Here at Bloody Elbow, we're all for mixed martial arts, Ultimate Fighting, cage fighting, combat sports, what have you. We want the sport regulated, safe and honorable but understand that it's a dangerous sport and that people will be hurt and yes, sometimes even killed. It's been a long fight, first to get the sport as safe as possible via rules and protective equipment and then to get regulation from athletic commissions around the country.
The fundamental premise behind acceptance of mixed martial arts is that the participants are adults who are making an informed decision to risk their health and safety. So what about kids training and even competing?
Jose Patino Girona of The Tampa Tribune has an in-depth piece on kids training MMA in Florida that is a must-read for anyone thinking about these issues. Here's an excerpt:
At Gracie Tampa, which teaches mixed martial arts, or MMA as it's commonly known, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, children made up 10 percent of the clientele in 2004.
Today, it's 50 percent and growing, said Rob Kahn, owner of three Gracie Tampa schools. Owners of other Tampa-area martial arts academies similarly report shifts of younger students from traditional disciplines like tae kwon do to mixed martial arts.
Jon Frank, president of the United States Fight League in California, said the growing interest that adults have in the sport has spread to children.
"Kids used to want to be baseball players, football players," Frank said. "Now they want to be MMA fighters."
"If you're a kid in school and you are a Little League player or an MMA fighter, who's cooler?" Frank asked. "It's the cool factor."
More from Patino plus my commentary after the jump...
Here's a key thing to note about kid's MMA, it's mostly training, not competition:
There are no sanctioned youth MMA fights - where the children use all disciplines at once - in Florida, Rodriguez said.
Last year, a tournament for children in Lakeland allowed opponents to strike while standing up, though no punches or kicks were allowed to the face. When they went to the ground, no punching or kicking was allowed, Rodriguez said. Each contestant wore head gear, mouth piece, thick gloves, shin guards and a groin cup for boys.
In tournaments, students usually compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, grappling, wrestling, amateur boxing and amateur kickboxing.
At Gracie Tampa, the youth advanced MMA class has sparring lessons once a week where students train at 50 percent and it includes a boxing round, a kickboxing round, a kickboxing with wrestling round and an MMA round, where students can use all disciplines, including Jiu-Jitsu. All students wear protective gear during the sparring sessions, Rodriguez said.
Personally I don't see where kids training MMA is any different from participating in wrestling, BJJ, or Golden Gloves boxing. However, the latest information about head trauma has led me to rethink any contact that includes blows to the head for kids under 16 and I'm not even sure about older High School students.
The key I think is to keep kid's MMA above ground, well regulated and organized.