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Is MMA just for thugs?

By Jonathan Oxer

 

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Is MMA is a pseudo-sport for overly aggressive males who just want to pick fights with strangers in the street?

Last Tuesday, Channel 7 ran a story on Sunrise about MMA, and it was obvious that Kochie thinks it’s a barbaric sport that just encourages random violence. Not long ago I would have totally agreed with him.

Over the last few years I’ve been starting to feel the effects of an aging body and lack of exercise. Way too many hours spent sitting in front of a computer had me around 97kg, and I’d get puffed walking up stairs. Looking back at some of the www.SuperHouse.TV episodes from that period you can see my chubby cheeks and growing gut. Then a workplace health check confirmed that my BMI (body mass index) tipped me into the “overweight” category, which was embarrassing for someone who used to run, ride, and swim competitively. So I decided to do something about it.

I’d heard that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is incredibly strenuous and uses your whole body, and because it’s a martial art that doesn’t involve any strikes (I’d never had any particular interest in that), I thought it’d be fun to give it a go as a way to get some exercise. So I headed off to in Ringwood and did a trial class, and loved it.

I was ridiculously uncoordinated and out of shape, had no idea what I was trying to do let alone the ability to do it, and kept being tapped out within seconds. Within 20 minutes I was so exhausted that I was on my hands and knees on the mat, shaking, drenched with sweat, and just concentrating on not throwing up. By the end of the class I couldn’t walk properly, my arms and legs were jelly, and I didn’t think I’d even be able to hold my drink bottle. It was the most ridiculously intense effort I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve trained with gold-medal winning Olympic cyclists.

It was such an amazing experience that I signed up on the spot, and I’ve been training several times a week ever since. The weight immediately began to fall off me, my stamina and strength have improved dramatically, and even though I’m still useless as a fighter I’m just slightly less useless than when I started. Once Jiu Jitsu hooked me, I then started trying other related classes including Muay Thai (kickboxing) and MMA just to see what they are like.

But here’s the interesting bit in relation to the Sunrise story on MMA, and it’s something that was totally unexpected to me coming into the sport as an outsider. In the time I’ve spent so far in training, I’ve never seen a single person ever get angry at an opponent. I’ve never seen an incident where someone has intentionally caused injury. I’ve never seen anything other than total respect for others, even when trying to defeat them. That may seem bizarre and contradictory. After all, if you put on a pair of gloves and step onto the mat to fight an opponent, your objective is to beat them, right? Well, yes. And their objective is to beat you. But the interesting thing is that it’s not done with any animosity towards the other person. It’s more a matter of matching speed and strength and (most importantly) skill with your opponent, seeing who can overcome the other and learning from what they do so that you can be better next time. It’s certainly not an out-of-control brawl – in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen such intense self control, self discipline, or such good-natured attitudes in other competitive environments.

A couple of examples may help explain it:

The first is from some weeks ago when I was sparring with Daniel Schuardt in an MMA class. Daniel is *way* out of my league, and I kept failing to block his kicks to my left leg. It didn’t take many hits before I could hardly stand, so Daniel stopped and told me to lie down on the mat. I didn’t understand why, but I did it anyway, and he massaged my leg where he’d been kicking me! After a minute I was OK to go on sparring but I was still swaying a bit, so Daniel held off the kicks to my leg from then on. Someone who was truly trying to hurt me or even just achieve a win would have taken advantage of my weakness and planted a few more big kicks on my leg, and I’d have been out of action. But Daniel wasn’t trying to hurt me just for the sake of it: he was trying to teach me how to deal with that sort of attack, and to practice and learn himself.

Second example is from Tuesday night, when Justin Hetherton and I were rolling in a Jiu Jitsu class. Justin had just defeated me and we were starting again when he paused for a moment, while he tried to work out a better way that I could have used my legs to trap him quickly at the beginning of a fight and get myself into a better position. He wasn’t trying to figure out a better way to defeat me: he was trying to help me do a better job defeating him!

That’s the sort of attitude I’ve seen repeated in every class, with every opponent. I can’t speak for other martial arts schools, but from what I’ve experienced at Extreme MMA it seems that respect for others is a fundamental principle of training. I can spar with scary fighters like Daniel, or Dillon Wolf, or Lance Ettia, and not for one second do I ever worry that they’ll use their tremendous skill and physical ability to do me harm in a fit of anger or a lack of self control. Sure, they’ll hit me, or apply a choke, or put me in a joint lock, but I know that the second I submit or seem to be in serious trouble they’ll stop immediately, and they’re as concerned about my welfare as they are about their own. They’re highly skilled, incredibly fit athletes with a professional attitude, about as far from a thug as I can imagine.

The process of MMA training doesn’t just build the body. It also builds the mind and the spirit, it teaches respect for others and yourself, it instills discipline, and it prepares you to deal with terrifying situations in a level-headed way without allowing adrenaline to overtake reason.

So, do I agree with Kochie that MMA is for thugs?

Hell no. Not any more.

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