Even during lock-down, The Blast (Body Life Achievement Sports Training) gym owner Mark “ShaH” Evans excelled at what he does best: mentoring and coaching.
The gym, located at 703 Post Road in south Madison, had been shut down to the public for nearly a year and only just started children’s classes last week. Evans has been able to coach one-on-one with the roughly 20 students who intend to compete at amateur and professional levels.
“That’s where I get to really excel and do what I do best, which is focus on the psychology,” he told Madison365. “Everybody wants to perfect something. You start something new, you want to perfect it, you want to get it overnight and I’m reminding them that you’re not going to get this overnight. The same way you would focus on planting a tree. If you plant a tree, you don’t expect that tree to grow the full size overnight. So stop trying to focus on being perfect today and just be better than what you were yesterday.”
One of those students that he has coached for the past year is Luke “The Chef” Lessei, who will compete in a national pay-per-view Triumphant competition on June 12 in Miami.
Lessei travels the 90 minutes from Dubuque, Iowa, at least once a week to train with Evans. The 24-year-old fighter still has a full-time job, a wife and young child. Evans said Lessei is so good, he has the ability to handpick his trainers, and about a year ago, he chose Evans.
“Luke is insane,” Evans said. “They call him ‘The Chef’ because he’s always cooking something up. So with the techniques that we come up with in the gym we give it a name. Like his last fight he had — a Muay Thai fight in the cage — he had a jumping side-kick that we call the ‘pepperchini.’”
The gym offers Muay Thai Kickboxing, Cardio Kickboxing and self-defense for group and children’s classes. Evans, who is also a nationally known booking agent for musicians and co-founded a record label, took over The Blast in 2018 as the owner. At that time it had five students; within a year he brought that number up to 30.
“I was able to build a really strong foundation and strong family. I really treat this place like it’s my home,” he said. “Every one of my students are family members.”
Although the owner, Evans isn’t the lead instructor at the gym — that’s Herma Hoda. But as a coach, and as a person who manages people, Evans finds continued success with his students.
He has coached for three title fights at the Thai Boxing Association tournament, one MMA title for now-pro fighter Devin Seitz, and has coached for three other title fights. When he brings a group of students to the annual Muay Thai Competition in Dubuque that brings in upwards of 800 fighters each year, The Blast always comes home with a winning belt.
Evans said he doesn’t consider himself the best coach, but there are things that set him apart.
“I’m constantly learning. And because I’m kind of constantly learning, I feel like I have to share that knowledge with my students. And then, because I’m sharing this knowledge, we’re all learning. And because we’re all learning there’s trust built, there’s a family built. There’s a foundation built within that. To me, a great teacher is always a student.”
In his spare time, Evans said he is always researching — researching martial arts but also reading Socrates, Malcolm Gladwell or Robert Green.
“If you ask my fighters, they better say their students are not fighters because their job is to learn. Not just training for a fight, but to learn consistently all the time because life is the ultimate fighter,” he said.
Evans, however, still coaches a physical sport. He said he doesn’t believe in constant sparring and often focuses more coaching time on cardio and endurance. When training with Evans, his students sometimes joke that he is seeking death.
“I have to get you ready to the point where you aren’t going to fear anything and you’ve ‘sought death’ so often that the fight is going to seem easy in comparison,” he said. “And then if you’re freaking out in your mind in between rounds, it’s like, ‘Hey, who ran those sprints? Who did those 10-minute rounds? Who did all this training?’”
Yet, even in an aggressive sport like Muay Thai kickboxing, Evans said he still teaches his students to spread love, kindness and always do something you are passionate about.
“So win, lose, or draw what they went through, what they put themselves through — the discipline they created and being able to control their mind and their emotions — no one could take that away,” he said.