Promoted from the FanPosts by Kid Nate.
There aren't too many things in MMA that get me riled up to have them stopped. Maybe a bad ref, bad judging, or what have you, but for the most part, I'm not trying to start any movements. I like MMA in the state that it's in: growing.
But today, when a fully organized fight between two six-year-old boys in Armenia was brought to my attention, I got a little flustered, though not at first. It looked harmless enough. There was a strangely official feel to the fight as it went on. In a way, the "fight" was downright adorable.
But that got me thinking. What would happen if that boy held a choke a little too long? Surely some Joe Schmo who was hired to officiate a child's MMA fight could stop a fight way too late, it's happened to some of the best refs in legitimate MMA competitions. To a child's developing body, they certainly should not be taking unnecessary trauma, no matter how little it may be. At the very least, the children should wear protective equipment, even though that wouldn't help them in all cases.
I'm all for children being involved in sports where injury is not an intent. I also think that the practice of martial arts is great for youth. Let's not lie to ourselves though, MMA is a sport where damage is of utmost importance. Is that really a mindset to put in a child's head? I don't like how modern society tends to coddle children, but pushing them to fight is a polar opposite that I also disagree with.
Kids fight sometimes. It's what they do. But as sport? What is the point of that? A broken leg received after a kid who accidentally tackles you too hard is very different from a broken leg you got from a kid who's parents coached him through it.
Here are a few instances of youth MMA other than the Armenian fight I mentioned above:
What I took from this video:
-Limited Contact*: In other videos I saw, it seemed clear that the children were not allowed to hit their opponent in the head. Here, there appeared to be one strike that hit the head at the beginning, but the rest were aimed at the body or the legs.
-Skill: The combatants knew basics while standing up. Distance, timing, combos, all to an extent. They also knew more "advanced" techniques on the ground, as evidenced by the leg lock as opposed to a standard guillotine or rear naked choke. Them displaying some knowledge of the sport is somewhat comforting, as it probably means those "officiating" are knowledgeable to some extent as well.
-Respect: The child who won was very respectful to his opponent after their bout. That was at least somewhat comforting to see.
-Misc.: The kid staying on the ground after the leg lock was concerning. He was able to stand up and walk though, so the injury probably wasn't serious. However, being a fan of MMA, I know all too well what a leg lock can do if held on to for too long. This bout was held under regulated FILA Pankration rules. You can find these rules here.
What I took from this video:
-Limited contact: They seemed to only be allowed to hit to the body. They did seem to punch the body with all they could though.
-Variety of ages: There were kids that appeared to range from anywhere from 5-13 years old. Towards the older end of that spectrum, this is still unacceptable. The two youngest in this video, however, were far too young to be engaging in fights without padding or protective equipment, and how anyone can dispute that (or how their parents can allow it) is beyond me.
-Mismatches: Boys fighting girls is unacceptable. Also, the size difference between the tall child and the short blonde child should not be allowed to happen.
-Lack of skill: These kids clearly had no training at all. They were for the most part very uncoordinated and clearly had no basic skills. They swung body punches with reckless abandon. The ground techniques were very basic and fundamentally flawed. You could tell that some have watched MMA fights by going for armbars and triangles, but they were not executing them properly and their opponents clearly had no clue of defense.
-Misc.: This was outrageous to me. The lack of skill showed that they were not at all familiar with the sport, and that their parents put them in the ring for no apparent reason. At least with the other video they had some semblance of actual training, here they are essentially fighting with no knowledge of how. This leads me to believe that the parents are also uninformed and if a dangerous position were to come about they would be unprepared.
What I got from this video:
-Full contact: They were throwing hard shots at one another, targeting all parts of the body. There were even head kicks here and there.
-Skill: Like the first video, these kids were trained to some extent. They seemed to each have knowledge of stand up and grappling.
-Crowd/Venue: This appears to be taking place at some school gym, and it drew a crowd. I have no idea how this was allowed to happen. They have minimal padding and are clearly pretty young. This looked like it may have been staged at a jiu jitsu tournament, because near the end you can see two men in gi's grappling on the bottom corner of the frame.
-Misc.: I can't be sure what age these kids are, but my guess would be around 10-12 years old. At that age, minimal padding is not nearly enough when your opponent can throw head kicks with bad intentions. The bout seemed to be a pretty big mismatch. Also, this appears to have been from 2009, so it's been going on a while. It said this was part of a tournament, and I wouldn't put it past these people to have children fight multiple times on the same day, which even grown adults are not allowed to do.
What I took from this video:
-Full contact: This was pretty much treated as a regular MMA fight. Strikes allowed to all areas, grappling, etc.
-Skill: The combatants clearly have been put through training. They don't exhibit any kind of amazing skill, but are clearly familiar with the sport.
-Misc.: This event seems just like any regional show. Except for the fact that the winner (he's the only one described in the video's description) is only 13 years old. Adolescence is a delicate time for a growing human body. It is a stage of mental and physical development, and in a sport like MMA, physical trauma is the norm. Injuries sustained in training and fights can potentially be worse than those in other popular sports such as baseball, football, and soccer. Here are findings after a study done on adolescent athletes in 2009, courtesy of the National Athletic Trainers' Association:
According to a new study, developing an understanding of the overall effects of injury in adolescents is important for several reasons. First, injuries from sports participation may lead to dropout from physical activity. Second, poorly managed physical injuries may lead to osteoarthritis and other significant and disabling long-term health problems. Lastly, the consequences of injury may influence areas of the adolescent’s life outside of athletic activities.
It has been said before that in MMA, major injuries are less common than in many other sports. However, in most competitive MMA fights, you will sustain damage, be it to your bones, your brain, or your other organs. In a sport like American Football, the intent is not to hurt, it is to execute a play. In a sport where the intent is to inflict damage on your opponent, it would be wise to keep a growing teen away, to protect their future health.
So what is there to be done? Who is to blame? I'd say it's the parents, at least with the youngest people in these situations. When you are below the age of ten, fighting isn't a decision you make for yourself. It is pretty obvious that parents push their children into this, and it is awful.
In the developmental years and about midway through adolescence, it makes no sense to be competing in MMA without any padding. That needs to be recognized. This is not simply a case of 'kids will be kids', it goes much deeper than that. As we saw with the recent death of MMA fighter Dustin Jensen, a legitimate athletic commission is necessary to maintain fighter safety. If I had to place a bet, I would bet that none of the bouts above were sanctioned.
What I saw in the videos above were not isolated cases. There were more videos and stories. Unsanctioned youth MMA bouts probably happen all of the time, and I don't see any outrage. The amount of anger towards the parents of these children should be through the roof. When it comes down to it, it is downright irresponsible and stupid to allow these children to fight with limited rules and protection. At the very least there needs to be proper officiating.
I don't get why this hasn't been in my face more. Sure, we see silly news stories in the mainstream condemning a jiu-jitsu match between small kids, but there isn't any harm done there. What I see here is competition between growing people, who are unaware of the repercussions of the fights they are in. They may agree to do this, but when does it come down to the adults around them to realize what is the responsible choice?
I don't want to see these fights become sanctioned or officiated. It'd be better than what is in place now, but not enough. MMA isn't meant for a growing body. It is meant to be the ultimate competition between two men or two women, in a battle of skill and athletics. In martial arts, maturity is key. Young people should not be allowed to fight until they can be considered a mature human being, and that is all there is to it.