By: Kenpo Girl, Jesalyn Harper
My parents enrolled me in a martial arts after school program when I was young …
They felt it was important for any woman to know how to defend herself. It’s a belief I have carried into adulthood. It was in my training that I learned techniques to escape basic attacks: punches, grabs, kicks ect. I was very active with my dojo at the time but I never had the urge or desire to do anything competitive with it. To be honest I never even sparred until my return to the mat as an adult.
Needless to say my experience with competitive martial arts is limited. I’ve never paid to watch any fights, usually stumbling upon results or highlights on my Facebook feed, and discussing them with whoever brings it up around the Dojo water cooler. It’s not that I am against competitive fighting—I have just always felt knowing who the top ranking fighters are in UFC wouldn’t save my ass in a street fight.
When I was asked to help promote/attend the grand opening of the UFC GYM in Northridge, CA and the Paradise Warriors Retreat UFC Seminar, I was surprised. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t know what I would walk away with. That’s even if I could walk away afterwards.
Yes that’s me playing hide and seek.
I was proven wrong by the first class. The striking class with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and his dad/coach Ray Thompson was a pleasant surprise. Here where two clearly experience instructors not only providing realistic drills but dicussing the technique and theory behind each drill that was obviously Kempo based (and yes some of the students were kids and women).
It was also an eye opener. As I watched it became clear that very few students had any martial arts basis to go off of. Some of the students didn’t even know what a proper fighting stance was. The Thompson’s were introducing them to literally basics and principles such as…
- Push drags: they never officially called it this but that’s what it was, applied to make your attack less readable.
- Heal-Toe alignment: A proper stance was brought up by Ray Thompson about measuring your stance with what we call heal-toe alignment.
- Power principles: using body mass was brought up to add power to a strike. It all refers back to our power principles of backup mass, torque and marriage of gravity.
After class I got a chance to talk to Stephen.
A funny history lesson: My Grandmaster Sifu Ed Parker Sr. was Elvis’s instructor and it was Elvis’s involvement in martial arts that inspired Ray Thompson to start martial arts.
I have heard about the NFL lawsuits concerning concussions damaging the player’s brains. You are not just getting slapped in the head during an MMA fight and there’s a very great possibility you’re going to get knocked out. So I had to ask, “With the NFL in the middle of a lawsuit concerning concussions, are you concerned about any lasting damage from your fights?”
Stephen replied, “No, because of the way I move I don’t worry about it. I see these guys, you can tell (they’re effected) by the way they talk but they get that way in the gym. You have to train smart. When we spar we work light, we work the body not the head. You just have to train smart.”
Training smart was something he had brought up in the class repeatedly even discussing his former injuries and how he listens to his body to determine work outs at times.
On top of his training for MMA, Stephen and his dad run a Martial Arts School called Upstate Karate. Stephen is the head kid’s instructor. I hadn’t envisioned an MMA fighter as being a kid’s instructor. I’m an instructor at Double Dragon and know what kids gain from learning martial arts, but a part of me wanted to know if he had the same philosophy or if it would be different because of the competitive edge… So I asked, “Some people believe that UFC and martial art are promoting violence in children. What’s your response to that idea?”
Stephen didn’t even hesitate, explaining the importance of learning to defend yourself regardless of age and that it helps teach modesty and respect. He also brought up bullying, that learning to defend yourself will deter bullies.
Pretty much what all proper martial artist instructors have been saying since the beginning of time that no one wants to listen too. Now at Upstate Karate they teach various styles of martial arts. I have been somewhat confused about this in the past and I had read articles and rants online about learning too many systems and never mastering one. “Some people feel that by doing MMA you aren’t mastering a system. Your response?”
I have to admit I was nervous about asking this question. The last thing I wanted to do was piss this guy off but he was cool about it, “I have students that do karate, soccer, basketball… They are good at them but they won’t be great because they’re not focusing on one. It’s best to start (martial arts) at a young age, in one style and let it grow.”
I can relate as an instructor. The countless times a student missed class for a week because of a track tournament or even a fatigued student because of back to back practices; at times the parents seeming to be more concerned with the quantity instead of quality of sport activities. I had a wonderful time talking to Stephen. He appeared to be a genuine guy that enjoys not only doing martial arts but teaching it, even taking time during the seminar to help the younger kids in the class. The complete opposite of what I expected.
We later watched the class by Carlos Condit …
This ended up being pretty much a drill class. Carlos introduced incorporating elbows into blast double take downs and double under clutches. This was interesting to me because I had never heard of such things but as I watched the students you could tell that because they lacked the power principles most would have to try hard to take someone down or get pulverized in the process. The main lesson I walked away with from Carlos was a comment he made that indirectly connected back to Stephen’s interview…
“The more wars (sparring) you have here (gym), the less you have out there.”
Carlos responded, “Yes my son’s been doing Jujitsu a few years. He’s 6. I don’t train him, I just play and wrestle around, let it be fun.”There are many different systems of martial arts and at times I think parents get confused on what is what and which they should enroll their child in. So I asked him for advice he would give parents thinking of enrolling in martial arts.Carlos believes and advises, “Take out the competitive aspect and let them train and have fun. When they have fun it allows them to make mistakes and grow.”
I think in turn MMA has the potential to be no different from a singular martial art. It really just depends on where you train and who you train with. Unfortunately with the popularity growth of UFC I believe we will see more MMA versions on McDojos popping up. Anyone who’s contemplating training in a MMA style should take their time to do their research and don’t be afraid to ask questions. The trainers that enjoy the sport and know what they’re doing will welcome the questions because they have the knowledge to answer and are worth your time.