Is MMA The Right MOVE for You?

October 18th, 2013 | By Marjie No Comments


The Athens MOVE staff recently chatted with Randy McElwee of American Black Belt Academy and Adam Singer, head coach and owner of Athens Fitness & MMA, about Mixed Martial Arts. Their comments were interesting, thorough, and enlightening. If you are considering MMA as a sport for you or your child, you will find valuable and insightful information right here.

Q: What is MMA and what are some benefits of training and participating in this sport?

A-Adam: MMA is a catchall term for a sport in which different martial arts disciplines are trained and used.  MMA allows
participants to punch, kick, wrestle and grapple in an attempt to subdue their opponent. The sport of MMA can trace its roots back to ancient Greece; the modern version came to the US in 1993 in the form of The Ultimate Fighting Championship.  In most MMA gyms you now see a cross-section of children, adults, beginners, and lifetime hobbyists training on the same mats as amateurs and professionals.  MMA is great for fitness, self-confidence and discipline, and participants also learn one of the most effective self-defense methods on the planet.  (The US military includes MMA training.)

A-Randy: MMA is a sport that requires intense individual fitness, so participants are encouraged to get into great shape. The sport includes elements from many different activities – Boxing, Judo, Wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and Grappling. MMA’s attraction as a smorgasbord of martial arts can also be its weakness. As the saying goes, being a “Jack-of-all-trades” can often lead to being a “master of none” or even learning “Mixed –Up” Martial arts if techniques are combined improperly. Not all martial arts combine effectively and the wrong recipe can lead to a child being falsely prepared to deal with a very real bully situation.

Q: Do you focus on different training elements for adults than for children?

A-Randy: Participants may enjoy physical benefits such as balance, coordination, fitness, and flexibility. Quality programs for kids should have more of a focus on the things kids are likely need to learn to be good adults: honesty, integrity, courtesy, focus, perseverance, and goal setting. Thus, a good martial arts program will develop both you and your child physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. Remember, though, that not all martial arts programs are created equal. Popularity for MMA has increased massively, but instructor knowledge and legitimate certification haven’t grown as rapidly, and many instructors just aren’t qualified to teach kids. Beware of schools who teach children using the same curriculum as their adult program.

A-Adam: The overall concepts of our training do not vary from adults to children: self-confidence, discipline, fitness and self-defense. We want all of our students (young and mature) to be able to defend themselves standing, in the clinch (think grabbing), and on the ground.  However, with our kids we focus more on dealing with bullies and how to use training as a last resort.  There is less emphasis on striking and more on athletic development. Children should be encouraged to compete in the non-contact areas of MMA like grappling tournaments; MMA training can help each person find one area that they are good at and find early success.

Q: Are there preconceived notions – that help or hinder – about MMA based on what we see on TV?

A-Adam: The popularity of the sport creates a lot of interest, but brings with it a lot of preconceived notions. Reality TV shows promote the sport, so some people think that they can walk into a school right off the couch and get a six-figure contract without training hard and being dedicated. The sport also has an air of professional wrestling entertainment to it, and
some people want to model the perceived bad boy images that are portrayed by competitors hoping to spread their viewer appeal.

A-Randy: Most people see MMA for what it really is, a highly competitive athletic endeavor, a sport.  The fighters on TV represent less than 1% of all active MMA participants; they are at the top of the sport. And yes, during the actual competitions MMA can appear violent. If you look below the surface, you’ll see incredible displays of athleticism and technical performance, coupled with a high level of sportsmanship. Because MMA training happens against another person our students develop true self-confidence and the knowledge that they can handle any situation.

Q: What are two or three major concepts that you teach as part of your MMA programs?

A-Randy: We focus on the basics. As my instructor Sifu Eddie Camden taught me, “The basics work against unskilled opponents and they’re the only things that will work against a skilled opponent. So just do the basics.” It’s important for athletes to have fun with it and keep it playful, and to keep the traditional practice mindset that the goal is personal improvement and self-reflection. Winning isn’t everything; you will always find out more about yourself when things don’t go your way. Finally, true martial arts begin and end with respect. Both children and adults need to have the control and respect for all other people to know when NOT to use their martial arts skills.

A-Adam: We focus on two core concepts as part of our MMA program. The first, Aliveness, influences everything we do. For something to be alive it must have timing, energy, and movement. When a martial artist tests and perfects their training with Aliveness they know they have techniques that work.  Alive training fosters a positive environment of camaraderie and self-discovery. The second concept is Adaptability.  Our students must be able to perform standing up, in the clinch, or on the ground.  We teach them to adapt to any situation (inside and outside the gym) as it happens. In a deeper sense, the techniques must adapt to the different constraints of the sport and the sport must adapt to the participants.

Q: What questions should you ask when searching for a MMA program?

We compiled these answers from Adam and Randy’s responses, which were very thoughtful and thorough. If you have additional questions, you can reach Adam at Athens Fitness & MMA at 706-850-8444 or online, and Randy at American Black Belt Academy,, phone 706-549-1671.

First, determine why you and/or your child want to train and what benefits or results you want. Then direct your questions to find a program that matches your goals.  Here are some good starters:

  • Do they have a trial program so you can participate before making a commitment? This allows you to meet the staff and discern how you will respond to them as well as the program.
  • In addition to teaching martial arts, what will you and your child learn to improve your character? Does their program offer any life skills or enrichment? What is the overall philosophy of their program?
  • Check professionalism, cleanliness and safety. Look at the school’s appearance, the cleanliness of its workout and locker room areas. Ask how they deal with injuries and skin contact.
  • Do instructors have any certifications – CPR, First Aid, etc. Does the school conduct background checks on them?
  • How does the school work with children … gradual increases in practice and intensity and skills learned … to accommodate musculature and skeletal growth?
  • What involvement, if any, will you have as a parent during your child’s practice? Can you be present? What happens if/when your child experiences sore muscles or even an injury? How (and how quickly) are you notified?
  • Review school policies. If the school does not have policies in writing, beware! Schools with no written policies may be hiding something or, even worse, they may have no policies at all. A school with established policies is far more professional and puts everything out in the open before you even make a commitment.
  • Ask about class fees, testing fees, required equipment, attendance requirements, behavior policies, and curriculum.
  • Request the school’s goal-setting and progress evaluation policy. Many traditional martial arts schools use a belt ranking system, but many MMA programs focus only on completion results. If you and your child are motivated by tangible recognition of growth and improvement, this may make a difference in your decision. Also, some schools charge a separate fee for rank advancement or have advanced training programs that cost a lot more than the basic course, so be sure it fits your budget before you are committed.
  • Membership agreements are normal; they help guarantee that the business will remain viable in fluctuating economic times. These agreements are the mark of a professional organization that is much more likely to be around for years to come.
  • Ask about instructor qualifications to teach instead of competition titles. Remember, a skilled competitor doesn’t always make a good teacher or role model.

This list of questions may seem daunting, but it’s all about you and your child’s self-confidence, skill and, most important, safety. MMA is an exciting and beneficial way to be fit, gain confidence and skills, and learn about your own abilities. In the end, if you want to explore MMA, Athens has a couple of great places to start!

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