Grappling with Mixed Martial Arts
It’s 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon at Harris. There is hardly anyone here, and I only have thirty minutes to consume the delicious array of French bread pizza on my plate before I head over to Cro for my first (and probably only) mixed martial arts (MMA) experience. My roommate, a regular attendee of the Wednesday night grapple-fest, offered to let me sit in on a class. I threw on a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt and said, “Maybe. We’ll see how this goes.”
After loading up on carbs and cheese, I followed her into the 1941 room. We were greeted by an almost empty room, save for one girl warming up and stretching at the far side. Around 5:10, the instructor of the class, Will Smith ’13, ran in, frantically looking for the workout mats that were missing in action. Class was delayed until he returned with them from the Burdick basement, which is apparently where Conn stores its workout floor mats. (And to clarify, by class, I mean the three people who were there and ready to bust out some martial arts moves. I chose to plant myself in the corner with my laptop.)
Class finally began with a warm-up called “hip escapes,” which looked about as painful as it sounds. You lie on your back and pop your hips to the left and then the right, looking like a snake writhing on the ground, unable to flip back over onto its stomach. This rather excruciating activity was followed by some kind of rolling exercise, which was basically a series of somersaults done at a very rapid pace and with more grunting.
With everyone warmed-up, Smith moved on to the first activity—shadowboxing. If you have never shadowboxed before, you’re really missing out on an enjoyable time. As the name implies, one boxes against the most formidable enemy of all—air. It also looks rather like one is beating the crap out of an invisible man who has no way of defending himself. Either way, it looks awesome and works on boxing skills. Win-win.
My experience with any form of karate is brief. I was a white belt for three months before I quit, but I do remember some of the basic drills that I saw performed at MMA, like the next activity. The class paired off and one person held up a hand pad while the other practiced punches and kicks. When I had to do this, the instructor mocked the intensity of my punches, saying, “What, don’t want to break a nail?” So I really socked it to him. I learned that the harder one punches, the louder the grunt; either from the one dolling out the punch or the one lying on the ground after receiving the impact of force.
Abruptly, some beautiful Celtic music began to play from outside of the 1941 room, really setting the mood for the subsequent muay thai moves. We were performing more badass moves when a group of confused looking people wandered into the room saying they had it reserved. The misunderstanding was sorted out, but as they were leaving, one person asked, “What is that?” Another responded hesitantly, “I think it’s kickboxing.” Wrong-o. It’s MMA—something that not a lot of people know about but definitely should.
My favorite part of the whole experience was the last activity—grappling. This can be a little uncomfortable for people at first, but once they get the hang of it, it’s quite enjoyable. To be an outsider watching this activity unfold was strange and a tad uncomfortable, but at the same time, it’s really great to watch someone sitting on top of your roommate and making her squirm. I like to think of it as payback for the fact that she could probably kill me with a simple snap of her finger. So when Smith told the person grappling with her to fight harder, that she “wasn’t a delicate flower,” I cheered and commended MMA club for a job well done.
The club doesn’t have that many members, but the more that join, the more fun the activities would be. Smith, emphasizes this point, saying, “Come! We need more people.” A different martial arts class has spent money to hire an actual instructor. If Smith can get more of a momentum going, he might be able to receive some money for better equipment and mats. Students of Connecticut College, don’t deny MMA club these advantages!
If the idea of martial arts doesn’t sound appealing to you, think about this way: “It’s kind of fun when you get to kick some guy’s ass,” said Smith who admits he’s gotten his ass kicked by some girls before. “It’s humbling,” he added.
Don’t be shy, give MMA a try. You might find it as enjoyable as I did. •