MMA for kids can build a child's self-esteem, but are the potential dangers worth it?

MMA for kidsThere is a new trend where people beat the snot out of each other in a cage. This time it includes kids. No, I’m not talking about parents who let their kids watch the UFC, but rather the parents who let their kids participate in UFC style cage fights. I come from a martial arts background, a full contact one, so when I learned about MMA for kids, I knew I had to investigate further.

The media naturally reports that mixed martial arts for children is barbaric, but there’s a huge angle missing. The one basic component that the media anchors seemed to forget was that Martial Arts builds self-esteem.

When you see a child hitting or punching another child for sport, there can be a tendency to miss a perspective. Out on the side lines of the child cage fights, if you look closely, you will also see the coach. The coach who taught that kid how to pummel the other child and support that child’s physical and emotional development.

A good coach can be the difference between a child in trouble emotionally or physically and someone who can go forth on their own two feet and face the world. I should know – I had arguably the best coach in the world with Master Marc Gitelman.

Master G taught us (young and old) the value of hard work, discipline, respect and camaraderie. I was lucky to have him as a coach and perhaps some of the Mixed Marshal Arts kids are lucky enough to have one who’s similar.

But here is the difference. I was an adult, fully aware of the risks, and Master G taught me to be respectful to my opponents. This meant if I could win without physically punishing someone, then I should avoid damaging the other person physically or mentally. There is no honor in abusing someone you outclass. There’s also no honor in letting your kid get hurt, and there’s the rub.

I could lecture that “my sport has rules for kids fighting that include no contact, and later on in age, limited head contact. and these MMA kid fights don’t”. I could also lecture on kid Pop Warner football leagues feeling the impact of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). If you have been in the dark for the last few years, CTE is derived by being hit in the head – even pre-concussive blows – and has the symptoms of dementia to the point where the brain physically ages and degenerates.

Why is that important? Well, because people, who are normally quite healthy, start to forget things; they start to have anger issues; they start to lose touch with reality and hallucinate; and in the case of my friend, they kill their loved ones and then themselves. The majority of CTE studies are done on professional level athletes; however, children as early as teens have been diagnosed postmortem with CTE.

MMA for kidsSo, am I disturbed that kids are mounting other children in a cage and pounding them? I have to admit I was a bit taken back by child cage fights, but it was the media’s point to shock. I rather the media push gun violence, vets, education, and health care day in and day out until something  is done with those issues.

As for child cage fights, I am mixed. My decision to step into a ring or not is a constant one (although made easier by time and age). If you haven’t been there, you wouldn’t understand. At the same time, with CTE not being a secret, is it worth the price to yourself or to your opponent? That’s something each person has to address for themselves; however, are those parents informed enough to make that decision for their children?

I don’t know that either. I do know that for every second of footage shown of a child throwing a punch at another child’s face, there are hours of time each child worked hard, built friendships, and learned about themselves. My fondest moments were training for fights and building those life-long friendships, including those of my opponents.

In the end it comes down to trust. Do we trust the governing organizations enough to allow kids into the sport? Do we trust the coaches, the parents, the promoters of MMA for kids? We still have football at all ages. We still have people smashing each other with huge weapons called helmets at all ages. So, why the sudden attention by the media on children in danger? Where is the evidence that child cage fights are more dangerous than football?  Is it always about the money?

I trust that if we make snap decisions about child cage fights, but allow Pop Warner to continue, then what does that make us? It makes us a society who clings to the old values no matter the damage and attacks the new, even when that new is statistically safer than the old.


  1. I agree with every word here. Honestly expected this article to go the opposite direction and that I was going to have to make the above points. With good martial arts training comes a deep respect for peaceful solutions.

    • When I suggested it as a topic to research and write I thought it would go in a different direction too, but the more I looked into things, the more I saw that MMA is another positive martial arts training for kids when done properly. Although, I do wish the governing bodies would start to agree on rules and such for safety. Hopefully, that is the next step in time.

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