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."

Emily Attwood is Editor of Athletic Business.
avatar
Just like other disciplines of martial art, this is a great confidence booster. However, I am hoping that a great deal of focus is spent on self control when teach kids about this sport. Self control on and off the mat. Anger can turn anyone into a monster if that person is not thought well. Just saying!
avatar
I grew up practicing multiple martial arts including folk style wrestling, Karate, Judo and have a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and took 4th at the Tae Kwon Do World Championships when I was in 8th Grade. I saw multiple examples in the video in this article of inappropriate contact. In multiple cases kids threw wild punches to the back of the head. At least once a kid was kicked in the crotch. Based on what I saw in this video, I would absolutely disagree that these children are trained well enough to participate in this activity without causing undue harm. We are only just learning how hurtful micro-trauma is. I saw plenty of it in this video. I was safely trained from the age of six to perform as an elite martial artist without ever hurting someone or being hurt myself during my training.

Also, does Conolley have any evidence to support his claim: 'Bullies tend to pick on people who are victims'?
avatar
It seems to me that a more appropriate sport in this end would be folk-style wrestling.

Make each day your masterpiece!

Ted Browne
Chief StoryTeller
Beyond Athletic Life Lessons ('BALL')
Ass't Baseball Coach
Vanguard University of Southern California
BALL Blog: www.GoToBALL.org (blog)
Ball Facbook Page (click here)
www.facebook.com/pages/Beyond-Athletic-L...ns-BALL/445818100634
avatar
Self-defense (anti-bullying) starts and ends with:

www.graciekids.com/

No other conversation is needed.
avatar
Agree with mark

www.graciekids.com/

Is the right strategy to 'bullyproof' your kid. Most great MMA fighters have mastered one art (ex. wrestling,boxing), and transitioned to another art.

The idea of learning all styles at once leads to not getting good at any one style. Similar to how crossfit attempts to make one good at various fitness modalities.