Opinion: Fight Club For Kids?
By Jesse Heitz
Today while perusing MMA headlines I found an unusual story emanating from California. It was actually a local news station’s in-depth story about the children’s MMA scene in that state. It centered on the California State Athletic Commission’s condemnation of youth MMA competitions.
The athletic commission issued a cease and desist order which I have posted below. It states,
“RE: Youth Pankration and Mixed Martial Ages 16 years and under
To All California Stakeholders:
The California State Athletic Commission is currently studying youth pankration. Until the Commission makes a decision on this subject, all activities involving youth pankration and youth mixed martial arts are to immediately cease and desist.
Pursuant to Business and Professions Code Section 18640, the State Athletic Commission has the sole direction, management and control of, and jurisdiction over all professional and amateur boxing, kickboxing, full contact martial arts contests and exhibitions which are conducted, held or given within this state. No such event shall take place without prior approval of the Commission. No person shall engage in the promotion of, or participate in a boxing or martial arts contest, match or exhibition without a license.
Please note that unlicensed boxing, full contact martial arts, and kickboxing is unlawful and the promoters, participants and spectators are subject to criminal sanction, as are landlords and the like who permit their property to be used for an illegal fight (Penal Code 412).
Please contact the Commission’s headquarter office at (916) 263-2195 if you have any questions.
Andy Foster Executive Officer”
It’s important to note that these youth fighters are only competing in Pankration. No, they are not competing in the Ancient Greek variety of Pankration, one of history’s most brutal sports that often led to the maiming of participants. They are participating in an exceptionally watered down version in which competitors are not allowed to strike the head, as such only body blows and grappling are permitted.
Yet, the commission’s decision to clamp down on these events stems from a little boy accidentally hitting his female opponent flush on the chin. Given the current and unprecedented level of anxiety in the sporting world regarding head injuries, the commission opted to err on the side of caution and halt any such events until proper analysis of the situation had been completed.
Interestingly enough, the gym featured in the news story is none other than Ultimate Fitness in Sacramento. If that name rings a bell for anyone, it’s actually the training base for Uriah Faber and company. For the record, the fighters and trainers of Ultimate Fitness, which for whatever reason have been pushed into the spotlight for this particular story, have made it clear that everything is controlled and practiced with the utmost regard for safety. Parents of participating children that were interviewed shared a similar opinion and found that their children physically delving into the world of MMA wasn’t really any more different than if they played football.
Now I don’t know what to make of this. I will say that I’m not too caught up in competition, but rather the training and practice aspects. Watching little 5 year olds engaging in a miniature slugfest void of any technique is a little worrisome, something along the lines of watching them lead with the head when making tackles during little league football practice.
Don’t get me wrong, martial arts have long been a kid friendly activity, one that instills dedication and discipline, a sense of honor even. We make starting our children in wrestling before they enter kindergarten a common practice. Karate and Tae Kwon Do gyms are often filled to the rafters with little kids, yet we hear little of any safety concerns. The Gracie family seems to plunge their youngsters into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu before they’re old enough to walk.
However, there seems to be something different at play here. While I wholeheartedly support, and plan to have my kids instructed in the fundamental martial arts that dominate MMA, I’d be hesitant to allow them to engage in unfettered sparring, at least until they’re teenagers. In the end, is this merely a sensationalist story, or is it something worthy of deeper reflection?