The Future of MMA: Children in the Sport

February 23, 2010

Bobby Razak, the filmmaker behind the Legalize MMA documentaries and various Tapout short films, has released another interesting film about MMA, only this time he looks at the sport from the perspective of two children participants.

The Future of MMA By Bobby Razak from Bobby Razak on Vimeo.

Payout Perspective:

I’m not a film critic, but in my eyes Razak is a talented filmmaker and an asset to the sport of MMA. The latest offering is an interesting look at the growth of grassroots MMA and a glimpse of the types of born-fighters we can expect to enter the sport in ten years. However, the film and some of its content do raise some questions about the participation of children in the sport.

I’m not a pediatrician, either, but I do wonder what kind of physical toll the sport of MMA might take on the young, undeveloped brains and bodies of children. Is it safe? If so, where do we draw the line? What are the limitations?

I ask not because I don’t necessarily know the answers – my slightly educated opinion tends to believe that rolling, wrestling, and limited muay thai training is perfectly fine for children. I ask because I think this is something the sport of MMA really needs to think about and have an answer for.

MMA isn’t just about the live events anymore – it’s now truly becoming a lifestyle. It’s the way we talk, the way we dress, the activities we undertake, the music we listen to, and the people we spend our time with. The more this lifestyle is perpetuated – with things like UFC Gyms, the ubiquity of Tapout and Affliction clothing, etc – the more we’re going to see participation from those of all ages.

Someone is going to inevitably call MMA on the participation of children, and the sport needs to be ready to answer that call unequivocally.

Note: Give Tapout a pass for the near eye-rolling amount of product placement. The company has done a lot for the sport of MMA, and they likely funded the entire production. It should get some promo out of the film.

4 Responses to “The Future of MMA: Children in the Sport”

  1. Brain Smasher on February 23rd, 2010 3:34 PM

    I think its great to have kids training in all the styles. But i dont think they should be competing in MMA itself. The truth is anything close to real MMA is going to be a black eye for the sport. You cant have them cut up and injured at even a fraction of the rate as adults. To make kids version safer would only make it so much different from MMA that kids of one style or type lose and get turned off from the sport for life. Whats the point? Having giant boxing gloves, taking out elbows, knees, early stoppages only give one style an advantage over another and makes the kids unprepared for the sport when they are older.

    Train the kids in boxing, Thai, Wrestling, BJJ. Let them compete in those individually. Train them in MMA concepts to mesh those styles together. But they shouldnt be fighting MMA until they are atleast 16-18 years old.

  2. John on February 24th, 2010 7:01 AM

    From what the father said, it seems the immediate competition focus for those kids is wrestling with the goal being some form of athletic scholarship. After college was when he said he was focusing his sons on being ready for professional fighting. With the world-class coaching those two are sure to receive, that’s obviously a possibility and would be a great route to take. Wrestling will probably not diminish in importance in the ~13 years it’ll take for them to make the transition.

  3. Jason on February 24th, 2010 8:33 AM

    From a Wrestling Coach friend of mine:

    It’s very interesting to see these kids learning MMA, but not surprising. From my experience coaching young wrestlers, kids at this age are very resilient. As long as these kids compete and train within the rules and limitations of the various disciplines, then they should remain safe. Staying within the rules requires a lot of discipline from the competitors, though, and this responsibility falls on the coaches, in my opinion. I don’t think it is too young to start training; I’ve coached 3 year olds, and most of my college teammates started at the age of 4. However, I think that there are certain aspects that may be unsafe. For example, I don’t know how safe it is to have kids this age taking shots to the head. If it were my kid, I would certainly let him compete in grappling competitions, but I don’t think I’d be comfortable with him boxing. Also, I know that lifting weights before the age of 12 tends to harden and close growth plates, therefore stunting a child’s growth.

    These are my initial thoughts on MMA at an early age. I’m far from being an expert, though!

  4. Henry G Belot on February 24th, 2010 9:38 AM

    I watched the video yesterday on another site, and I don’t remember explicit details. But, yes, it raises a lot of medical and ethical questions and answers but a few.

    One of the most disturbing issues for me is Tapout commercializing the training of children in a brutal combat sport. Think of the way commercial food companies have changed the diets of the industrialized world. Medical studies are now showing that just spotting a logo for a sweet, salty, or fat-laden food product now sets off a craving to eat even when a person isn’t hungry. Our brains are literally being rewired from childhood to obsess on unhealthy behavior.

    Here, with Tapout, we’re tempting children to become obsessed on a lifestyle that may (or may not) be contrary to their best interests. It’s a decision that even many adults are ill-equipped to make.

    On the plus side, the specific example shows that the parents are taking a reasonable approach. By allowing their kids to train only when they have met higher priorities, they’re teaching them self-discipline and goal setting. Many gyms that train kids, do the same. It’s unfortunate that this point isn’t emphasized by placing it earlier in the time line. That is likely because this is a commercial message. If the commercializing of cage-fighting kids gains traction, the parent’s constructive approach could easily become the exception rather than the rule.

    The attacks to the head in MMA, boxing, and other sports are also an extremely serious issue. Concussions at almost any age, whether they result in knockouts, flash knockouts, or just being rocked, destroy brain synapses, and they destroy them permanently and cumulatively. (Our brains stop growing around age 15, I believe. After that, we can’t generate new synapses.)

    As I understand it, even in a mature brain there are synapses that have not been allocated for a particular purpose as yet and our brains can reroute lost knowledge (memory) to those. But once those are used up, victims are on a road leading to ever increasing disfunction. We haven’t seen punch-drunk MMA fighters as yet, but we probably will.

    Again, do we leave the decision to start taking these risks to parents, the children themselves, regulators, or the marketplace? I guess that in a free society, the best we can hope for is a vibrant, well-informed discussion of the issues and hope for the best.

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