FEATURE1 August 2009

Double Lives – Gavin Mulholland

Researchers reveal how their out-of-hours pursuits impact on the 9 to 5. This month we meet Gavin Mulholland, who’s a director of Illuminas by day, and trains cage fighters by night.

?Tell us about your day job
I have been working in research for about 15 years having started as a consultant when I was a university lecturer in psychology and social communications. I am now a director at Illuminas and I’ve been here for about five years.

Tell us about your other life
In my other life I train cage fighters. For those who don’t know, these fights take place in an octagon cage with very few rules (back in the early days in the 1990s there were only two: no biting, no gouging). Unlike boxing the fighters are allowed to kick, elbow, knee and carry on fighting on the floor. Unlike wrestling, they are allowed to strike and punch on the ground and of course, stand up and carry on the fight from there. It’s becoming increasingly popular, with more and more TV stations starting to show an interest. One of my guys will fight for the British welterweight title this year which will be shown on Bravo.

Which came first?
Martial arts. I must have been training since I was about four years old.

How do you fit the two around each other?
The two don’t really clash. I work in the day and teach in the evening. If I need to work I can easily get one of the other black belts to cover for me.

Are you ever tempted to go and train fighters full time?
No. If I went full time my ‘students’ would become my ‘customers’ and then the dynamic would be all wrong. Plus if it was all I did it would bore me to tears.

What does training cage fighters offer you that research doesn’t?
I have always been very physical and struggle with long periods of physical inactivity. The cage fighting offers a complete change and access to a whole other area of your brain. It keeps me sane.

What does research offer you that training fighters doesn’t?
I cannot think of an industry I would rather be involved in. I enjoy the challenges we face and the mental agility required to deal with them. The uninitiated think we are just talking to people but nothing could be farther from the truth. My job is not to tell clients what people said, it’s to tell them what they didn’t say, what they should have said, and most importantly, what it means. It’s that intellectual and mental agility that really makes research special.

What does training fighters teach you that you can use in research?
I use a lot of ‘soft’ skills in research like observation and NLP. Our job is ultimately to know what other people are thinking and extrapolate from that into what they are going to do next. That has direct relevance to fight training.

What does research teach you that you can apply to training fighters?
Lack of fear and the knowledge that no challenge is too big. With the right tools and mindset, we can solve any problem.

What do your research colleagues say when you tell them about your other life?
Some look blank and others come to the fights. I’ve even had clients come along in the past.

What do your trainees say when you tell them you’re really a researcher?
In the martial arts you’re judged on what you can do. Everything else is irrelevant. In my class I have a Lloyds name standing next to a bouncer and current Ultimate Challenge Cage Fighting Heavyweight Champion of the World. There is no other situation where they would even meet, much less batter each other senseless then have a beer afterwards.

If you had to give up one of your two lives, which would it be?
That’s like asking me which I’d rather give up, my body or my brain. I’ll keep them both, thank you. Or I’ll fight you for them.