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Martial arts rule change - a danger to kids
Posted on Fri, Oct 29, 2010 at 6:50 am
by IDMA Editor

A veteran mixed martial arts coach says he had to stop several children from being held down and punched in the head at a recent tournament, after new rules were introduced allowing youngsters to engage in "ground and pound."

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Organizers of a tournament last weekend in Burnaby, B.C., included a new division that allowed children to be hit in the head once they are on the ground, despite rules prohibiting that level of violence. Competitors wear protective headgear.

Previously, hits to the head were permitted only when children were on their feet.

Children are at risk of concussions and other injuries if punching to the face is allowed once they are down, said Chris Franco, owner of Vancouver's Franco Kickboxing-Pankration gym.

"There was one child who is 95 pounds competing against another child who was 150 pounds," Mr. 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."

Mr. 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.

However, Don Whitefield, who organized the new MMA division and is an MMA coach, said 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," Mr. Whitefield said in an email.

"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."

Joe Ferraro, host of MMA Connected on Rogers Sportsnet, said only professional adult MMA fighters should use the "ground and pound" technique.

"I personally don't condone children grounding and pounding each other in tournaments," Mr. 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 body-checking system. They have to learn how to skate first."

Parents sign waivers on behalf of their children to enter tournaments.

Jason Gagnon, who was a referee at the tournament and is an instructor with Mr. Whitefield at West Coast Jiu-Jitsu, said "the most important thing to us as coaches is that the kids are safe. We are very aware that these are not professional athletes, and want to make sure we can run the most successfully safe and fun tournaments for the participants."

Opponents point out, however, that while headgear offers protection in a standing fight, it's impossible for a competitor to "duck and weave" when being held on the ground, which increases the potential for damage.

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