Kiddie MMA© Lauren Greenfield
Despite being called a sport of “human cockfighting” by Senator John McCain and being banned in the state of New York, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has grown into a $3.5 billion dollar industry since its introduction into the United States in 1993. The fast growing sport has gained wide popularity amongst males aged 18-34 through pop culture, fight nights, and reality shows and is quickly growing amongst children. What Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather did for the sport of boxing, Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Georges St. Pierre and Royce Gracie have done for MMA, whilst becoming household names and idolizedyoung boys wanting to be them when they grow up.
Guillotine choke, flying knee, arm bar, triangle choke, hammerlock, rear naked choke, neck crank, and Superman punch are some of the common techniques used in the combat sport. Wearing minimally padded gear and fought in a cage, which is referred to as the octagon, the sport uses a combination of striking sports, such as boxing, kickboxing, karate, taekwondo, and kung fu, and grappling sports such as jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and judo, to subdue an opponent. What many consider to be the ultimate sport of masculinity, it is also known to transform lives, empower woman and children, and help troubled youth.
At VI Levels gym in Ocoee, Florida, classes are taught to children as young as four and a half years old. With the ever-present fear of bullying, more and more parents are turning to MMA for protection of their children. As controversial as teaching MMA to a four-year-old sounds, Jonathon Burke, owner of the gym, approaches the training for youth as “a way of life and philosophy to live by.” Children learn the skill sets of MMA in a very technical and controlled way, teaching them discipline, focus, confidence, and self-esteem, which has affected their lives both inside and outside
One such twelve-year-old boy that has been transformed is Dominic. Adopted, raised by a single mother and autistic, MMA has helped with his self-control, confidence, and his ability to follow directions and listen. Dominic’s mother enrolled him in MMA classes because of the social and listening aspect of the sport. At first, she thought Dominic, would be to wild for the coaches to handle. Four and a half years later, Dominic has blossomed and VI Levels gym has become “like family” to him, with Coaches John and Ryan becoming key role models to him.
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