Like many other activities for young people, mixed martial arts offer children the opportunity to take full advantage of their flexible joints, high level of energy, and enthusiasm to learn new skills. In addition, unlike many sports that are merely meant to introduce children to recreation for pleasure alone, experience with mixed martial arts provides them with the opportunity to defend themselves when necessary.
While it is true that there are a number of risks of permanent, serious injury for children involved with this activity, with proper education of the children participants and their parents as well as a strict prohibition on any form of competition, this can be a healthy, fun, engaging, and ultimately useful form of physical activity for any child, regardless or his her age. Despite the media’s assertions that this is a dangerous activity, it should be recognized that while there are some dangers, mixed martial arts are not bad in themselves and again, with proper education and control of how they are practiced, this can have a positive impact on young people.
Some of the greatest dangers children face today are issues that can be address through any healthy and educated approach to mixed martial arts. For instance, obesity rates for young people are at an all time high and this is in part due to a lack of physical activity. Mixed martial arts encourage healthy behaviors and promote exercise that uses all parts of the body. Furthermore, unlike other forms of exercise that are simply physical in nature, mixed martial arts also requires mental agility—the ability to think quickly.
Children who are overweight due to inactivity often sit and watch television or remain immobilized on their computers and mixed martial arts gets them moving both physically and mentally. These are young people who are sedentary and their only experiences with martial arts or self-defense comes from what they learn from the television. Unfortunately, the self-defense they learn on television has little to do with what might be required of them in terms of physical and mental agility. While they may think that watching self-defensive action and thinking about it might help them react with appropriate force in a threatening situation (such as forced abduction, for instance) the reality is they will be entirely unprepared. In short, mixed martial arts can address two valid concerns many parents have about young people; inactivity and its related effect on weight, as well as the ability to fight back if an abduction or other physical altercation occurs. The dangers posed by mixed martial arts alone, especially since no competitions would be allowed, are by far less drastic than the dangers this art form could protect children from.
One critic of mixed martial arts defines the fights that occur in competitive events “nasty, brutish and short" but does note that “while the lack of rules has always been one of the attractions of the sport, ultimate fighting has introduced limitations as the sport has progressed" (Shimo 53) and notes that the most “dirty" and violent of moves, including “hair pulling, eye gouging, and clawing your opponent are illegal" (Shimo 53) although these and other fighting tactics, including hits to the groin, still happen when fights are particularly intense. These are elements of mixed martial arts, but the sport has undergone a change as it has been forced underground and also forced to change some of its most brutal aspects. What is most critical to this discussion is that these negative aspects of the sport concern adults and how they choose to practice. For children, especially in the controlled environment being proposed here, these violent, aggressive, and injurious competitive situations would never be allowed to exist. Children in any mixed martial arts training program would be coached on how to make what they learn applicable only in appropriate situations and to understand that the benefits of such training are to be kept to the self, except in the case of a violent struggle.
Although there are problems with the current image of mixed martial arts, for this to become a truly accepted sport for children, there needs to be more oversight into the matter. One publication notes that “Currently, there is no single governing body for youth mixed martial arts competitions. Rules vary from location to location. In some organized matches, blows to the head and elbow shots are prohibited. A fighter can win when the opponent taps the mat or by a knock, which for kids means the opponent becomes unsteady" (Weekly Reader 970). This is still a rather violent set of circumstances without much consensus about rules. In other to overcome its negative associations, a better, more standardized set of rules to protect the safety of participants will be required if they are under a defined age. Additionally, those opposed to this sport for children, including many parents who refuse to permit their child to participate based on negative assumptions, will need to see that more oversight and regulation is being performed in order to accept this more widely. The sport has a long way to go to become accepted and more rules, such as requiring particular sorts of headgear and protective items, need to be firmly instituted and enforced.
The best way to counter both the negative stereotypes associated with mixed martial arts and to overcome bias by parents who fear their children will be seriously injured is to make people more aware of what this sport is actually about. Too many special interest groups who have pushed for a ban on the sport are blinded by the violence they see in select events and do not understand what a positive effect the practice of this sport could have on young people. This is a sport that requires physical and mental agility, empowers young people (especially if they are in a situation that calls for a necessarily aggressive or self-defensive act) and gives them self-confidence. It gets them away from the television and video games—which themselves come with more violence than this sport ever will if taught and practices in a safe, controlled, and restricted non-competitive environment. In short, children are going to be denied the opportunity to develop their mental and physical capacities through mixed martial arts based on a series of negative representations by the press. These groups make exaggerated claims about the overall danger of the sport outside of the competitive context and are thereby eliminating a possibility for some young people who are just waiting for the right sport to spark their interest in physical activity for life.