Markus Kowal - Healing Through Meaning

The 24th episode of the Psychology Podcast with Daniel Karim features Marcus Kowal, fighter, entrepreneur, activist, and author.

When you trip over love, it is easy to get up. But when you fall in love, it is impossible to stand again.

Albert Einstein

Impossible… that was indeed the word that came to my mind when, in 2020, I tried to figure out what to do in order to get up, and into the world again after I lost one of the most important persons of my life.

Most people ask themselves half their lives, whether or not they will ever find “love” but only very few go a step further and think about what they can do to preserve it, once they found it.

But almost nobody thinks proactively about what they will do if they lose it.

This form of collective naivety is responsible for the circumstance that most of us, have to learn for ourselves, how to deal with true loss, in the moment, where something is taken from us, that we weren’t ready to give away.

Breaking points – is what I call these shock moments where we realize that our world as we knew it, isn’t there anymore.

How well we handle them, determines who we are going to be in the final analysis of our lives.

Victim, villain, or hero – those are the three big options that we can pick from when life confronts us with ultimate suffering or malevolence.

Hero – was the mode of being, that Marcus Kowal picked in 2016 when he learned that his youngest son Liam, was killed by a drunk driver.

As a professional MMA fighter, Marcus Kowal knew how to deal with pain, but when his innocent boy was taken from prematurely, his character was tested to a degree as few have ever been tested.

How do you preserve your faith in the goodness of being if you witness a tragedy of this scale?

Marcus Kowal, in the midst of his nightmare, decided once more to fight, but this time not in a cage, and not against a person, but against the system that was partially responsible for the loss of Liam.

He and his wife, consciously, decided, to infuse their suffering with meaning, by donating the organs of Liam, so that other babies, who are threatened by death, can live perhaps.

They did not stop there, Marcus and Mishel Eder’s founded Liam’s Life Foundation, a non-profit that is currently campaigning for legal restrictions that will make DUI-related deaths a tragedy of the past.

In our interview, we talked in-depth about his journey out of grief and into meaning and he courageously answered questions about the purpose of life, loss, and tragedy.

I share this interview with you for two reasons;

A) To provide you with a story of transcending hope that shows you that like Marcus, you have the power to turn even the darkest tragedy into a human triumph.

B) So that you can support Marcus Kowal’s and Mishas Elder’s noble mission of reducing the DUI deaths in the United States of America to zero.

For that – please go to Liam’s Life and support his organization however you can.

What is this episode about?

  • How to infuse suffering with meaning
  • How to mourn
  • How not to mourn
  • How to use pain as fuel
  • How to deal with loss
  • What to do when adversity hits you in the face
  • Relationship adversity secrets
  • What successful couples have in common
  • How to heal through meaning
  • How to stop messing up your own relationships

Markus Kowal
A curiosity in various art forms and an urge to fight better opened the sails and pushed Marcus into the endless, oceanic world of martial arts. Born in Gothenburg, Sweden, Marcus is a professional MMA fighter, kick-boxer and boxer, who dedicates a lifetime’s worth of training as the owner and lead instructor at Systems Training Center in Los Angeles. Marcus’ ability to switch itineraries on the fly and learn new things was instilled in him during his time in the military. In 1997, he joined the Swedish Special Forces (Rangers), a unit known for turning boys into men. It was during his time there that Marcus truly acquired the fighting spirit. A serious injury as a Ranger left him crippled for two months. It was a depressing transition to go from being an athlete and Special Forces Ranger to not knowing if he was ever going to walk properly again. After leaving the military, Marcus attended the University of Kent, where he started the Kent Kickboxing Club. British Universities Sports Association (BUSA), the British equivalent to the United States’ NCAA, didn’t include kickboxing as an official sports program but Marcus’ club grew into the biggest club at the university, even surpassing Rugby. It eventually became a BUSA recognized sport after Marcus spearheaded a plan to host the first nationals. Marcus took home a medal that day—both in actual competition and innovation. In 2000, he was awarded “Sportsman of the Year,” and to this day, kickboxing remains a BUSA accepted sport and the largest club at the University of Kent. Professional fighting was prevalent in Marcus’ mind, but coming from an academic family, he chose to finish out his studies before pursuing a career in fighting. After graduating with a B.A. in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management, Marcus moved to Mexico to begin his professional fighting career. He continued to excel in kickboxing and eventually won a world title in a five-round title fight at K2 Promotions, a growing organization in Mexico. Marcus’ journey eventually trekked north into the United States, originally to join the military, which didn’t pan out due to post-9/11 restrictions. While working on a Master’s Degree in Sports Management at California State University, Long Beach, in 2002, he got into Krav Maga while serving as a kickboxing instructor at the Krav Maga Worldwide headquarters in Los Angeles. But none of that quelled his love for kickboxing and boxing. Krav Maga was hors d’oeuvres, and boxing was the main course Marcus pursued in making a living with his fists. Professionally, kickboxing was relatively non-existent in the States, which meant he would have to focus on boxing. The swift change in sport occupations didn’t impede Marcus’ success, as he was named the runner-up in the 2004 Golden Gloves tournament and the runner-up in the 2005 Title Boxing World Championships. As Marcus competed in boxing, he started to see the growth and popularity of Mixed Martial Arts. Like a siren out at sea, MMA called out to Marcus the same way kickboxing and boxing had done many years ago, and he answered the call after working with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Wander Braga. Marcus was hooked ever since that moment. He took it as a personal challenge to improve his grappling, including wrestling, and compete in MMA professionally. His journey through MMA saw tutelage under the legendary Rickson Gracie, Rafael Cordeiro and UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum. In 2009, he made his professional MMA debut and won by TKO in the second round. The following year he was already competing in Strikeforce, which was one of the biggest MMA promotions in the world. Marcus eventually moved on from competing and opened System’s Training Center. The mission philosophy at System’s Training Center is to offer a family-oriented type of environment where anyone can feel comfortable coming in and learning. Marcus has appeared on Celebrity Fit Club, the Tyra Banks Show, Dr. 90210, I form med (with Anna Anka) and the National Body Challenge on the National Geographic Channel. He has also trained several celebrities, including Sasha Baron Cohen, Rachel McAdams, Brendan Fraser, Hilary Swank, and Erika Elaniak. Although he enjoys the wide variety of clientele he trains, Marcus is perhaps most passionate about helping people learn how to protect themselves.
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EP 24

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