Children as young as 3 enrolling in mixed martial arts (MMA) classes
Alex Horkay Staff Reporter


It’s 5 p.m. and a dozen children have hit the mat at a Toronto club, training to be fierce combatants in one of the most brutal sports around — mixed martial arts.

But nobody’s getting their head jammed through the floor. To Tally Bodenstein-Kales, a child psychologist watching her 8-year-old son, Noah, learn the sport, it’s all good.

“What they see on TV is certainly the ugly side of the sport, the side that doesn’t appeal to many women, for sure,” she said. “But in reality when they actually go into these classes, it’s nothing like that. It’s very gentle and very elegant.

“And I think it’s been really good for his self-esteem,” she added.

Mixed martial arts are exploding in popularity due to ferocious Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts shown on pay-per-view TV. The McGuinty government’s decision in August to allow professional MMA fights in Ontario is also fuelling their popularity.

“And wait till it happens next year that there’s an event. Just wait. That’s going to be huge. We haven’t seen anything yet,” said Joel Gerson, president of Revolution MMA, which operates clubs in North York and Thornhill.

But gentle? Elegant? Mixed martial arts?

“The kids’ MMA that we do is very controlled. There’s very little contact to the face and to the head. It’s much more focused on the art and the self-discipline and the confidence,” said Gerson, whose club offers courses for children as young as 3.

“It’s not always about making the other kid tap out and squeegeeing blood off the mat.”

Joey de Los Reyes, an owner of the Kombat Arts Training Academy in Mississauga, agrees. “We really pride ourselves in teaching kids the other aspects of martial arts, things like discipline, focus being civil to people, humility, all that kind of stuff.”

Meanwhile, most adults interested in MMA are there for the fitness aspects.

“The reason is that people see these fighters and they’re in the best shape of any athlete,” Gerson said. “The fitness systems that these MMA athletes are using will get you in the best shape the fastest.

“I can come... not get punched in the face … and get in great shape and I’m not stuck on a treadmill staring at red dots for 45 minutes watching Seinfeld.”

People who want serious MMA training need to be careful because now a lot of fitness gyms and karate schools are offering MMA-type classes, Gerson warned.

“There’s probably just a handful of clubs that have the coaching, facilities and bodies enough to get someone to a level where they can be competitive and it’s not going to be your mom-and-pop karate shop.

“And the big thing is the safety,” he said. “You just can’t get just anybody (as an instructor) in there.”

Training for MMA can also be costly. Not much equipment is needed, but the lessons are very specialized, Gerson said.

“You’re looking at between $1,000 and $2,000 for your kid for a year typically.”

It’s worth it for Bodenstein-Kales. Her son gets exercise and help with listening through MMA classes.

“It helps him with his memory as well because he has to remember these certain moves that he’s doing. So it’s been great on many fronts,” she sai
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