Mariana Bowen is 10 years old and a self-proclaimed “slimeologist” as she often buys her own supplies to make the nostalgic 90s toy. She combines the glitter, glue and various colors together to create the gooey slime that many children enjoy. Mariana has made over 51 batches of slime, and she saves a sample of each in small jars. Mariana is a child at heart, yet when she steps foot on the gym mat she becomes a champion in martial arts.
“As soon as she could start walking, she was on the mat with her brothers and sister in Judo class,” said Donnie Bowen, father of Mariana. Bowen started the Bowen Combative Arts Academy in 2014. Bowen was in the U.S. Army’s Special Forces, but his interest in Judo,, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and wrestling began well before he enlisted.
As a young child, Bowen watched Black Belt and Kung Fu theatre, along with most of Bruce Lee’s movies. Bowen began with Taekwondo and Karate. Then, influenced by Bruce Lee, he began Judo and Filipino stick fighting. The Special Forces qualification course brought Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into Bowen’s life when he was stationed at Fort Campbell.
“When it came to opening the academy, it was like giving back to the community, and not only that, I had a vested interest because my own children were training,” Bowen said. Now Bowen spends his days teaching Mariana and other children the non-striking arts of Judo, Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
For the Bowens, training together is a lifestyle. Both Mariana’s mother and father train, Mariana’s two older brothers are black belts in Judo, and her older sister is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
From age four, Mariana was competing in wrestling. At age six she began Judo and at age seven she won the Judo National Championship. Currently she is focusing on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She plans to earn her black belt in both Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and help other children train and compete. Recently Mariana won the 2018 Kids International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation Championship in Las Vegas, and she plans to continue competing at many other competitions in the future. “For Mariana, this is pretty much a way of life,” Bowen said.
“Mariana had a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu pro-match earlier this year, and it was really neat because she went out and competed and everyone loved her, and then when she went to change, she was in a dress, like a professional.” Bowen laughed. “All the other kids are putting on their Jiu-Jitsu T-shirts and then there’s Mariana in her dress. She’s my baby girl.”
As Mariana’s instructor as well as father, Bowen emphasizes hard-work. “The overall goal for their training each day is to be better than they were yesterday. Whether the improvement is mediocre or incredible, it’s the work you put in behind it that matters,” Bowen said. “We see greatness in our children, and we want them to always improve.”
Bowen teaches his classes as if he’s teaching his own kids. “We’re raising the next generation, so we have to do things right the first time,” Bowen said. Grappling-arts teach integrity and discipline, as without hard-work, trainees will never improve.
“My favorite thing about training is being able to protect myself,” Mariana said. During competitions, Mariana still gets a bit nervous, but she knows her opponent is nervous as well, and she uses those nerves to push her through the competition.
Bowen finds teachings in The Art of War by Sun Tzu and often uses what he reads to quote small life lessons at the end of his classes. “Be the champion of your own life,” Bowen said. “Do what makes you happy no matter how many medals you win.”