Ex-MMA cage fighter Jeffries leads Webster cross country


Webster University senior Ethan Jeffries stands in the basement of his home in Affton, Mo. He was an amateur MMA fighter and, in just two seasons of collegiate competition, he holds the school records in the 6k and 8K events. PHOTO BY BILLY SUKOSKI
Training with a combination of taekwondo, Mixed Martial Arts cage fighting (MMA) and long-distance cross-country, senior philosophy major Ethan Jeffries discovered calmness, respect for adults and how to deal with aggressive people.
Ethan Jeffries transferred to Webster University in 2010 from Illinois Central College and will graduate with a degree in philosophy and an ethics certificate in May 2014. He didn’t begin to run for the Webster cross-country team until 2012.
At age four, Jeffries’ father, John Jeffries, entered his son in a taekwondo class — a type of martial arts that combines combat and self-defense techniques. John Jeffries said he wanted his son to take the classes to teach him restraint and ensure he would always be able to take care of himself.
Ethan said the training he received from taekwondo instilled the ability to stay calm and not take anger out on other people, self-discipline and how to be respectful to adults.
During the latter part of high school, Jeffries found the sport of MMA.
“I needed something more competitive and at that time, MMA was still on the rise to the public, so it was just something I was curious about,” Jeffries said. “It seemed very difficult, very challenging, so I thought I would give it a try.”
Jeffries’s parents were supportive and wanted to make sure he was safe, encouraging him to read and learn more about the sport. He said MMA does look violent on a superficial level. The focus of the fighters in the ring, though, is to win, not beat each other up. The fighters are being defensive, protective and technical. For Jeffries, it was always a friendly competition. It was never hostile or a disagreement between people. He only wanted to hit his opponent as hard as he had to in order to win.
“You want to beat them with technique, not brute force,” Jeffries said.
Jesse Finney, who did not train Jeffries, is a two-time U.S. kickboxing champion, North American kickboxing champion, Strikeforce veteran and owner of Finney’s MMA in Crestwood. Finney said MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and is a competition combined with chess-like strategy.
Finney said MMA is a match between two athletes trained in many styles of martial arts blended together, including boxing, ju jitsu, wrestling, kickboxing, among others, and is not just a “tough guy” competition.
“MMA is more about your attitude, your discipline and your respect for the sport. Once you’ve learned that, then you’re able to get somewhere in MMA,” Finney said.
Finney, a professional MMA trainer, said the training can be intense, but is more of a “mental grind than a physical grind, if you are taking the sport on a serious note.”
“(MMA matches) are not as violent as people view them… the guys that are out there beating their chest, that are acting like tough guys in MMA – those are the guys that are a bunch of posers,” Finney said. “The guys that are actually really good are just some of the nicest, genuine and down-to-earth people you will ever meet in your life.”
Jeffries no longer competes in MMA because he said he stopped having fun doing it. Some of the people he encountered inside the cage started fighting aggressively or had the “I want to rip your head off,” type of mentality instead of competitive sportsmanship.
He holds the Webster men’s cross-country records in the 8K at 26.35, the 6K at 19.39 and the 5K men’s outdoor track at 15.47.
John Jeffries said his son loves running so much that when he was in high school, he would run to his sister’s house 30 miles away to visit and then she would drive him back home. Even for an upcoming family vacation this December, Ethan has been researching the destination because he is afraid he might not have anywhere to run.
“Running has always been (Ethan’s) freedom,” John Jeffries said. “He just loves running.”
Jeffries said he feels at his best when he is running at least 13 miles every day. Depending on how the cross country coach has the team training, in a specific week, the least he will run a day is eight miles.
Jeffries believes his training under cross-country coach Dan Graber is so far some of the best he has ever done in his life.
“(Coach Graber) is the perfect combination of what you want in a leader,” Jeffries said. “He is calm enough and understanding enough, but he is also serious enough that you don’t want to walk all over him.”
He enjoys cross-country not only because of the running aspect, but because of the layered competitiveness.
“In cross country and running in general, there is a double-tier kind of a competition, because you can always challenge yourself,” Jeffries said. “But then there are also always other people to push you as well.”
Jeffries has hopes of competing at the national level this year. Jeffries knows it is going to be tough, but he believes he has a shot.
“(Jeffries) does a great job leading by example,” Graber said. “And showing the other guys just how much work it takes to improve drastically like he has done over the last year.”
Jeffries hopes he helps inspire his cross-country teammates to make the right choices. He said whether it is nutrition, getting enough sleep or even in racing, they should always be pushing themselves.
Jeffries has a passion for philosophy. He will do all the readings he is assigned then re-read them because he finds it fascinating. He believes the Webster philosophy department has done a great job preparing him to apply for a job. Jeffries said his professors have also prepared him to apply for grad school if he decides to obtain a doctorate and teach philosophy.
“(Philosophy) is ways of seeing the world that you don’t on an everyday basis. It is just insightful,” Jeffries said. “I’m less anxious and have less anxiety about life.”
His love of running has led him to consider a career with a sports-focused company, but he is also leaving his options open for a philosophy-related career.
Whichever path he chooses, he knows one thing for certain about his future: continuing to push his boundaries and challenge himself by running in road races and charity events will definitely be part of his life.

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