Should children learn mixed martial arts?

Feb 26 2011 - 10:42pm

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(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) Pat Reeves (right) shows Chance Willard the proper punch during a kids mixed martial arts class at West Side Jiu-Jitsu in Ogden.  Chance and his brother, Waylon, love to watch the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which is the only time they are allowed to stay up past their bedtime, says their mother. West Side Jiu-Jitsu offers one of the only kids mixed martial arts programs in the area.
(ERIN HOOLEY/Standard-Examiner) Pat Reeves (right) shows Chance Willard the proper punch during a kids mixed martial arts class at West Side Jiu-Jitsu in Ogden.  Chance and his brother, Waylon, love to watch the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which is the only time they are allowed to stay up past their bedtime, says their mother. West Side Jiu-Jitsu offers one of the only kids mixed martial arts programs in the area.

When the Karate Kid crane-kicked his opponent at the end of the 1984 movie, thousands of dojos sprang up across the country.

And, when the Ultimate Fighting Championships surpassed boxing in pay-per-view sales, martial arts gyms saw the potential.

"I just think that's where it's going," said Mark Johnson, a martial arts instructor.

"That is going to be the future of martial arts for a while."

For the past year, Johnson has offered a mixed martial arts class to children at his gym, West Side Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Ogden.

He was initially skeptical of adding MMA for children. But as he came home from work one day, he saw one child try to perform a guillotine choke on a playmate. The child performed the move incorrectly, but the attempt was there.

"You know, when we were kids we would slap box," Johnson says. "It wasn't WWE, it wasn't slap boxing, it was MMA."

The interest in mixed martial arts is there among children and, as the owner of a martial arts gym, Johnson said it is his duty to at least have the kids learn the moves correctly -- as well as understand the dangers of performing them on their friends.

"Our goal is not to make cage fighters out of kids," Johnson says, "I have no interest in that whatsoever, but to teach them to do it properly."

Jeremy Horn, an internationally recognized mixed martial artist, offers MMA classes to children at his Elite Performance gym in West Jordan. He is glad to see interest in the sport among children.

"It's good for kids," Horn said. "It gives them an outlet for their energy. It gives them something to focus on so they are not just standing around playing video games."

Because of the newness of the sport, there is not a set template on how to teach mixed martial arts, even to adults.

Many learn to combine skills they learned from other disciplines, such as wrestling and boxing.

Most gyms take the curriculum from an adult class and tailor it to children.

Horn teaches fundamentals and basics. Johnson, a high school teacher by trade, has a curriculum devised to measure a child's progress. His students cannot spar until they have learned a variety of techniques.

Dave Foley, owner of Foley's Mixed Martial Arts Training Center in Ogden, offers submission grappling, boxing and kickboxing separately for adults and children. Because he has had several MMA bouts, he mixes the disciplines for those who want to learn.

"We don't offer a class that is MMA for kids, but our kids practice MMA," Foley says.

So far, he finds that parents are wary of their children practicing straight mixed martial arts.

"Have you ever watched little kids' MMA?" Foley says. "It's not as acceptable to parents."

MMA gloves are smaller, and fighters hit each other while on the ground, so most instructors try to adjust lessons for younger practitioners. Competition will probably be different for children as well.

Dr. Stephen Graham, former team doctor for the New Mexico Scorpions minor league hockey team, said the dangers are no more than if a child participates in tae kwon do, football or hockey.

Although interest in the classes is growing, there currently are few venues where children can compete.

Johnson says competition serves as a teaching tool for the young practitioners who are eager to get in the ring.

"It's not us pushing it, it's the kids that have been training," Johnson says.

"If you practice for a marathon, you eventually want to run one."

Children learning MMA from the beginning instead of trying to mix different martial arts together will evolve the sport as well.

"The fights are going to reflect that," Horn said.

Although MMA might be the latest trend, people who want to learn martial arts can still look at other traditional styles that also offer fitness, and discipline and fit a student's personality.

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