Four-time defending, undefeated, mixed martial arts UFC champion Frank Shamrock’s life is one of redemption and grace. Abused as a little boy, locked regularly in the closet and shuffled from foster and group homes, this abandoned child was rapidly spiraling down a path of destruction. Even after a stint in Juvenile Hall and becoming a ward of the state, Shamrock’s life didn’t turn around until he was sent to Shamrock Boys Ranch where he learned structure, rules, and a father’s love. The founder of the ranch ended up adopting him and helped turn his trauma into triumph.
A true warrior at heart, Shamrock clung to the Lord for strength and chose to surrender to God’s will. He went from survival mode to conquering almost every mixed martial arts title in existence including “Fighter of the Decade” and earning “Fighter of the Year” three times. Shamrock was responsible for launching Strikeforce, bringing his fighting style to the American Kickboxing Academy, and is the ambassador for the Single Parents Alliance of America. He also founded Shamrock MMA and The Shamrock Way. The talented fighter sat down with Risen to share more about his childhood, restoration with his UFC Hall of Fame fighting brother, Ken Shamrock, and his personal faith.
Interviewed Exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Your childhood consisted of abandonment, abuse, and inconsistency. At the age of 13 you were sent to Shamrock Boys Ranch.Please share a little bit about your early years and the events that led you to the ranch?
Frank Shamrock: My mom grew up in a rural area without much education so she was more of a survivalist than a parenting type. When I was a kid I had these emotional problems. I was always seeing the school therapist and they were trying to figure out why I was so frustrated, upset and angry. My mom, I believe, was locked in a closet [as a child by her mom], so she figured the best way to calm this young athletic man down was to lock him in a closet. I never knew that getting locked in the closet was wrong and that it was causing me anxiety, frustration and anger.
When I was eleven years old, I was arrested for the first time, and taken to jail for throwing rocks at a train – it’s a felony in California and apparently is very dangerous. As part of my sentence I had to do ten days in Juvenile Hall. That was the first time I was out of my home and out of my very tight little circle. I talked to the other kids, inquiring about their home lives and telling them about how I was locked in the closet and other things. And these [delinquent] kids were telling me how bad my life was. It was the first time I realized that there was something probably bad about my life. I thought it was normal and how everyone lived.
I saw a series of counselors and they all told me the same thing, “If you keep getting into trouble they’re going to take you out of your home and you’re going to lose it all.” To me, that was my way out. I took that as a lesson to break the law until I was gone. By the time I was twelve I was already a ward of the state. I’d stood up in court and said I didn’t want to go home, I’d rather be a ward of the state.
What I remember most is how I always felt fearful, nervous and like I had to protect myself. I was always very much trying to not get hurt; just survive. I went to at least three or four places after Juvenile Hall and before ending up in the Shamrock Boys Ranch.
RM: Bob Shamrock, who founded the non-profit and took in at-risk boys between 13 and 16 years old, adopted you. How did he and the programs at the Shamrock Boys Ranch change your life?
FS: He was my first real father-figure, he was a Christian, and he had rules. If you followed them, you were rewarded, and if you didn’t you were disciplined. It totally made sense. He tried to make his ranch a family. It was the first time I was exposed to a real family dynamic; a healthy one. It instantly set me free. It allowed me to start growing as a person and I totally blossomed. I could feel the difference in what it was doing for me. And I don’t know if Bob was really even that aware. I think he was just being a good father. I was very drawn to him and it instantly made everything better; it made my heart feel better.
It was pretty hard [to take down walls and accept his love] in the beginning. He was consistent. It was always you do this, this happens. And when it happened, it was real. I was also very sensitive and emotional as a child. My mom was not that loving [nurturing] person, that intimate hugger. It was a pat on the back and go do your thing. When people showed me love I really received it because I didn’t have it a lot.
RM: Not everyone who gets adopted changes their name. When Bob adopted you, you chose to change your last name from Juarez to Shamrock. Was the name change a conscious decision or made for you? Bob also adopted another son Ken, who became your brother, also changing his name. What did it mean to you to be a “Shamrock”?
FS: It meant so much to me and was such a big deal [to become a Shamrock] because [before that] I didn’t know who I was. Other than God, I had nothing. I was always just alone. But then I had a real family, a real dad. I built my whole life and everything from that. So, when he said, “Do you want to be a Shamrock?” I was like, “Well, yeah of course!” That to me was what it was about.
I was very proud of having Bob as a father and having the name. I never knew my dad; he never showed up. So, having a name, and no dad, had no value and just made things worse. Bob was the dad I wanted to have, so it was a big honor and I was very proud [to take his last name]. And I think he was very proud too because he couldn’t have kids on his own. So, he was on this journey as well to heal his heart.
It was the first time I was exposed to a real family dynamic; a healthy one. It instantly set me free.
RM: Bob encouraged both you and your brother into a career in fighting with UFC. Did you take to the sport immediately or did it grow on you? How did you feel when you were fighting and how did your passion develop?
FS: It grew on me. Unlike my brother, I was not a confrontational type of guy. I didn’t like it. As a child I didn’t like that feeling of fear and anxiety I would get when I was locked in the closet, it was something I always struggled with. In fact, I fought for a couple of years as a professional before coming to grips with it. I would let people exhaust themselves trying to beat me up. I would make them tired instead of hurting them. Which sounds completely insane when you’re a professional fighter [laughter]. I would just feel terrible about it. But my brother didn’t have the same feelings, he was saddled with other feelings. We differed in that way.
RM: Why did you continue fighting professionally if you struggled with the practicality of it?
FS: I didn’t know what else to do and I didn’t have anything else; that was it. When I was a kid laying in my closet I would dream of becoming a world champion. I would dream of having power and accolades. But it was an impossible dream until one day when God put Bob in my world. Bob said, “If you do this… you can do this…” But then I had to do it.
[My passion developing] actually came down to survival again. In my first real “no rules” type of fight I didn’t break the guy’s arm or leg, I stopped short from the final blow. It cost me a lot of money and I got beat up pretty good. I had a long talk with God and asked, “Why am I out here swinging a sword and it’s not even sharp? What am I doing? This doesn’t make any sense.” And God clarified my mission. I know what I’m doing, I’m just not doing it. I’m not really swinging the sword; I’m living in this other fear. I had to step up, face it, deal with it, and then go back out there. I felt bad about hurting people, but I knew that it was my job so I just did it.
To me fighting does one of the most amazing things in the world, it literally bears your soul. Everything you’ve done, and believe in, all comes out when you are faced with defeat, your own destruction, and fear. Your real heart and soul come out. Those who are faithful, believed, prayed and have been with God, they are always triumphant and those that are not, are not triumphant. You learn right away and you connect with those who believe along the journey.
RM: Throughout your career, you have emerged as a MMA champion, been named “Fighter of the Decade” and are known as one of the greatest combative sports practitioners in the world… but it didn’t come easy. Share a little bit about your journey to the top which includes some broken relationships within your own family, and even at one point you leaving the country to develop your MMA style?
FS: The family was tough because as we gathered fame and other things it became a lot harder to focus on what was important in the family relationship. We came together as a family but each one of us had our brokenness. Ken and I didn’t speak for about fifteen years. It was a long, long time. My dad didn’t want to pick sides. He didn’t know how to deal with the separation in the family and we didn’t know either. So we did nothing, but allow for [the drama] to play out in the media, which made everything worse. That’s the hard part about achieving fame.
Once you get past survival, and you get into plentiful, then what do you do with these blessings? What does it all mean? We struggled. I just tried to stay on a good course and keep doing what I thought was right in training, studying and teaching. I believed part of my journey was to figure out this martial arts thing. I was a crazy super-nerd athlete guy which allowed me to do whatever I wanted with my life. I thought if I could figure out cage fighting then I could figure anything out. I just focused on it and tried to impact the world through mind, body and spirit. It was a larger message of wellness, focus, and caring for yourself. I took my dad’s Christian principles and put it in my martial arts style. It was amazingly successful. I literally figured the sport out and everyone else took the blueprint of what I did and expanded on it. And it ended up doing what I wanted it to do, which was to change the world through sports. The perception of it and the ideas behind it.
RM: You have fought your brother numerous times in the ring, and had your own battles outside as well. What does your relationship look like today?
FS: It’s actually pretty good, we’re doing really well. We never officially fought. We tried to a bunch of times and for years we thought that was the only way we’d figure it out. We thought we’d make a ton of money, but it got too weird so we gave it up.
He was the first person to teach me and train me. He was a superior athlete; he would just beat me down. I was like, “Oh, no this is terrible.” [laughter]. Everyone wondered what would happen if we did fight, especially when I got to be really good. I’m kind of glad it didn’t happen because it would have just made everything even more weird.
RM: How does faith enter into your story? When were you first introduced and how has what you believe played a role in your in your career and within your personal life?
FS: I remember reading the Bible when I was very young. My mom grew up in a Christian community, so I remember reading all the literature because I loved to read. I started reading at a very young age and had this understanding and idea of God and Heaven. But they were just pictures and stories in books [to me]. The really interesting thing that happened to me was that each of the foster/group homes that I went to were religious based. The first one was Christian Science. They had a whole new set of books, so I read the books and I was amazed at twelve years old. Then the next one was Catholic and they had a whole other different style going on, so I read their books. As I learned more they were just stories next to stories. But to this day I believe what I read when I was a little boy about Christ walking this earth, that He came here to give His life for us and create this bridge – to me that’s the journey. I’ve seen so much in my life and I really believe at the absolute core it comes down to God living in your heart and how you [choose] to live.
RM: How have you seen God take what was meant for evil and turn it into good within your life?
FS: Oh, my goodness! I’ve seen miracles, the biggest blessings, and the darkest of hearts accept God’s love. I’ve seen people put their life on the line and survive. I’ve faced death three times, maybe four. He saved me. There’s no reason for me to be here, or that I should have survived the cage fighting or other horrible things. It’s just ridiculous to think I did this. God tells me where to go and I go there, I do my best and then He rewards me. That’s it. I’m involved in this crazy national scandal with bullying right now and God is leading me through it. It’s so hard, sensitive, and challenging and I have no idea what to do. I just pray and then He prompts me what to say.
I’ve seen miracles, the biggest blessings, and the darkest of hearts accept God’s love. I’ve seen people put their life on the line and survive.
RM: In 2013, your documentary, Frank Shamrock: Bound by Blood was released on Spike. What was the purpose of this film? Why was it important to you to tell your story?
FS: I wrote a book on my life called Uncaged. As a kid, I read these books and stories about athletes and then I lived that journey. I realized that after reading those books, most of those guys are lying. [Laughter] Most of those guys had someone write this great story about their lives and I know most of them and realized that most of it wasn’t true. Then I realized that I was so affected by these stories that I decided to write a story that is real and that can really affect and help people. I thought God would help me do that in a super compelling story that would also sell well, make money and everything else. It took me [several] years to create the whole thing but when I did, it became this compelling coming-of-age story that was very modern and real.
When it came out people were blown away and I was overwhelmed with responses. I thought, “Wow, I could do this on film and it would be much bigger,” especially for the guys who are uninterested in reading. I wanted to find some way to reach them. When I realized that the film was going to happen I really began to think, “What is the most powerful thing we could do with the film. What is the message?” I realized I had to heal my [relationship] with Ken, and find my homeless brother. God was like, “You need to go find him.” So, I was like, “Oh, we gotta do this guys…” [Laughter] I can just imagine the production guys thinking how crazy I am. But it all fell into this story and the story ended up becoming very impacting.
RM: You have a heart to give back and recognize the importance of pouring into others – whether that be teaching MMA or self-defense classes back at the Shamrock Boys Ranch, in fact just last year (2016), you launched a MMA program for single parents through Single Parents Alliance of America. What was your vision for this program?
FS: I just realized that I could reach more people. I’m finding these new mediums with technology. I woke up one day, was praying, and realized how blessed I was to be able to basically take the last eight years off and spend every day with my daughter. I could intimately teach her what a man, what a dad, looked like and other things that will save her life. Then I was teaching her marital arts without really even knowing it. I was teaching her these drills and games. Then in my morning prayer I realized that nobody gets to do this, literally nobody. Every dad goes to work, nobody gets to just hang out all day and teach secret martial arts to their children. And I thought we need to share it, we need to find a way.
Literally the next day God brought a guy into my life, James. He’s the President of the Single Parents Alliance of America and he asked what I was up to and I told him what I wanted to do and he said, “We can shoot tomorrow. I have seven million single parents waiting for this message.” I said, “Come on, let’s go!” That’s how it started.
I remember [when I was a kid] we didn’t have money, we couldn’t afford it and [even] if we could there were four kids, so one could go and the others would have to stay home. There just weren’t the resources. But with technology I can shoot it in my backyard and seven million moms can say, “Come here Joey let me show you this, Mr. Shamrock’s showing fun games today,” and can have a bonding, human, loving experience as well as learn something very valuable that they then can translate into action.
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