Last weekend in Burnaby (a suburb of Vancouver, Canada), an MMA tournament was held by Western Canadian Martial Arts Championship, which allowed participating children to engage in "ground and pound." The organizers created a new division which allowed youngsters to be hit in the head while on the ground, despite existing rules prohibiting it. The current rules allow for children to hit each other in the head, but only while on the feet. If this sounds dangerous to you, it is, despite the children wearing headgear. Chris Franco, owner of Vancouver’s Franco Kickboxing-Pankration gym, was a coach during the event and he had to step in to stop a couple of the fights:
“There was one child who is 95 pounds competing against another child who was 150 pounds,” Franco said. “They were both 12 years old, but I stopped the match because I thought the [smaller] boy might be snapped in half.
“One of my students, who is a seven-year-old girl, had a bigger boy on her in what is called a mount position. The referee wasn’t stopping it and the boy just kept hitting her in the head.”
Franco, who has coached martial arts for more than 20 years, said he stopped the fight before the girl was hurt because he believed there was potential for severe injury.
“She was very feisty and competitive, but the boy was on top throwing hooks, which caused me concern. Her mother was watching, and looked concerned,” Franco said.
While Don Whitefield, who organizes the new division and is an MMA coach, said in an email that the new rules were better and safer:
“In the past during this tournament ... there always was lots of blood on the mat and it was not safe,” Whitefield wrote. “The only problem I can think of was that some poor-fitting head gear [could slip] and impair the vision when clinching and grappling, since some parents hope their kids ... grow into the gear rather than buying properly fit gear.”
I would have to vehemently disagree with this assertion. Joe Ferraro, from MMA Connected on Rogers Sportsnet, agrees:
“I personally don’t condone children grounding and pounding each other in tournaments,” Ferraro told The Vancouver Sun. “That’s something that has to be taught and learned, and your body has to get conditioned to that. You don’t throw somebody learning how to play hockey straight into a bodychecking system. They have to learn how to skate first.”
I have to take issue with servaral things that went on at the tornament.
1) Adding ground and pound to the rules does not make it safer, in my opinion. It's like adding more ways to hit people in Hockey. Adding more ways to damage someone more does not make a competition "safer."
2) Two children, one 95 pounds and another at 150 pounds, despite the same age, should not be competing together. That's like throwing a lightweight in with a heavyweight.
3) Children should only be point fighting. Adding ways to dammage each other is not how kids should be competing.
If it were up to me, there would be absolutely no strikes to the head either standing or on the ground. A child would get points for strikes to the body, takedowns, positional control, guard passing, and submissions, which are okay by me so long as the ref is keenly aware of what is going on. The focus should be on aggression, control and position and not on damage. So basically how Jake Shields fights. :D
The parents also have to take some blame for this. While I personally would allow any future children of mine to train in various aspects of MMA, I take issue with parents willing to put their children into such a tournament where direct damage can be done. Children's bodies, especially their brains, are still developing and are not yet full formed (some adults aren't fully formed either, but that's a different issue). Children are worlds away from being consenting adults, and I question whether they realize just what kind of harm they are putting themselves in. It is up to the parents, as well as the organizers, to make sure the children are protected. And for crying out loud, what cheap parent buys a child headgear that doesn't fit? If a child has headgear that doesn't fit, they should not be allowed to compete.
For the record:
Paul Lazenby, senior instructor at Franco Kickboxing-Pankration, a Vancouver MMA school, and a former Canadian kickboxing champion, is a founding member of MMA B.C., which oversees some amateur events to make sure the athletes are safe.
Last weekend’s tournament was not sanctioned by MMA B.C. Events and schools are overseen only if they opt into the association, Lazenby said.