|JUDO CHOP! Lyoto Machida executing |
the sort of move that today's 'cage fighting
kids' weren't allowed to.
Wouldn't you know it, I got to work and fired up the PC to find out I was right. Yay me. After wading through hundreds of words of breathless outrage on the Daily Mirror site, I finally got to the couple of paragraphs at the bottom of their main article that had been written by someone who actually knows about mixed martial arts to find that the kids involved in the mini-moral panic this morning weren't actually doing what most people think of as cage fighting. This is not much of a surprise. Cage fighting isn't what most people think of as cage fighting.
The children were engaged in a grappling bout, probably using techniques from wrestling, judo and Brazillian jiu-jutsu with strict rules and no striking allowed. It was a demonstration match, meaning that there was no prize for the winner. This sort of thing goes on all the time with kids wearing their gis in sports centres up and down the country to the consternation of nobody.
This is not to dismiss the whole thing as rubbish though. There were some things wrong with what happened.
Rosi Sexton, an actual living, breathing cage fighter who knows one of the boys and his family well admits there was some confusion over the rules resulting in things being a little rougher than usual.
Chris Granet (in that bit tucked away at the bottom of the Mirror's coverage) points out that the rules permitted some locks that can potentially lead to long-term damage, and also raises the point that headgear of the sort worn by American high school wrestlers wear to protect against cauliflower ears should have been used.
In the scheme of things, these are pretty minor compared to the idea of children actually 'cage fighting'. What probably isn't is that the bout should never have taken place in the evening in a bar with ring card girls in front of an audience of adults. This is what stops everything being about how children compete in martial arts and make it about creating a spectacle for grown-ups - but of course this is easy to say in hindsight.
As a sport for adults, mixed martial arts is relatively new and constantly growing. Contrary to its reputation for having no rules and being 'no holds barred', there are plenty of rules that have been developed since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1991, and these vary between different leagues. You could argue that some of these are safer than boxing.
But it looks brutal. Knees and elbows and thin gloves mean fighters are more likely to get cut, and bleeding looks scary. Watching people punch an opponent who is on the floor looks barbaric. The cage itself conjures up images of fighters being captive, made to keep fighting against their will, although it is in fact used because fighters rolling around, grappling and throwing can easily fall out of a traditional ring.
Given MMA's brutal appearance and reputation, any association with children is bound to cause outrage, but children train and compete in all its constituent parts all the time without much concern. For the last few decades, any number of local sports centres has played host to children training and competing in karate, judo, tae kwon do, Japanese ju-jitsu (the Brazillian variant is relatively new) and any number of other martial arts.
The children in today's story were only competing in one of MMA's constituent parts, possibly even one of the safest, since they weren't allowed to hit each other. Of course we should be concerned with the safety of children, and we should do our utmost to ensure that any children who train in any of the martial arts or combat sports can do so without getting hurt.
This might even involve stopping children from being able to compete, and only allowing them to train and spar until they're a certain age. That's certainly open for debate. But we shouldn't be jerking our knees at the sight of a poorly thought out event that might seem a lot more brutal at first glance than it actually was.
Plus, of course, the emphasis in children taking part in these activities should be the children learning and having fun - not in creating entertainment for adults.
Steve Baxter makes many of the same points, probably better, in 'Cage fighting kids? The real problem is the knee-jerk reaction'. I didn't copy his homework, honest.