Percussion teacher is musician by day, cage fighter by night

October 30, 2009 — by Anoop Galivanche and Jason Wu

Percussion teacher Ryan Masterson instructs student Zach Galvin on drumming techniques during school.

Ryan Masterson is a percussion teacher for the marching band, pianist, composer and … a cage fighter? Smashing the stereotypical mold of the dainty musician, the tall, athletic-looking Masterson trains for cage fights in his spare time.

Cage fighting, also known as mixed martial arts, is a sport in which nearly anything goes inside the ring. According to Masterson, however, acts such as kicking opponents in the groin or stomping them on their head are forbidden.

Although Masterson once trained at the American Kickboxing Academy in Campbell, he now mainly practices with friends and isn’t actually fighting matches right now because he currently lacks health insurance and doesn’t want to sustain an injury that would require treatment.

Sometimes he trains at the gym at Saratoga High, where he keeps a full bag of his gear in the percussion storeroom.

“You guys are welcome to join if you want,” he said to Falcon reporters interviewing him.

His first foray in to the world of cage fighting was in 2005 and happened largely as the result of simple coincidence.

“I was actually dating a girl who went to this cardio kickboxing class, and she said it was fun,” said Masterson. “I thought that it sounded cool, and when I showed up, I realized that the gym actually trained people for fights, and it turned out to be really fun.”

Even though getting “kicked like crazy” in the ring by other fighters with the force of somebody “taking a baseball bat to your legs” hardly seems like much fun to an outsider, Masterson said the pain barely registers in the heat of battle.

“Everyone says, ‘Gosh, doesn’t that hurt?’ but it really doesn’t,” he said. “When you get hit in the face, you definitely go, ‘Oh my gosh, I just got hit in the face’, but you only feel the exhilaration––the pain that is associated with impact just isn’t there.”

However, the adrenaline doesn’t last forever, as he also says that “the next day you feel the aching pain and can’t really walk.”

One of the reasons Masterson enjoys mixed martial arts so much is that it gives him a chance to defy traditional social etiquette.

“Your whole life, you have people telling you to be nice and civil, that you can’t hit that person, you can’t fight and here’s one opportunity where two young men are agreeing to just go at it with each other,” he said.

In addition, Masterson also said training and fighting provide an important outlet for stress.

“[Mixed martial arts] is very therapeutic, and even just training for it you relieve so much stress,” he said. “Plus, you’re in great shape and you feel healthy––your face might be bruised a little bit but you feel good while you are doing it.”

Since he started cage fighting, Masterson has been a practitioner of the martial art of “Muay Thai,” which originates from Thailand.

“Muay Thai involves elbows and knees and lots of fighters use it because it is very effective and direct in its approach, whereas in karate they teach you to block every time somebody attacks you,” he said.

As passionate as Masterson is about mixed martial arts, he still views music as his No. 1 priority.

“[Mixed martial arts] is definitely just a hobby for me,” he said. “Professionals spend at least four hours a day in the gym practicing, while I spend four hours a day playing the piano.”

He said the level of dedication required to compete well at the professional level and “not get your butt whooped” is considerable and added that he would rather spend the time composing, teaching and playing music.

However, Masterson also said the bonds forged by his experiences in cage fighting are invaluable.

“As soon as you are done with the fight, you and the guy you just fought have just connected on a level that most people don’t ever connect on, especially because you agreed to fight each other,” he said.

“Once you’ve been through that, you are brothers.”

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