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A Look Into the New York Mixed Martial Arts Initiative
Posted on Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 11:17 am
by IDMA Editor

If you've been following what I've written before, you know that I'm an avid supporter of two things. The first being educating the uninformed public about what mixed martial arts is exactly. This is key in combating the barbaric "human cock-fighting" image that still lingers from the late 90's. While MMA is a violent sport, it can be (and is) about much more than that. Once the masses are enlightened to that fact, the path to mainstream acceptance is that much easier. The second thing I'm a supporter of is bringing mixed martial arts to the inner cities and other areas where children may not have the access that suburban kids in a higher tax bracket would have. The benefits to this are obvious. It can provide MMA with a more diverse talent pool in the future as well as shape the minds of future generations to true MMA and not a cultivated media image.

The NYMMAI logo, designed by Jesse at Mixed Martial Marketing gratis

Thus, I was pleased when I read the blog entry of The Fight Lawyer, Justin Klein, describing his time spent with a non-profit project he founded called the New York Mixed Martial Arts Initiative (NYMMAI). The project was created when Klein met David Grodsky who was running an after-school program at a high school in East Harlem. The funding for Mr. Grodsky's program had been cut from the budget and he was looking to continue it despite the lack of funding. They put their heads together and came up with the NYMMAI. The NYMMAI would continue to provide MMA instruction to the kids as well as serve to be "an anti-violence, anti-gang program and emotional support group".

All photos are provided by Photos That Give

With the economic gap between the have and the have-nots growing wider with each passing year, this poorer parts of the country are often forgot about. This disconnect not only serves to provide the comfort of "out of sight, out of mind" to many, but it also gives a feeling of hopelessness to many of America's youth that grow up in that area. Programs like this shows these kids, these young adults that there are people that are invested in their future. While seemingly benign to the outsider, speaking from experience, gestures and programs such as this provide a lasting impression on participants.

Be aware this kids are not sparring, there is no person-to-person striking. They are taught (and practice) stand up using pads, stressing the discipline aspect of martial arts and not promoting the physical combat of it. They also participate in grappling, learning takedowns as well as rudimentary submission technique.

Putting aside the martial arts aspects for a second, this program (and others like it) supply kids with the incentive to focus on other aspects of school. For instance, Klein states that two students were turned away because of failing to attend classes that day. He also mentions that if your grades become a problem, you're not allowed to participate, you're not even allowed to watch. As stated earlier, the mere existence of the program provides these young adults with an alternative to the trappings on the inner-city including gangs and criminal activity.

Klein goes on to discuss one student who participated in the program for two years before graduating high school and eventually attending John Jay College. Though the class numbers may seem small (this class had 8 attendees minus the non-participators), if you can get through to a few kids a year, it's a venture well worth it. Looking at the pictures Klein took, the children are a variety of racial and ethnic groups, Puerto RIcan, Dominican, African-American. Often, these are the faces long forgotten by Middle America, consumed with feelings of abandonment. Too many times the inner-city youth, not just in Harlem but also in those 'hoods around the country, are promised the world by doe-eyed do-gooders. Klein's interaction with one student is the exemplification of those feelings.

Klein assured the group (and me) that he is not selling wolf tickets, that he and Mr. Grodsky are committed to continuing the program (doing so uncompensated for time/expenses). The program was privileged to receive a donation in the form of equipment from Everlast, however they are still deficient in supplies. The kids lack protective gloves among other essential equipment that many of us take for granted as well as more mats in order to expand the program to a larger number of students.

The fact that this program takes place in New York is the icing on the cake. As you all know, New York is one of the last states to have MMA declared illegal. It has been an ongoing fight for years, one with seemingly no end in sight. While some have chosen to throw money at the problem, I've always been a proponent of education as the key to the legalization of MMA; education of politicians and the education of the public. Klein mentioned how, at a fundraiser he held the weekend of UFC 121, many of the attendees were shocked to find out that MMA is much more than the blood and guts spectacle that its detractors try to portray it as. This program (and hopefully others like it in the future) are central to showing the public and politicians what goes into MMA and how it can beneficial to society. I've been an advocate of the MMA organizations helping fund humanitarian projects like this as well as events like the MMA World Expo this weekend in New York.

For anyone interested in reading more about this amazing program, you can read The Fight Lawyer's blog about his experiences with the after-school program.

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