“Straight Talk for Teens by Teens” is a new addition to Independent.com, and features Lauren Forcella moderating a panel of more than 50 young adults from 11 states, who respond to questions raised by readers about teenage life. She’s soliciting new panelists and probing questions from Santa Barbara County, so join in the conversation by emailing Forcella at email@example.com.
Dear Straight Talk: After reading about a 15-year-old boy who wants to be a WWE fighter, I’d like to comment on the barbaric craze called “mixed martial arts.” My son, now 17, took Tae Kwon Do as a boy and even though the sparring got rough sometimes, I had no problem with it. But now he’s joined a mixed martial arts program and the other night I was called to take him to urgent care for stitches in his chin. He’s 17 and I can’t understand the appeal of something this barbaric. He lives and breathes for it. How can I convince him not to do activities like this?
-Just sign me “Mom”
Geoff, 23, Redding, Calif.: Mixed martial arts - MMA - is not a senseless fight club activity. It is a discipline like any other martial art in that you learn to defend yourself and neutralize the attacker. (It’s just more entertaining for TV than Tae Kwon Do due to full-contact rules and focus on ground fighting.) I suggest you attend some lessons. Any instructor worth his salt is not training boys to fight on pay-per-view but is focusing on self-defense, character-building, and body development. I have many friends who train and compete in MMA and they are no more barbaric than before they started.
Hayden, 14, Auburn, Calif.: It is brutal, but the fighters don’t use steroids like in WWE. I understand your worry, but don’t cut him off all at once. He’ll learn if it’s not smart for his body.
Katie, 15, Auburn, CA: A few of my friends do MMA and love it. It’s good for releasing stress and aggression, but you have to be quick, flexible, strong - and passionate about it. You’re not going to change your son’s mind. Keep him healthy and make sure he trains properly.
Dear “Mom”: Having trained and competed in martial arts for 13 years, and with a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, I can personally vouch that most MMA programs are respectable and the “barbaric” label unfair.
To assess your son’s program, I spoke to Dan Lovas, owner of Auburn Martial Arts Center in Auburn, California, who runs a popular MMA program. He says: “Look at the daily walk of the students. Are they happy, adjusted, good people? Is there respect and camaraderie? Does the school retain students? Are long-term students at extremely high levels both in physical appearance and stand-up and ground-fighting skills? Does the instructor cause the students to reach within themselves deeper than ever, to want to be better people? These are the questions to ask.”
Lovas says MMA is the fastest-growing sport today. He feels it will eventually dwarf boxing because it’s safer than boxing (as soon as a fighter cannot defend himself the fight is over, whereas in boxing, he is revived and brought back in for multiple rounds of punishment). (And compared to WWE, MMA fights are real, not staged, with rules allowing only martial arts fighting - not staple guns.)
Soccer, according to Lovas, has higher injury rates than MMA. “Every five or six classes we have lip or nose blood on the mats,” he says, “but some schools draw a really raw clientele that wants to ‘whip ass.’ These schools have injuries every single class. You need to watch some classes.”
Is MMA barbaric? Lovas believes males possess a “male mechanism” to “defend what’s theirs, stand up for what’s right, and protect the people they love. That’s not barbaric,” he says, “it’s human.”
I couldn’t agree more. Your son’s passion to develop his “male mechanism” is healthy. Size up his school using Lovas’s suggestions. If stitches are commonplace, find your son a new school. It they are rare, and the school is respectable, step back and let your son become a man.