In the field of sports medicine, rarely does a topic arise that requires immediate comment and action.
The participation of children in the sport of ultimate fighting is one such topic. Placing children in a cage to grapple with and strike each other until a winner is declared is wrong on many levels.
An ultimate fighting event involves adult, unarmed combatants entering a ring or cage where they pummel each other. Typically the participants are boxers, wrestlers, or mixed martial artists.
Its popularity has steadily increased over the past 10 years, appealing primarily to a young male demographic. Today’s version is much less brutal than its original form which was subsequently outlawed in many states.
Unbelievably, there are now clubs in Missouri where children as young as six are “taught” ultimate fighting. The protective gear worn by the participants is ineffective since it is not designed for the type of punishment inflicted.
There are many dangers in subjecting children to ultimate fighting:
• Striking (repetitive blows to the head) will cause permanent damage to a developing brain. It results in persistent headaches, dizziness, and learning difficulties.
• Grappling (bending an opponent’s limb to cause submission) can result in crippling a participant’s extremity, most commonly the shoulder, elbow or knee.
• Psychologically, it is never healthy to encourage aggressive behavior in children.
The parents of these children maintain that ultimate fighting is a vehicle for improved self-discipline. There are many healthier ways to achieve discipline and athleticism. Traditional martial arts including karate, judo, and kung fu all improve balance and coordination, which are crucial for the developing nervous system. The spiritual aspect of these sports provides a structure for discipline and self-respect.
Missouri is currently the only state that allows children to participate in ultimate fighting. In many states, an activity such as this is a criminal offense.
Children rely on parents and other adults for guidance. Clearly, some children have been mislead.
Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish to learn more about children and ultimate fighting – or other sports health topics – listen to the podcast or go to the Healthy Sports blog at www.backushospital.org.