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Mixed martial arts isn't for kids
Posted on Tue, Jan 11, 2011 at 11:23 am
by IDMA Editor

Aaron Arvanitis wasn't optimistic when he stepped into a fenced cage at Piggy's Sports Bar in Angola, Ind., in 2008 for his first mixed martial arts fight. But then, he was just 16 years old.

"I was thinking I was going to lose," says the Toledo man, now 19. "Every fight, I think I'm going to lose real quick and that will be the night."

Instead, the 134-pound teen forced his 17-year-old opponent to "tap out" at 54 seconds of the first round by applying a choke hold known as a "triangle."

With the airwaves filled with images of men -- and a few women -- climbing onto fenced, octagon-shaped mats to battle it out in virtually gloveless contests that combine boxing, wrestling, jujitsu grappling, kick-boxing, and other styles, a growing number of young people are deciding they want to give mixed martial arts a go.

Ohio and most other states bar young people under 18 from participating in the contests, sometimes described as "cage fights." (That has been the minimum age in Indiana since 2009 when the state began regulating the sport.)

In the martial arts world, opinions differ about allowing youths to prepare to enter the MMA ring by signing up for training programs aimed at children as well as joining feeder sports such as jujitsu and submission wrestling.

"When it comes to children, their bodies are not structured for MMA," says Steven Franz, a martial artist who owns schools in Bryan, Hicksville, and three other cities across the region.

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"Kids can learn the techniques without hurting another kid," counters Kelly Hymore, whose Bad Dog Fighting and Fitness in West Toledo periodically offers a watered-down version of MMA instruction for kids as young as 4.

His instructors take extra safety precautions. Oftentimes, when they teach a potentially dangerous hold such as an arm bar, they allow children to try it on instructors rather than each other.

USA Martial Arts, on Angola Road in Springfield Township, is among the top training centers in metro Toledo for MMA competitors. Many parents inquire about MMA instruction for their children, but instructor Mike Gray doesn't encourage it.

MMA students typically must be at least 15, he says.

Younger students can enroll in classes in jujitsu, wrestling, and wrestling-like grappling that allows submission holds. In grappling, younger students are taught a limited number of joint-locks and choke-holds, but aren't allowed to punch, Mr. Gray says.

In competitive meets held at the school for children 5 years to 17, individual entrants decide whether submission holds will be allowed in their matches.

Mr. Arvanitis came to USA Martial Arts at age 14 with a background in the martial art Tae Kwon Do. Today, he is an instructor there and has continued to compete as an amateur MMA fighter in the bantamweight division.

He recommends that children interested in martial arts start not with MMA but with a traditional style such as Tae Kwon Do.

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