7 Things My 7 Year Old Learned From MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)

If your kids are like mine, and don’t care for team sports, MMA is an excellent alternative.

My son does MMA training 3 nights a week at the American School of Martial Arts in Savage MN. When he chose to take Karate, we visited several different schools, and he decided on MMA. He liked the school, the instructor, and the structure. He can quit any time he wishes. But he knows, if he quits, it’s final, and I am never taking him back (just a little lesson about the power of decision).

7 Things My 7 Year Old Learned from MMA

Goal Setting – It started with learning a Kenpo technique called the Snapping Twain. He was determined to do it correctly. Then he began focusing on earning stripes for his belt, and later decided to earn his first belt. The goals he sets in MMA are not easy to achieve. They take months of focus and consistent practice. Now, without my prompting he sets financial goals and educational goals for himself, and I credit the things he’s learned in MMA training

Persistence – He’s been at this 18 months and still hasn’t earned his second belt. His first belt took 9 months. Some days he practices free grappling, which is Jiu Jitsu (the art of softness – no hitting or punching). He lost dozens of these matches, but improved with each loss. Previously, he avoided things that weren’t easy for him, now he accepts the challenge even if the odds are are against him. Why? He’s discovered that if he keeps trying, he will improve. Sometimes he sees improvement in an hour, other times it takes months. But with consistent effort, improvement happens. This is the same son that invented the word “Shandshowbo” when he was 4. It means keep trying even when it’s hard.

Confidence – There is no substitute for self-confidence. If you don’t believe in your ability to overcome obstacles, if fear of failure stops you, you will never reach your goals.

“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.”

Confidence comes from deep inside, and it is reflected in your posture, the way you shake hands, if you look someone in the eye when they speak to you. The kids at ASMA are taught to stand up straight, look each other in the eye, shake hands, and speak clearly and confidently. In my experience, very few kids have the basic social skills that come with confidence. Confidence comes from knowing you have the mental and physical strength to deal with adversity and challenge. MMA training fosters that confidence.

Nutrition – Look at a group of today’s youth and you’ll see that few kids understand the foundation of good nutrition. MMA training stresses the importance of eating healthy natural foods and avoiding sugar, HFCS, and processed foods. Each day, the instructor requires my son to name 5 fruits and vegetables he has eaten that day. If he can’t, he does 25 push ups. This method has been so effective, in 18 months, my son has never had to do those push ups. By 6 years old, he developed an obsession with eating healthy foods. He nags us to feed him healthy food. Today, he frequently says things like, “I’m not eating candy for the next 60 days.” He does this with no prompting from me or the instructors. He does it because he wants to be healthy and test himself. That is radical self-discipline for a 7 year old.

Physical Fitness – Each training session starts with a 10-15 minute run, followed by a routine of stretches and calisthenics. After about a year, he could do over 100 squats and 50 push-ups in near perfect form. Many mornings he gets up early and works out for 20 minutes on his own. One morning I awoke at 6 AM to sounds coming from the living room. There was my son doing squats. Physical fitness isn’t a goal, it’s a habit, and MMA training ingrains the habit young.

Frustration Tolerance – Trying something difficult for the first time is frustrating, especially if you’re around other people who make it look easy. The same is the case for MMA training. Many times my son grapples with bigger more experienced kids, they end up on top of him, and it’s frustrating and difficult to get out from underneath them. I’ve seen the frustration on his face after a difficult situation. A situation when he fails repeatedly. But in time, I’ve seen him turn that frustration from fear and anger, into determination, and finally achievement.

Focused Attention – Your strength and ability at any task, is directly related to your ability to focus your attention on your goal and the task at hand. The power of focused attention is the most powerful thing you control. The importance of focus can’t be stressed enough. I don’t care what you’re doing, writing, painting, drawing, speaking, running, or swinging a golf club, focus is essential.

As many of you know, children, especially boys, struggle with focus and attention, some more than others. Some kids just “space off” a little, others are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and are prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs. Putting a child on mind altering drugs is a huge decision, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Alternative treatments are possible, and Martial Arts training can and has worked as an alternative therapy for ADD/ADHD. (Please do not stop any medication without consulting with your child’s physician.)

Many kids show typical ADD/ADHD symptoms because they aren’t getting enough exercise. Parents and schools tend to discipline a hyperactive child by making them sit still for long periods of time (timeout). For most hyper kids, this only produces more hyperactivity. Instead, have them run laps or do squats or push ups. Exercise helps kids focus.

Sportsmanship – Have you seen a kid throw a fit when they don’t win? Have you seen him mock his opponent when he does win? Have you seen a child look for a weaker opponent simply because he didn’t want to lose? Have you seen him refuse to try when he realized he would probably lose? These are all issues of sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is a basic social skill we all should master. We all compete at some level, and good sportsmanship reflects strong character.

Trying challenging things and failing builds sportsmanship, and MMA training challenges kids. No one is a superstar on day one. Everything is earned and all bullying is shunned.

Why MMA?

My son loves it and he doesn’t like team sports. Maybe that will change, but until it does, MMA provides all the physical and mental benefits of team sports.

We hear a constant refrain about the dangers facing our children today – Obesity, ADD/ADHD, Stranger Abduction, and Apathy. We also hear about the entitlementality – kids growing up believing they’re entitled to things that must be earned – things that cannot be bestowed from the outside – things that must be grown over time in your soul. To build a strong future we need to help young men and women build a strong character. Unfortunately, for the most part, character isn’t being learned or taught in our schools.

Building strong character begins at home, but a child needs input for many sources, sources that may not be available in every home. As parents we are limited to our own knowledge and perspectives, and for me and Christine, that isn’t enough. Our kids need role models, who can share knowledge and experience, we as parents do not have.

14 thoughts on “7 Things My 7 Year Old Learned From MMA (Mixed Martial Arts)”

  1. This is a great article. I was concerned you wold be all ‘he learned might makes right, crush the weak’ etc.

    Your teacher is teaching the true meaning of martial arts, in that the adept practitioner is free from fear and behaves better. Also, he is treated with respect by his peers and life is just easier and more pleasant for him.

    Thanks for this.

  2. A great article, and a great admission and acknowledgement of the things your son is able to show and teach you.

    I’ve been training Brazilian jiu-jitsu for about 4 years now so I can sympathise with a lot of the benefits your son is seeing in his life.

    You’re obviously raising a fine human being, and I commend you for supporting him in his endeavours so thoroughly.

    If your son ever ends up in Perth, Western Australia, be sure to have him look up The Academy of Mixed Martial Arts. We’d be honoured to train with him.

  3. Thank you for a great article. I enjoyed reading it and think it is a great tribute to your son. This is an article he will be able to read later in life and be able to see how proud you are of him.

  4. Reading this makes me want to be more like your son. To have such self discipline at such a young age is a great thing. I value the eating healthy. With the fast pace of society and convenience of fast food, the fact that he is demanding healthy food is amazing. Encourage him to stick with this for the rest of his life.

  5. I’m waiting for new posts, buddy! I am getting annoyed going to your feed and finding this MMA post at the top. It’s time to post new articles or I will have to unsubscribe because I get angry each time I go to your feed and find this MMA post. I don’t want these emotions.

  6. Great post. So many people think that MMA is all about fighting and violence, but it really teaches discipline and respect for yourself and others. Not to mention that it helps combat the obesity problem that so many kids and adults are dealing with these days.

  7. My son had his firs grapple match. He did well for his age, however he trains with 5-8 year old. I was surprise they had him grapple with an 11 year old, which was a lot more advance than my son. I think they should take more than weight in consideration.

  8. Thank you for writing a post that undermines the argument that MMA is all about violence and unrestrained brutality. Up here in the Pacific Northwest we have a medical association trying to get it banned outright.

    Oddly enough you don’t hear these same medical professionals complain about boxing (where the fights last much longer, and there are FAR more blows to the head), hockey (240 pound men going 30mph on hard ice with 10 inch blades on their feet…) and so on…

    People always resist change, and MMA is one of those things that is going to struggle for another 2-3 years to truly gain mainstream acceptance.

  9. Interesting comments Alex… Did you know that the sport that causes the most serious injuries is football? More head injuries and deaths in youth than any other sport. Also extremely high incidence of neck and back injuries that result in paralysis. I have a friend who is a pediatric trauma specialist. He said he’d never let his kids play football with some of the things he’s seen. Apparently the amount of serious injuries in youth football isn’t widely reported. Let’s see them try to ban football… lol

  10. Academic difficulties are also frequent. The symptoms are especially difficult to define because it is hard to draw a line at where normal levels of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity end and clinically significant levels requiring intervention begin. To be diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms must be observed in two different settings for six months or more and to a degree that is greater than other children of the same age.

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