Our children and MMA…Where are the lines?

Posted: November 15, 2010 in america, life, manliness, MMA, sports, women
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I‘ve recently been giving a lot of thought to children training and competing in mixed martial arts (MMA). I’ve asked a few parents and insiders what their opinions are. Surprisingly many are for the training aspect of the different disciplines at a very early age but don’t want their children in the danger associated with the sport of MMA. I have even spoken with a few parents who feel that their children would be safer and ultimately better served, character wise, to train in martial arts than to pursue traditional contact sports like football or hockey. This is not meant to be a purely persuasive argument for children in MMA but more so as an informational source to help parents and society in general better understand the sport and its parts (Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, Boxing, Muay Thai, and Judo) before they demonize it.

(A shot from a youth class @ Dauntless Practical Martial Arts in DE.)

As with anything else relating to the rapidly expanding sport of MMA it has its pros, cons, and more than its share of detractors. More often than not these nay sayers are ignorant about the sport. They see the cage and the blood and their mind is made up. “Journalists” write articles like this piece on DailyLobo.com. I don’t write about fashion, figure skating, competitive cheer leading, ballroom dancing, ballet, or cervical cancer NOT only because all of them have nothing to do with American Manliness but mainly cause I don’t know a thing about it except that I don’t like it. Therefore I keep my lips firmly sealed. Some people are inclined to see MMA and take it at face value…

…these denouncers of all things violent only see the blood. They refuse to see the hard work, self discipline, and mutual respect involved in the sport. Most of them do not even know what MMA is. They know it as ultimate fighting or cage fighting, as it’s described in this horribly biased 2008 article from MSNBC NBC Sports. I’m not going to paint a sailboat on calm seas and tell you that MMA is the safest and best sport for people to participate in or that our children should or shouldn’t participate. I agree with some of the statements made in the aforementioned article, although no quote came with any context. Administrator of the Oklahoma Professional Boxing Commission, Joe Miller was quoted as saying,

“There’s too much potential for damage to growing joints,”

but there is no context and the quote used isn’t even a complete sentence. I agree that the danger to a child’s body is much greater than that of adults. I don’t think that there should be full contact bouts between 8 year olds but at the same time I do feel that training in the martial arts at such a young age helps to build character and a stern mindedness within our youth that is missing from our society today. The respect and self-confidence that is instilled through martial arts is a universal attribute that all kids need. Of course martial arts are not the only paths to having respectful and confident well mannered children, but it is an option. We, as Americans, have sent our children, myself included, to Karate and Tae Kwon Do classes at these ages for decades. I remember being 7 years old in Tae Kwon Do with full contact sparring. There were, of course, safety precautions taken such as head gear, mouth piece, shin and foot pads, and a padded flak jacket for rib and organ protection. If that was safe for me in 1992 then 18 years later what is the difference in allowing our children to do the same thing in other disciplines of martial arts?

In my home town of Memphis, TN there are multiple martial arts training facilities that offer youth classes. One of the more prominent gyms in the area offering a youth program is Memphis Judo & Jiu-Jitsu. The Judo/Jiu-Jitsu program they offer is for ages 5-12 both male and female. When I spoke with an instructor he described the classes as focused on technique and discipline while serving to keep the kids active and healthy as BJJ is a great exercise. The drills are converted into a game format that helps to keep the kids interested and motivated. The children are paired together by size to keep the activities both fair and safe. Advanced (dangerous) joint locks like Americanas, Heel Hooks, or Omoplatas nor strikes are taught with the kids to prevent injury to their under-developed skeletal structure.  Their site describes the classes as:

The Judo & Jiu-Jitsu student learns: focus, goal setting, goal achieving, dealing with aggression without over reacting, rolls, falls, throws, pins, escapes, positional control, ground grappling and more. Best of all, Judo and Jiu-Jitsu provides an opportunity for fun, fellowship, thinking and exercising–all at the same time!

There are other gyms that don’t institute the strikeless, free-form learning technique that Memphis Judo & Jiu-Jitsu, opting instead for a more direct training method. Gyms such as Mantis Boxing Factory in McAllen, TX, operated by Shifu Israel Flores, takes a graduated approach starting as young as 3 years old.  The 3 -5 year old classes are focused on improving motor skills such as balance and coordination while teaching “age appropriate self-defense”. The class also promotes life skills such as self-discipline, respect, and sharing. In the 6 – 13 classes the students begin to train in “complete self-defense” and  Mantis Boxing or “Ultimate Weapons training”. Next is a video of Shifu Flores presiding over a sparring match between a 7 and 8 year old students.

Even with all the padding and the trainer over watch is this too much? Similarly, is this video from a 2008 Pankration tournament show senseless violence or spirited competition?

So, again, I ask of you…Where are the lines when our children and MMA  cross? I have provided opinion and shared sources for training. If you are interested please contact your local gym and talk with the instructors. Maybe just sit in on a class and make a judgement for yourself. Maybe these ages are too young. There are high school MMA clubs. Would you allow your children to participate in that?

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