The nation is seeing an increase in fighting among kids, and their parents are encouraging it. Already boasting a strong following among high school participants, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) classes have drawn more than 3 million children under the age of 13 across the country. While pro MMA organizations like the Ultimate Fighting Championship have given the sport a reputation for no-holds-barred blood baths, it's also gaining acceptance as an athletic discipline, spurred in great part by its preteen participants.
Classes do teach kids to hit, kick and grapple, at a level appropriate for their age, but they also offer many of the same benefits kids get from participating in any other sport. "It's not about fighting," says Jonathan Burke, owner of The VI Levels MMA gym in Ocoee, Fla. "It's about getting in great physical shape, improving your mental focus and discipline."
Moreover, MMA, built in part on the principles of various martial arts disciplines, teaches kids how to defend themselves. "There's such a problem with kids being bullied these days," says Jake Brennan, an instructor at GymX in Waco, Texas. "MMA gives them that boost of confidence to know they're alright walking around school."
The boost of confidence may do more to prevent bullying than the actual defensive skills taught. "Bullies tend to pick on people who are victims," explains Chris Conolley, owner of Spartan Fitness in Hoover, Ala. "These kids carry themselves different, they have the confidence to deal with someone messing with them."
Even so, the classes are a comfort for parents, who know their children have been trained not just physically to be able to protect themselves but also given the mental discipline to discern when it is appropriate to do so. Among those who train at Burke's gym are the sons of MLB's Prince Fielder, who hopes to prevent them from becoming victims of bullying. "It happened to me as a kid, and it happens to them as well," says Fielder.
The sport is not without its risks, but no sport is. Concussions or other injuries are a concern, but perhaps the greatest objection is that children will use their skills in inappropriate ways.
"I can't guarantee they won't be a bully," says Burke, "but I can guarantee that the way we present the information, we're going to make bullying look so bad, they're going to be ashamed to be associated with that word."
A study by researchers at UCLA found that a physical education program that places fitness equipment in underserved schools and implements a curriculum based on boosting confidence and making fitness participation more enjoyable dramatically increases students’ performance on California’s standardized physical fitness test.
No Sign of CrossFit Boom Abating
Jenn Murzyn opened her gym, CrossFit Athletics, in the South Side in 2010 when only a handful of gyms in the area were practicing the workout program founded 15 years ago in Northern California. read more
Keys to Success for Corporate Wellness Programs
Most business health care insurance models are designed around helping employees pay for checkups and immunizations, and covering the huge costs of major health events that put employees in the hospital or keep them off work. read more
Duke Football Alum Opens Youth Sports Training Center
Something's missing in youth sports in Durham, former Duke football player Desmond Scott said. He said he'll fill in the blanks. "I honestly believe that as far as middle school and high school athletics, the teaching of the sport and weightlifting are not there. read more
Obstacle Race Involves Flipping Tires, Tossing Footballs
Flipping tires, walking on balance beams, crossing monkey bars, scaling walls. Sound like fun? How about dribbling basketballs, sprinting with soccer balls or tossing footballs? There's a race coming to Naperville that incorporates all of these obstacles, sports and more into one event — the Varsity Rush family fitness challenge. read more
Jedi Training: Star Wars Workouts Hit Gyms, Studios
Shawn Crosby grew a beard to look more like Obi-Wan Kenobi, and once a week, he swings a lightsaber like the Jedi master brandishes in "Star Wars." His battle, Wednesday nights at an Anaheim park, may not be as cosmic as Obi-Wan's with Darth Vader, but Crosby's heart rate spikes nonetheless. read more