Marco Sies, a world champion kickboxer, teaches classes at Master Method Academy. Photo by Matthew Stebenne
As a young boy growing up in Chile, Marco Sies would plead with his dad and uncles to show him their martial arts moves. He was fascinated with kickboxing. He’d started taking lessons at 4 years old, but he was small for his age, often bullied, and says no one took him seriously.
By sixth grade, Sies was training more intensively, and it wasn’t long before the kids at school stopped stealing his lunch and throwing him against a garbage can. At 15, he saw world champion kickboxer Bill “Superfoot” Wallace compete at an exhibition in Santiago. “I decided that very night I wanted to become a world champion,” Sies says. He plastered his bedroom walls with posters of famous martial artists. “I would close my eyes and imagine it so strongly that in my mind it became a reality—it was just a matter of time.”
Sies’ family was struggling to make ends meet—his mother, a cafeteria worker, and his father, a police officer, divorced when he was in high school—so the teen washed dishes, swept floors and cleaned bathrooms to pay for his training. He buried himself in philosophy books, which helped him develop the focus he needed. “You have to know what you want to achieve, then condition your mind,” he says. “To have a positive view on things—that is power.”
In 1992, at the age of 19, Sies became a national featherweight kickboxing champion in Chile, a title he held for three years. He thought his prospects of finding sponsors and succeeding as a fighter would be better in the United States, so with $40 in his pocket and limited English skills, Sies moved to Virginia and stayed with an aunt. He trained for up to six hours a day—conditioning on trails at 5 a.m., then boxing in the gym before work and doing a late-night practice from 9 to 11. For a few months he was homeless, so he slept in a building he cleaned, and later at a karate school where he taught. He’d run the stairs at a nearby mall and practice kickboxing with a couch cushion he tied to a tree. “I used the elements that were available to me,” says Sies, 44, who lives in Gaithersburg. “I never pouted.”
He eventually began to compete in the United States, and at 5 feet 6 inches tall and 135 pounds, he became known as Marco “Babyface” Sies. In 2000, the 26-year-old won a kickboxing world championship. “My whole life flashed before my eyes when they gave me the belt and they were celebrating,” he says. “I remembered all the struggles and people that helped me get there.” Sies went on to win six more world titles, and in 2002 was inducted into the Karate World Hall of Fame.
After retiring from competition in 2005, Sies became a full-time martial arts instructor, later opening Master Method Academy, which now has locations in Olney, Silver Spring and Rockville. In addition to teaching, Sies—author of The Master Method: 4 Steps to Success, Prosperity and Inner Peace—says his bigger mission is to give students the tools they need to be successful in life. Lise Sullivan of Gaithersburg says her son, Sean, was in physical and speech therapy as a child until he started practicing karate with Sies, a calming force who helped him develop confidence. Sean, now 19, says the classes taught him “self-discipline, how to treat people the right way, and how to stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.”
Sies has a full schedule. He teaches throughout the day, hosts a weekly show, The Master Method, on Montgomery Municipal Cable Television, and partners with the county to provide free karate programs, seminars and assemblies in 10 public schools.
He and his wife, Julie, the academy director and CEO of Master Method Academy, have five children—ages 11 to 19—in what they call their blended “Brady Bunch family.” All of the kids have black belts in martial arts, and three are instructors. The words “Believe it, Achieve it!” are painted in large white letters on the front wall of Sies’ Rockville studio. When he leads, he’s tough, but he makes it a point to smile. “Joy is very important,” he recently told an adult karate class. “Life lesson for this month is attitude. Everyone?”
“Attitude!” his students yelled in unison.