Today an old private client of mine held a trial lesson for his five year old son. Despite have years of experience teaching children realistic self-protection and using Mixed Martial Arts as a form of attribute training for them, this was stil a reasonable challenge. Mixed Martial Arts can be taught a single art and sport, but it is probably best introduced within its main base systems: Boxing, Wrestling, Kickboxing and Submission Grappling. However, this is a little easier to convey to an adult who understands after they have completed courses in these systems they will begin MMA in earnest some 40 hours or so of private training time down the road. We decided to have my client’s son begin his course with lessons that would be around two thirds of boxing and then the final part being a series of grappling drills. In addition to teaching the child directly I instructed his father in coaching methods, so they could train these back home.
The lesson began with a simple warm-up of dynamic stretches and mobility exercises, moving into some basic footwork. We then looked at the basic stance. I taught this by first having the child throw an item as hard as he could. We then sought to capture and refine that action. He had put dominant side back to get maximum acceleration into his throw. This would be something we could go back to when he learnt his straight right. Now our concentration moved onto his lead hand and how to deliver a jab. Between his father and me, we looked at sending the punch down a straight line to the target whilst maintaining his balance and guard. Once he began to learn to drop some weight into the strike, we began layering on some of the basic footwork already covered in the warm-up. Next came the straight right. Joe Louis gave me good inspiration for this punch. Louis likened his punch delivery to the way a baseball pitcher threw a ball. Looking at the way he held back his hand and even flared his elbow, it’s not the sort of thing you want to teach a student when they are first learning boxing due the extreme danger of telegraphing. However, as I discussed in my private lesson last Tuesday, there are underlying mechanics in Louis’s technique that work well for anyone learning this punch. For this student, for example, he was able to drop the straight right with ease when he thought about throwing something and all we had to do was take his elbow in and ensure he made a strong fist.
Due to certain preconceptions and prejudices endemic in the martial arts world, the title for this diary entry might seem shocking. On one side I can just hear screams of abject horror back up by images of toddlers entering into a caged arena to fight full contact blood baths. On the other I can smell the sardonic mirth of those who see this as a sign of the dilution of a combat sport that has been held up as a proving ground of fighting ability. However, when one considers how early all the most popular composite martial arts of MMA teach children there really should not be an issue. Provided said children are not engaging in full contact sparring – let alone competition – and all other age appropriate considerations are in place I don’t see an issue. After all, many comprehensive traditional martial arts teach a wide range of techniques found in MMA competition and a fair number that are banned. Does this dilute the sport of MMA? My answer would be no more than teaching children boxing, wrestling, muay Thai or Brazilian jiu jitsu dilutes their respective sports. A child will learn aspects from the composite arts and also be able to train these together such as striking on the ground and an allowance for more wrestling style throws within a striking clinch. MMA needs to move on as a comprehensive martial art and sport, available for all, in the same way that its base arts have done.