Should kids be allowed to take mixed martial arts training? That’s the question Nate Wilcox asks at Bloody Elbow.

The first thing to note is that they couldn’t fight as if they’re miniature UFC combatants. As much as I’d dispute the “human cockfighting” stereotypes that have tarnished the sport one can’t avoid the fact that its contestants’ ultimate goal is to pulverise whoever they’re facing to the point where they’re unable to continue or inflict such pain on them that they’re forced to submit. For obvious reasons these aren’t things you’d want a kid to be doing or, more importantly, be having done to them. Competitive fighting, then, isn’t on the cards.

It’d have to be a limited, specialised form of mixed martial arts: one that focused on the different elements of the sport until its students reached such physically and cerebral maturity that they could bring it all together. And, of course, the sensitivity of young brains and young bones would mean that appropriate headgear would have to be used if and when striking was involved, as well as great care with any type of throw or hold. There would still be injuries, of course, and journalists would seize on them like prospectors on golden nuggets, but I doubt they’d be extraordinary in scale. What pursuit has lead to 27,000 serious injuries among America’s youth? Something frenetic and violent? Boxing? Fencing? Rodeo? It’s actually gymnastics.

A more abstract question, though, is why children would feel inclined to take up the sport. Mixed martial arts, for all the skill involved, has always been driven by the urge to see who’s the toughest fighter walking – the “baddest man on the planet”. This is not the healthiest of aspirations for a child – and it’s perhaps the unhealthiest ambition that a parent can have for their child. There are great values associated with it, too – dedication, self-sacrifice, restraint, endurance – but if it’s going to be a worthwhile activity these might have to be promoted as a coherent ethic to obstruct the meathead tendency. There’s a reason you don’t hear of people karate kicking eachother in the streets.

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