Debate: MMA for Kids
Mixed martial arts for kids is a hot debate now. MMA is a combination of grappling arts like Brazilian jujitsu, judo, wrestling and stand-up arts like Muay Thai, kickboxing, and karate. In an MMA match the goal is to knock out your opponent or make them submit. Bouts are fought in a cage. There are states in the U.S. that allow kids to fight in the cage, even at seven or eight years old. Videos of fights between kids under the age of ten without any head protection have appeared on YouTube, and with a drunk crowd going crazy in the background. In one video an eight year-old lifts another high off the ground and pile-drives him right down on his head and neck. Gyms around the U.S. are teaching MMA classes to kids as young as five.
The question is, should children be allowed to take part in this popular but potentially dangerous sport? If so, at what age is it safe to start?
The Pros of Kids Mixed Martial Arts
Kids have been doing amateur boxing for years, which involves repeated blows to the head, even though they wear headgear.
Kids play rugby, ice hockey, and gridiron, and some get concussions, even with headgear.
Other sports like motocross, snowboarding, gymnastics, or skateboarding have a higher injury record. Oddly enough, cheer-leading is one of the most dangerous activities in the world.
The lower knockout rates in MMA compared to boxing may help prevent brain injury in MMA events.
Cardiovascular fitness is enhanced through aerobics exercise, including jumping rope, sparring in the ring or running. Muscular conditioning is improved through calisthenics like push-ups and pull-ups or weight training, although weight training is not recommended for youngsters.
For self-defence skills MMA is one of the best things your child can learn. The combination of stand-up and ground fighting prepares the student for a real fight better than anything else.
Children don’t have to compete in MMA while learning it. Brazilian jujitsu and grappling competitions are held regularly and allow children to compete safely.
The Cons of Kids Mixed Martial Arts
Taking repeated blows to the head before a child’s brain is fully developed can cause problems. Even with headgear it is dangerous. Kids should not be punching each other in the face with full power.
Young children are rewarded for punching, kicking, twisting the limbs, and physically attacking one another. By regularly physically hurting others, a child can become more desensitised to their pain.
Severe dieting to make weight limits is not good for the body, especially for kids.
Some parents might make their kids fight whether they want to or not, if it were legal. Who will protect children from ignorant parents that wish to live vicariously through their kids?
If you start a fight career at nine years old, what condition will your body be in after ten years of being punched, choked, ground-and-pounded, having your joints hyper-extended and knocked out? Isn’t that when you should be starting your career, not finishing it?
A common criticism is that important things like respect, self-discipline, and courtesy are not being taught in mixed martial arts classes.
Is there a compromise?
A compromise is to teach MMA techniques and let kids practice it, but not fight competitively until they are at least 16 or 17. When the student turns 18, they can make their own decision.
Kids should be taught under the supervision of an experienced instructor who controls sparring or grappling (rolling) very closely. Any type of practice for competition or actual competition should have strict safety precautions.
Respect for others, self-discipline, and courtesy should be taught just like in traditional martial arts.
While training, the following rules should be enforced.
- #1. No elbows or knees allowed. No kicks to a downed opponent, including the body or legs.
#2. All fights should be limited to two rounds, two or three minutes each.
#3. Headgear and shin guards must be worn.
The important thing is that you and your child are comfortable and that the children are training in a safe environment under quality instructors.
Our martial arts for kids program in Sydney recently added teens MMA classes at selected locations. We went ahead with this due to popular demand. It is the fastest growing sport in the world, you cannot deny it. We have been teaching grappling and elements of Brazilian jujitsu since before 2000, so it was a natural to include it in our program.
What are your thoughts on this issue?
This is an original article by Sensei Matt Klein.