My family is a martial arts family. I have been involved for some 18 years now, and all three of my boys have earned their black belts. My two older boys studied in Okinawan Kenpo (a form of karate), and my youngest son just earned his black belt in jiu-jitsu (a throwing and grappling art). My second oldest also has his black belt in MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program), so we like to think of ourselves as well-rounded in these skills.
Although we have practiced these arts primarily for self-defense, we love watching the sport aspect by way of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship — a sports league for full contact mixed martial arts). We follow the triumphs and trials of such famous fighters as George St-Pierre (my favorite), Ronda Rousey, and Conor McGregor (all household names where I live).
I guess it was no surprise to me when one day my oldest boy (who is an athletic trainer by profession) announced to us that he had signed up for his first amateur mixed martial arts fight. My first reaction was, “awesome son!” Mom’s first reaction was … not as enthusiastic. It is full contact punching, kicking, throwing, joint locking, and choking, after all. But she threw in her full support, of course. And a lot of prayers.
So, the family made plans to attend and cheer on our boy to victory. Even Grandma, an aunt and uncle, and friends of the family made plans to travel across the state to attend the fight. None of us had ever been to a real MMA fight like this, outside of the usual sparring at the martial arts school.
Well, my son trained hard for the next couple of months (while working a very busy job). He has trained for years in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so he had his plans for either using his punching skills from Kenpo and boxing to knock out the opponent, or to take him to the ground and submit him with jiu-jitsu. But remember Mike Tyson’s words of wisdom: “Everybody’s got plans, until they get hit.”
What was most surprising to all of us on the evening of the fight was the family atmosphere and total niceness of everyone in the arena. The fights took place in an indoor soccer facility, and the people in charge brought in a real MMA cage for the contestants to fight in. As I was walking in with Grandma, I did see quite a large number of very large, very intimidating-looking people all over. Out of the 500 or so people in attendance, probably 50% of them were trained fighters.
But they couldn’t have been nicer or more polite. Children and grandparents were everywhere. Girlfriends and wives were cheering on their warriors as they entered the cage. I heard no one … not a soul… use vulgarity before or after the fight. Maybe I’m hard of hearing, but I only heard people cheering for their friends. Like at most sporting events, they had beer for sale. Some people bought it. But not one person got out of control. The police were around, but no one got rowdy or unruly.
I was used to the politeness and respect that is demanded in the traditional martial arts school. I guess I just was not expecting to see so much of it in this non-traditional format. But there it was on full display.
Next Page: But did the fighters behave themselves? The answer may surprise you.
The fighters themselves played by the rules. In this particular amateur fight, they do not allow elbow or knee strikes to the head, and kicks to the head are not allowed. Of course, no groin shots, either. Everyone fought by the rules and there was only one accident. As one man threw a kick to his opponent’s leg, his opponent came in for a double-leg take down. He caught the kick right in the head and was knocked out cold. The kicker was disqualified and the grappler won … as soon as he woke up. But, after each fight was over, the fighters in every case congratulated each other as true gentlemen should. I was just blown away, and very impressed.
So how did my son do? Well, he came out marching to the tune of Lecrae’s song “Boasting.” He was mentally and physically prepared. Grandma was cheering, and Mom was praying. I was filming his grand entrance into the cage. One guy next to me said, “You his Dad?” I proudly said, “Yep.” He pointed at my son’s beard and said, “Got some major mountain man beard going on there.” I replied, “Yep. He’s had it since he was four.” Really threw that guy for a loop, then he started laughing. Our laughter stopped when the fight began.
But my boy lost. His opponent just shot out of the box like a lightning bolt and immediately nailed my boy with three or four good, solid punches in the head. They stopped the fight after 48 seconds. He had a black eye and plenty of bruises all over, but he was ok. He shook hands with his opponent.
After the fight, his opponent talked to him and encouraged him. Other fighters came up and did the same. Again, I was really impressed by the good sportsmanship, camaraderie and even brotherhood among all the fighters that night.
But my son does not like to lose. I said this to him, “Son, do you remember what Teddy Roosevelt said long ago? He said, “It’s not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do the deed. … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
He liked hearing all of that. Maybe those words took some of the pain out of the bruises and defeat. I ended by telling him, “Son, I could not be more proud of you today. You are a true warrior. You walked in there knowing what could happen. You took a licking, and you came out under your own power. You don’t have to prove a thing to anybody. And if you never get in that cage again, just remember that we are all so proud of you.”
He thanked me, but laughed and told me that he didn’t want to end his “career” with a loss. So, he’s seriously thinking about signing up for another fight.
I guess I better call Grandma and the family and tell them to get ready to travel to another fight!