‘Strike first, strike hard, no mercy’
It’s hard to forget those famous lines from the classic 1984 film ‘The Karate Kid’ in which a kid from New Jersey relocates to California and soon runs into a class full of martial arts bad boys who quickly put the beat down on him.
The kid, Daniel LaRusso, then finds a martial arts teacher of his own and learns karate and eventually beats them at their own game in a tournament to become champion.
For years after that movie, kids of all ages flocked to karate academies all over the world to see if they could become the next champion, and some might have even wanted to learn the infamous ‘crane kick’.
Over the last several years, mixed martial arts has become one of the hottest sports on a national level with the UFC leading the way and also spanning a new worldwide phenomenon. It’s hard to find a town in America or anywhere really where there isn’t a school that teaching mixed martial arts.
Even established martial arts academies that for years taught only karate, kung-fu or taekwondo have added MMA programs to attract new students and continue evolving with the times.
Some martial arts instructors and traditionalists have resisted the movement that MMA has made over the last few years, but it’s hard to deny that mixed martial arts in 2011 is taking over what karate and other martial arts were in the 80′s and 90′s.
“Mixed martial arts is the new martial art,” UFC President Dana White said recently. “Kids are growing up taking it, it’s really spread like wild fire all over the world.”
While there still may be some resistance among some schools, most academies or dojo’s have added new classes or even instructors to adapt to the growing world of mixed martial arts. Most large MMA gyms also have kid’s programs that welcome youngsters of all ages to come and learn under some of the top instructors in the sport.
Renzo Gracie, who has one of the largest schools in America and a growing student base in his main academy in New York City, has several kid specific programs including ‘kid-jitsu’ and kid’s Muay Thai.
Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn run one of the most well-known and well respected MMA training facilities in the world, but they also have programs specifically geared towards kids as well. Children as young as 6 years of age are able to take classes at the gym under instructors like 11-2 pro fighter Buddy Roberts, who heads up the kid’s instruction.
Gym manager Ricky Kottenstette says that the programs have done very well over the years, and the kids are taught on a developmental level as they get older and more mature. For instance, the kids as young as six are taught elements of MMA, but never anything dangerous like chokes or submissions.
Urijah Faber, who grew up as a wrestler in California, has seen the growth of the kid’s programs in his system as well, with teenagers competing at the highest levels.
“We’ve got young kids, 13-year olds and some 16 and 17 year olds that just competed in the Pankration world championships over in Yugoslavia and the Ukraine. It’s an understatement when you talk about the younger guys coming up tough,” Faber told MMAWeekly.com recently.
Despite his enthusiasm for the youth of today developing into the champions of tomorrow, Faber still believes that athletes should focus on one discipline before taking on all of them at once. Much like Faber, many of the fighters on his Team Alpha Male squad come from wrestling backgrounds and have tasted quite a bit of success since transitioning into MMA.
“I still feel like it’s good to get focused in one area and get really good at it, but kids are starting from such a young age and learning everything. It’s becoming second nature to them. We’ve just got to keep bringing the standard up and you can just see how good these young guys are,” said Faber.
There are several high profile MMA fighters however who still subscribe back to their traditional martial arts roots. Fighters like UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and Lyoto Machida still speak very highly of the training they received in disciplines like karate, that helped them get their start towards a future in MMA.
Of course no matter how big mixed martial arts gets, there will always be karate academies, taekwondo academies and other ‘traditional’ martial arts schools that will exist and thrive. MMA specific gyms however are popping up seemingly everyday, and almost every fighter has a dream of one day owning a place of their own.
On a global level, mixed martial arts is certainly gaining more and more headway to be considered the biggest and most practiced discipline in the world.