Banat resisted a long period against Turkish Empire fighting with courage, even though they were few in number. I think Raul [Catinas] has the courageous heart of the fighters from the past; I am proud being his first coach.

Who are your favourite philosophers? What attracts you to the discipline?

In my childhood, I was very attracted to mythology. Romanian people have a very eclectic mythology, with symbols and myths [drawn] from ancient European mythologies. It is like an enormous and strange tree with long and strong roots, going deep in the ground of early European mythology. I started to search these roots and I found myself deep into the land of Greek and Norse mythology.

From the Greek mythology I soon discovered the fascinating philosophy which at first was very hard to separate. That’s what made me discover the Greek Philosophy, especially Plato. Plato remained my favorite philosopher. My favorite dialogues are “The Republic”, “Symposium” and, of course, “Phaedo” – the dialogue concerned on the immortality of soul. Plato was versed in Greek Mythology and some of his argument and allegories are presented in a mythological shape like, for example, “The Myth of the Cave” or “The Myth of Gyges” or the Myth which ends the dialogue, Phedo.

Of course, I was interested by early oriental religion, the support of martial arts: Lao Tzu and Taoism, Confucianism, Zen Buddhism. Oriental philosophy made me understand the principles of martial arts, in spite of their different shapes. The essence was always the same.

What was it like growing up in a Communist country, run by a dictator? When was he deposed? How did it change Romania, and change your life?

Our country was under the Communist dictatorship from 1946, ‘til December 1989. In 17 December in Timisoara, western Romania, an  uprising against the Dictator Ceausescu which, in spite of the bloody reprisals, extended to the Capital Bucharest and the whole country. Ceausescu was condemned to death by a popular court and Romania started the long way to democracy.

I was one of the millions of Romanians with many wasted years in a totalitarian country: it was forbidden to read certain books, it was forbidden to practice martial arts, it was forbidden to criticize the Dictator, the program at TV was only between 18 o’Clock and 22 o’ Clock, the markets were empty, you had to wait for hours to buy a piece of meat or two pounds of oranges. The secret police was always with an eye on you, a lot of people disappeared after saying something against the polity; it is unimaginable for a western citizen to believe how it was. I always remember that period of my life when I see Orson Welles movie with Anthony Perkins, called  “The Trial”, after Kafka’s famous novel.

First, after 1989 I was happy to see that, though we were not free yet, we had at least the chance to become free. I started expressing my freedom reading all the forbidden books and practicing martial arts without hiding.

There are many other things to say, Jerry. We must leave the past, with all its frustrations behind. We must look forward and try, from now on, to do what is right.

How did you get started in kickboxing?

I started studying martial arts when I was a kid in my hometown from western Romania, Lugoj. I started, as many other coaches, with karate. In that time, it was difficult to practice because martial arts were forbidden by the dictator Ceausescu and the Communist Party. In the 80’s we were training in secret, declaring that we practiced Judo and locking the gym’s door during the workout.

After I went to Bucharest to study at the University, me and a number of black belts, in majority students, started studying video cassettes and books from the western countries and made the important step to freestyle karate and soon to kickboxing and Muay Thai. We trained hard, working in parallel in boxing gyms to improve our hands and short-distance technique. After the fall of Ceausescu and the Communism I started to fight, and I had almost 30 fights in the ring on freestyle, kickboxing and Muay-Thai rules. Kickboxing and Muay-Thay become legal and very popular in our country.

What is it you enjoy about being a trainer?

I decided to be a trainer because I couldn’t keep away from the ring and the fights after I retired. It is a difficult but magic job, because you must work hard to shape the body and the mind of your student, to transform him into a fighter. It is like an art; I feel like a sculptor who works with dedication to shape the stone, revealing in the end the warrior chained inside. When I see a student of mine winning in a fight, I know that I made something good, I know that I offered him something that money cannot buy: when you win you feel alive and you feel, for a moment, that you are immortal and free, like the warriors from ancient times.

How did you meet Raul? What was he like when he first arrived?

It was in the autumn of 2004 when Raul, at the age of 16, first stepped into my gym. He practiced football before and he was big for his age, almost 90 kg. First, I don’t give too many attention to the beginners but soon, Raul got my attention because he trained hard and he was eager to fight. My small Gym is well known in Romania for the fighters I made but I had the feeling that Raul is different from all of them, the difference between a Pitbull and any other dog.

Next summer, when Raul had the first fight and I saw how hard and explosively he punches, I knew that he has the heart of a fighter and he is the warrior I was waiting to step into my gym. After his first fight, I said to him: “Now I know you were right, you will be the Champion; I will teach you everything I know about fighting and after that, You must go to continue in Holland! Your future is in Holland, don’t ever forget this!” Raul trained in my Gym six years, ‘til 2010 and after coming back, in the autumn of 2011.

Why did you work so hard to get him in at Team Dekkers/GG?

When Mr Eduard Irimia offered his help for a training stage in Holland, I insisted to be in Breda, at Golden Glory. When I was young, I watched Ramon’s fights many times; I consider him the greatest fighter of all times, a kind of “God of War”. It was a wish of my youth to meet Ramon one day, to watch him train and to talk about fighting technique with him and with the legendary coach, Cor Hemmers.

In May 2009, my dream became true and I went with Raul in Breda for a two-week stage at G.G. / Team Dekkers. In these two weeks I watched and studied very attentively the fighting technique and I wrote everything in a big diary; I still have all the details there. Of course, Cor and Ramon were very kind and answered patiently my questions about steps, distance, balance and other important things for a trainer. And, of course, I had the chance to watch Gokhan Saki, Alistair Overeem and Niecky Holtzken training in their gym.

What is it about the Dutch method that you admire so much?

I admire the fighters trained in Holland. Holland is the country of kickboxing! Me, like others, use the name of “Dutchboxing” because is something different from kickboxing and Muay Thai, something very efficient and impressive, at the same time. The trainers from Holland are great: I collaborated for a time with Dennis Krauweel, I had the honour to meet and to talk about kickboxing with Andre Manaart and Thom Harrinck, Raul’s trainer in the present.

Especially, I will always remember Cor and Ramon. What I learned in Breda in 2009 was crucially important for me as a trainer and for 20 year-old Raul’s preparation before important fights with Ashwyn Balrak, Stefan Leko and Dzevad Poturak. I trained Raul for two years using the things I learned from Ramon and Cor and this helped Raul step forward in his professional career, this is certain. Thank you, Cor and Ramon, I will always respect you!

Is it true that you’re a philosophy teacher?

Yes, I am a philosophy teacher and this is useful for me as a trainer. The mental of a fighter is more important than his muscles. We must not forget that ancient martial arts developed on the basis of philosophical theories. It is important to shape the body and the mind of a fighter, as well.

How did Raul’s family feel about kickboxing for their little boy? He punches like a horse kicks, but he’s just like a great big puppy.

His father died when Raul was a kid. His mother and elder sister were emotional before every fight but, of course, they were proud of his success in the ringsports. Yes, Raul punches are strong like horse kicks and I know this better than anyone else because he almost broke my hands during padwork!:) And, yes again, he is like a kid in his heart sometimes, even though he looks very tough. Great big puppy, like you used to call him in May 2009 in Ramon’s house from Breda.

Raul had a long hiatus, until recently. What happened?

In September 2011, Raul came back in my gym after a long absence and told me that he is ready to train hard and to fight again. I accepted and we trained together till December, when a strong business-man from western Romania contacted him and offered him very good financial conditions and the promise that he will train in Nederlands where he wants and as long as it wants. The only condition for Raul was to sign a contract with the team from Arad City, Metalbox Gym. Of course, Raul accepted and I accepted too, with no conditions. I knew that it means that I lose Raul without any benefit after years of training but, you know that I want him to become a champion, no matter if I have to remain in the shadows from now on. I never signed a contract with Raul because I don’t believe in papers; I am old-fashioned man.

This is the whole story; Raul went to Arad in December and after that he started training at Mike’s Gym. But Raul didn’t like Mike [Passenier]’s behaviour  and decided not to go back at Mike’s anymore. Thom Harrinck made him an offer and Raul and his managers accepted: now Raul is a member of both teams, Chakuriki Nederlands and Metalbox Romania and with two trainers: the Dutch expert Thom Harrinck and The Romanian Nagy Arnold from Arad.

Are you still part of his training and management team?

At Superkombat GP in Cluj Romania, when Raul defeated Rosenstruik and Sam in the pyramid, Raul invited me. But, I realized that I am not necessary for Raul anymore and, without noise, I decided to step back and watch his fights on TV from now on. The show will go on without me, I start to train another generation in my small gym. Now, the only thing that matters is Raul’s career; he must become the K-1 Champion, like we dreamed together at the beginning.

How significant was Hemmers’ and Dekkers’ influence?

Of course, I tried to convince Raul to go and train in Breda but I failed. I still consider Cor and Ramon the best trainers I met and I will always respect and love them for what I learned in Breda at Team Dekkers. I train following Cor’s method and I am very proud doing this! I will always remember them and I will tell their legend to my students.

Cor’s training method influenced me in a very important moment for Raul’s fighting career and for me, as a coach. Raul is what he is today because of the influence of Ramon and Cor, this is for sure. And I only wish that one day I will have the chance to tell them face to face: “Thank You, Ramon and Cor, I will never forget you!” And, of course, I will never forget you, Jerry.

Now, I go to train the beginners; you never know if a warrior is hiding inside one of them!

Postscript

There are many things I like about Marcel; not least among them is his way with the language. I attach a message from a recent correspondence:

“Ok, Jerry, I resend the mail. I told you, the Romanian region where I live, Banat, was under German administration in 18’th century; in 1818,the famous Prince Eugenius of Savoya built the first beer factory in Timisoara. So, in Banat they have a long and good tradition in preparing beer, a german tradition. And yes, I would like to offer you a botle of Timisoara beer one day.
Something similar to cheers’ is “Noroc”
And romanians say salute very similar:”Salut!” Romanians have a latin language; Emperor Traian conquered our ancestors kingdom in 106 bc, after a long and bloody war with the hero king Deceballus.
Jerry, let’s be serious; you know this fight between Ben and Raul will not end by point, it’s gonna be a heavy KO. Whoever wins, I will be glad to drink a beer with you.
p.s. You really think I’m handsome? smile
Salut!”

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One Response to “Marcel Dragan”

  1. Julie Hock Says:

    Great article, love the tone of his language – did you tape him? Also interesting historical details. “Dutchboxing” …

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