OCTOBER 5, 2017 – Marc Meltzer didn’t expect to become one of the leading martial arts trainers in the Greater Boston area. He also didn’t expect to become an observant Jew. But as a child growing up in Bangor, Maine, he felt a pull toward spirituality while attending a Jewish day school. As a teen though, he entered public school and that’s when he realized that he had to learn how to defend himself.
“There was absolutely direct anti-Semitism in the school, and the kids had no qualms about it,” he said. “Sometimes I would wear a yarmulke to school, and I started to get beat up – in the lunch line, in the bus line. There were times I got into four or five fistfights a day. I remember blood on my face.”
When he was 11, Meltzer attended an overnight camp and enrolled in a martial arts program. “That’s when my world got a thousand times better,” he said, recalling his karate classes. “I learned a special secret technique: it was the idea that little guys could beat up bigger guys. Eventually I got my second degree black belt in tae kwon do.”
When he returned to Bangor, word got out that Meltzer could defend himself. By the time high school rolled around, the high school football team was crowding into his basement, where he taught players karate and kung fu.
At 17, his family moved to Marblehead and he enrolled in a tae kwon do class where he learned the Korean martial art of jumping and spinning kicks. After attending Northeastern, he dove headfirst into Muay Thai, a form of kickboxing that is considered the national sport of Thailand. After about six bouts, he decided that coaching martial arts would be a better fit.
More than 20 years ago, he also found himself immersed in Jewish studies in Brighton, learning in a Talmud chavrusa. He noticed that Judaism and mixed martial arts had many similarities, such as commitment, structure, and dedication toward personal growth.
“It’s a spiritual calling, Judaism and combat sports,” said Meltzer, who is now 47. “I’m a lot better at training than I was as a practitioner.”
His Marblehead house is dotted with photos of his wife Amy, and their children Yosef, Rachel, and Shoshana. Walk past his living room, and you’ll find a bookcase of Jewish texts lined with tomes of the Talmud and the Torah. There’s also a shtender, or small upright desk, where he places his siddur and prays every day.
Dozens of students find solace working out in his basement, where Meltzer teaches them the mechanics of Muay Thai and Dutch kickboxing. The men and women come from all over the state to train with Meltzer, who believes the practice, like Judaism, provides proper balance in life.
“You need a spiritual path and a physical path to be a balanced person,” said Meltzer, who has coached world champion amateur Muay Thai fighters John Wright, John Forrestal, and Jeremy Bourgeois. “If you have one without the other, then you’re out of balance and you feel it in your life, and it comes out in how you’re treated and how you treat others.”