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Kids and MMA: How Young Is Too Young?

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Photo courtesy Breitbart.com

As the popularity of mixed martial arts grows, the sport is also an emerging trend among children and adolescents.

But is a good things? Various opinions exist on what is the appropriate age to start kids in MMA.

As many as 3 million boys and girls, as young as 5,  take part in MMA or pankration, according to the Huffington Post.

The UFC’s growing popularity has sparked a flurry of gym openings and classes for adults and children looking to be part of MMA’s wave of popularity. While karate and self-defense skills have always been important, children’s combat inside a cage has emerged as a new phenomena. Dr. Jeremy Frank, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, told the Huffington Post that  MMA could have negative effects on the young body.

“Their bodies are not meant to sustain such harsh conditions,” Dr.Frank said.

“If they break a bone, that surgery is different than what you’d do on adults because of growth plates. And if a child tears a ligament, say an ACL, you can’t do the reconstruction on adults that you’d do on a kid. It would affect their growth.”

Although many parents debate the sport, some kids seem to enjoy the art.

“I’d say it’s not that violent, it’s just fun,” Becky Slominiski, a 4th grader taking a class at American Top Team gym on Okeechobee Blvd, told wptv.com.

The focus on the training there is Brazilian Jui Jitsu, which is one of the core disciplines of MMA.

Not everyone agrees

While it’s great to teach children to defend themselves, proper self-defense courses teach de-escalation and escape techniques to use to avoid throwing punches, Kiri Blakely wrote on Cafe Mom. She added:

“Putting kids in cages and telling them to go at each other is no more than a fight club with children. It teaches them violence, not how to avoid it or escape it. If anything, teaching kids that they can win with a physical assault puts them in an overly confident state of mind . . . .”

Many of the headlines about MMA and kids are usually written in sensational terms. The Daily Mail, for example, has a headline of, “Inside the world of child cage fighting: Boys who are trained to attack.”

The Huffington Post has a headline of, “Exploring the dark world of children’s MMA.”

Much like the struggle mainstream MMA has experienced in trying to overcome old grudges and stereotypes, MMA training for youth will likely endure a battle for acceptance.

Below is a list of pros and cons of kids participating in MMA, as cited by Karate-Kids.com.au

The Pros of Kids Mixed Martial Arts

  • Kids have been doing amateur boxing for years, which involves repeated blows to the head, even though they wear headgear.
  • Kids play rugby, ice hockey, and gridiron, and some get concussions, even with headgear.
  • Other sports like motocross, snowboarding, gymnastics, or skateboarding have a higher injury record. Oddly enough, cheer-leading is one of the most dangerous activities in the world.
  • The lower knockout rates in MMA compared to boxing may help prevent brain injury in MMA events.
  • Cardiovascular fitness is enhanced through aerobics exercise, including jumping rope, sparring in the ring or running. Muscular conditioning is improved through calisthenics like push-ups and pull-ups or weight training, although weight training is not recommended for youngsters.
  • For self-defence skills MMA is one of the best things your child can learn. The combination of stand-up and ground fighting prepares the student for a real fight better than anything else.
  • Children don’t have to compete in MMA while learning it. Brazilian jujitsu and grappling competitions are held regularly and allow children to compete safely.

The Cons of Kids Mixed Martial Arts

  • Taking repeated blows to the head before a child’s brain is fully developed can cause problems. Even with headgear it is dangerous. Kids should not be punching each other in the face with full power.
  • Young children are rewarded for punching, kicking, twisting the limbs, and physically attacking one another. By regularly physically hurting others, a child can become more desensitised to their pain.
  • Severe dieting to make weight limits is not good for the body, especially for kids.
  • Some parents might make their kids fight whether they want to or not, if it were legal. Who will protect children from ignorant parents that wish to live vicariously through their kids?
  • If you start a fight career at nine years old, what condition will your body be in after 10 years of being punched, choked, ground-and-pounded, having your joints hyper-extended and knocked out? Isn’t that when you should be starting your career, not finishing it?
  • A common criticism is that important things like respect, self-discipline, and courtesy are not being taught in mixed martial arts classes.