Two people, battling it out in a 28-foot cage, punching and kicking as screaming fans cheer them on. No, it’s not an Ultimate Fighting Championship match, it’s the increasingly popular sport for kids—mixed martial arts cage fighting.
All across the country, 3.2 million boys and girls age 6 to 13 are participating in a surprising sport that’s picking up steam, mixed martial arts, or Pankration. Fueled by the popularity of Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), mixed martial arts for children has actually been in existence for roughly 11 years, though it recently gained media attention when a mother posted her child’s match on YouTube.
At first glance, the sport seems brutal and barbaric in nature, but parents contend that like karate, mixed martial arts provide their children with important lessons in discipline and self-control. However, some MMA instructors disagree, like Valhala ETC Head Instructor Michael MacDonald.
“Most people find it ironic that while I support children learning MMA, I do not recommend that children actually participate in MMA events,” MacDonald tells MommyNoire.
“I have always thought it would be better for kids to begin their training in traditional martial arts like tae kwon do, judo, jiu-jitsu, or an art like that,” adds MMA Zone owner Tony Hackerott. “The traditional arts focus heavily on discipline and respect, which is lacking in a lot of MMA training.”
Although they say that MMA may not be suitable for children, both MacDonald and Hackerott feel that the sport is getting a bad rap.
“Children learning MMA is no more dangerous than bike riding, gymnastics, wrestling, tae kwon do, football, or soccer,” says MacDonald, who claims that there are fewer injuries to children who participate in mixed martial arts activities than other, more traditional youth sports, an argument with which biomedical engineer Geoffrey Thor Desmoulin disagrees.
The United States Fight League’s rules prohibit children from striking one another in the head, but as a specialist in human trauma, Desmoulin warns that there is still a great risk for kids to suffer concussions and other injuries.
“The brain has a similar consistency as tofu,” Desmoulin explains, “and when you visualize that tofu being stored inside a rigid container made with undulations and ridges, it becomes easier to understand just how easily traumatic brain injury and concussion can occur.”
How do you determine if mixed martial arts is appropriate for your child?
“My advice to most parents is quite simple,” says MacDonald. “Make sure you make a decision out of education, not ignorance.”
MacDonald and other instructors encourage parents to talk to others who have children participating in the activity, and observe a few classes, being sure to notice how the instructor conducts the sessions. Is there order or is there chaos? And regardless of which style your child studies, the emphasis should be on character development, not fighting.
“Even as a coach I find myself squeamish watching children go at each other so intently,” MacDonald admits, “but the smiles, bonding, and character development that comes out [of] such an activity always wins me over.”
Would you let your son or daughter participate in mixed martial arts cage fighting?