Friday, March 20, 2009

Understanding Violence Prevention in a Mixed Martial Arts Context

I do not have any problem with MMA or specific combat sport gyms teaching self-defense classes or simply offering classes to people from different demographic groups. Learning and practicing combat sports can be a great self-esteem builder, great for physical fitness, and great for just releasing stress from the hectic workday.

The Del Mar Times has a short story about the Mixed-Martial Arts Academy having offered “violence prevention” classes to over 1000 women at the San Diego Civic Center on March 7 titled, "MMA joins violence prevention efforts." Offering combat sports training for women and girls is great too, and the Mixed-Martial Arts Academy did a great thing in reaching out to women through MMA.

The Del Mar Times, however, makes a common mistake here in defining this effort as violence prevention. Teaching someone combat sports training is not prevention. Violence prevention means taking measures ahead of time to better insure violent interactions do not happen in the first place, as opposed to learning how to fend off a would-be attacker(s), which actually is the more dangerous response.

Prevention means emphasizing that people not walk in isolated, dark areas and travel in groups with trusted companions. For girls and women, this means learning the early signs of intimate partner violence (e.g., excessive monitoring and controlling behaviors) and for males to be active partners in teaching non-violent dimensions of masculinity. At the most fundamental level, this means providing youth with the resources and socialization so that they do not become violent later in life.

In the modern era, traditional martial arts gyms are well known for teaching principles of violence prevention – showing respect, having discipline, and feeling comfortable walking away from a fight. These are reasons residents rarely show resistance to martial arts gyms popping up in their communities. As MMA moves further into the mainstream, it is important at both the grass-roots and corporate levels that violence prevention is accurately understood and promoted.

(Photo courtesy of Del Mar Times; essay also linked up on

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