By Jillian Bullock
The Department of Justice, federal agencies, faith-based and other grassroots and community organizations are always looking to instill crime prevention programs to address at-risk youth and gang members. While many of these programs have failed, many people in the mixed martial arts community believe they have the answer.
In a lower income area of Pomona, CA, Tim Kreitzman, a MMA fighter, opened a school to target young people who are drawn to gangs. Kreitzman’s MMA School teaches kids self-defense, discipline and the value of hard work. He also gives them a place to go instead of hanging on the corners, running the streets, selling drugs or getting into trouble.
Kreitzman said he wanted to help kids escape the streets and this was his way of giving back to the community.
“I want to use this (martial arts) to make people better, to make the community better,” Kreitzman said.
Mary Hurtado, the mother of a student at Kreitzman’s center said “along with getting a good workout, my son learns discipline, respect for other people, self-defense and camaraderie with the other students.”
Many young people who live in the inner city come from broken homes and are lured to a life of crime, drugs and violence simply because this is their daily environment and they don’t have a good support system.
Eugene “The Wolf” Jackson, a former Middleweight MMA fighter, grew up in the rough and tumble streets of East Palo Alto, CA. He understands the temptation the kids in his neighborhood face, which is why he opened the non-profit school Gladiators Training Facility. He wanted to reach kids who are at risk of ending up in jail or dead, so he had to find a way to grab their attention.
“When they see somebody like Jon Jones or Rampage Jackson fight, it gets their attention, so that’s what I use to get them hooked,” Jackson noted.
Once the kids start training at his facility, then Jackson works on getting them back in school and getting their grades up.
To understand how important a good support system is to these kids, Jackson noted a sad incident that happened to one of the boy’s who used to attend his school. When this young man came to Jackson’s school he slowly started detaching himself from gangbangers in his neighborhood. However, the boy’s father told him he couldn’t train at the school anymore. It didn’t take long for the boy to go back to his old ways. One month later, he was killed.
“I believe he would still be alive if he didn’t stop training here,” Jackson said.
Jackson has seen the positive changes in the kids who walk through his doors once they begin training. His goal is to offer the city’s youth more positive role models and productive outside influences. Along with the free classes and training sessions offered to students, Jackson routinely brings in top coaches and MMA experts to the facility to train and offer advice to the young people.
Catering to students who aren’t used to getting along with people who come from different backgrounds or different areas of the city, Jackson stresses the importance of having respect for all people and to work together as a family. His mission is to help young guys and girls to become champions in life, not just in the ring.
“I try to give them a chance that they didn’t have, see the possibilities of something totally different than the world they’re used to seeing,” Jackson said.
Jackson also goes beyond mentoring kids in his school. Each month he hosts “Sacrifice Weekends” where students camp out at the facility and spend the entire weekend training, eating, playing games, watching movies, and just having fun.
CDM Promotions Promoter Reynaldo Rueda also uses mixed martial arts as a vehicle to help at-risk youth have a better chance to succeed in life because as he states, “I was that kid that needed help.”
Rueda explained that when he was younger he was a loner and he had no one to talk to about his problems. He was one of those kids who often got into trouble, ran the streets and came face to face with the judicial system many times. Becoming severely depressed, he thought he’d never make it past 21 years of age, especially on those occasions when he contemplated suicide.
Finding martial arts through MMA promotions helped change Rueda’s mindset and saved his life. So, it was only natural that he would one day start working with at-risk kids, which he started doing after he lost his father to cancer three years ago. With the help of two good friends, Fred Crow and Mo Darthart, the three of them used their own money to start CDM Promotions.
“We opened our doors with the intention of having a place to keep kids off the streets by teaching them boxing,” Rueda said. Eventually, the training expanded when Rueda joined forces with MMA fighter Travis Tooke, who started teaching a Jiu-Jitsu course.
Rueda’s ultimate mission: “What we really want is to be able to give everyone that walks through our doors a second chance – whether it’s training, counseling, or tutoring as needed.”
Rueda and his team promotes MMA events and fights in Texas, which helps pay to keep the training facility open. Their next event, Elite Amateur Combat 1, will take place on Friday, December 2 in Woodlands, TX. For more information www.cdmboxingassoc.com.
BLACK MAT MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
When young people have no family or a shattered family, or they feel no one loves them, and they have no hope for the future, they can seek out acceptance through gangs, drugs, violence or even death as a way to ease their pain. But Phillip Koon, the owner and head instructor of Black Mat Mixed Martial Arts in Whittier, CA, has saved the lives of many people who have suffered from depression and other emotional issues.
Several years ago, Koon started his school out of his garage after the son of his neighbor asked for training. Word of mouth lead to more people inquiring about training with Koon. It wasn’t long before he was looking to lease a commercial building for his school. In 2003, Koon started his non-profit Black Mat Mixed Martial Arts school.
The mission of the school: To provide boys and girls and young adults a safe haven; a place where they could feel safe, be respected, and be treated with dignity and honesty. A place where they can grow as a martial artist, but most importantly as human beings.
Along with teaching youths Boxing, Jiu-jitsu, Judo, Submission Wrestling , Kickboxing, Wrestling & Self Defense, Koon and his instructors also treat them to hugs, which many of these kids find foreign. But through giving hugs the kids learn about love, patience, caring for others, respect, compassion, and humility.
Koon and his instructors, who are looked upon as father figures and mentors to the students, also offer tutoring, counseling and drug and alcohol prevention. Students are also required to give back to the community by volunteering their services to other non-profit organizations.
Koon, who often brings in special MMA guests, such as Bas Rutten and Georges St. Pierre, to mix it up with the students, is proud to say that so far Black Mat Mixed Martial Arts has helped at least 800 students stay in school, stay out of trouble and go on to live productive lives.
CRITICS & MMA
Although MMA is a form of martial arts, critics have been harsh when it comes to speaking out against teaching kids mixed martial arts. Unlike other disciplines, e.g. Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Kung Fu, MMA is singled out as having a bad influence on children.
So why is MMA seen in such a bad light? Why does MMA carry such a negative view with some politicians, lawmakers, teachers and many people in the general public when it comes to children participating?
Many critics say that MMA is barbaric and gruesome and is nothing more than cock fights or amateur street brawls. The media has portrayed MMA in a negative light and produced myths about the sport. Like the report ESPN produced in 2008 which highlighted one MMA school where kids were beating the crap out of each other. However, most reputable schools, like Throwdown Elite Training Center in Orem, UT don’t let teenagers fight until they’ve learned the basics and they have a command of the techniques.
To take a closer look at mixed martial arts one would find that it is a much safer sport than boxing, where the object is to beat your opponent senseless and badly injury him. But during a MMA match, a fighter can win not only by strikes, but by utilizing submissions and wrestling techniques, which boxing doesn’t have available as an option. Facts have also proven that MMA is no more dangerous than football, hockey, soccer or gymnastics. MMA may actually be safer than other contact sports. In fact, it is rare that anyone has ever died during a MMA bout. The only exception was in 2007 when Sammy Vasquez died while in the hospital shortly after a MMA match.
There are several psychologists, doctors, counselors and therapists who recommend martial arts training for children. Dr. Matthew Gonzalez is one of those experts in the medical field who has documented the positive results MMA has on children, especially those who are underprivileged or who come from an unstable family life or who are involved in gangs.
Dr. Gonzalez is not only a 5th degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, with extensive training in Hapikdo, Kung Fu, Grappling, Krav-Maga, Muay Thai, and Tai Chi, but he is also a clinical psychologist and a neuropsychologist based in Michigan.
In 1995, Dr. Gonzalez began teaching a system he developed called Therapeutic Martial Arts to at-risk youth in the Allen Park School District. The response he got was so overwhelming that in 1996 he opened the Allen Park Martial Arts Center to serve the children in his community. He has found that his training has helped the kids develop trust and respect for one another, as well as motivates them to do well in school. Learning to be responsible for their actions as well as to have respect for themselves and others gives youth the opportunity to make better choices in life, especially when they are faced with tough decisions.
Dr. Gonzalez has also noted that children who are at-risk of turning to drugs or crime as a way to deal with a violent home situation or some other difficult problem learn to develop mentally and emotionally, as well as physically through martial arts.
Other psychologists have also noted that when children become involved in MMA they learn rules, respect, good sportsmanship and boundaries that they are not allowed to cross. Instead of a kid settling a dispute with a gun, he can let out his anger or frustration by hitting the heavy bag or rolling on the mats with another student while there is supervision by an instructor. These kids learn to control their emotions, so they are far less likely to use uncontrolled violence at home, at school or on the streets. MMA has also been found to help children develop self-esteem and confidence, which are great tools to have to handle bullying or other emotional issues they may face.
One father, Brad Smith, whose son trains at Throwndown Elite stated, “There are lot of things in sports that cross over into life, like discipline, team work and dedication. I’m not having him doing it to become a (MMA) fighter; I’m doing it for life skills. He’s learned how to conquer this and it helps him out in life.”
Clearly, MMA has shown that at-risk youth, gang-bangers, thugs, drug dealers and those who are emotional damaged can transform their lives with the proper training from MMA and guidance from instructors who care.
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