There have been many stories done about a very controversial subject. ESPN, Fox, CNN, many others before the latest National Geographic piece it has been covered in the U.S. by production companies all over the world.. The sport of kid’s martial arts, or pankration to be exact. Now there have been honest articles that go in depth about the league, the gyms, the children, and the families of the children. For the most part, I believe that journalists come in thinking that they are going to uncover some crazy dad who is living his life through his son, but that is hardly the case. Pankration has actually been around since the early greek days and Olympics. It started out as a mix of boxing and wrestling. This is the sport that the USFL or United States Fight League has fought so vehemently to legalize. They actually succeeded.
It is very important to note the differences between pankration and MMA as these differences are major.
First of all and easiest to see when you witness a contest, there are absolutely no strikes of any kind allowed to the head.
All strikes are aimed at the body and legs of the opponent. The strikes have to be executed with proper technique and throwing haymakers is penalized. With that major difference out of the way, the other differences are more subtle and they differ between the different age groups. Knees are allowed with the older children but elbows are not allowed at all. There are not twisting locks like heel hooks or other submissions that have a high probability of injury. Submissions must be applied with controlled force, so if someone lands an armbar, they can’t just jerk it as hard as possible, they have to use applied pressure and allow the opponent the opportunity to tap before injury. Even if they opponent doesn’t tap, the referee will stop the bout and consider the fight over via submission. The entire sport is aimed at the safety of children.
Now there are some serious protestors. I feel that most of the protest is due to a lack of education about the rules. People see the pictures or hear kid’s MMA and automatically say it is wrong. The major argument for pankration is that other sports in themselves are far more dangerous for kids. They are much more likely to get injured skateboarding or football. Not only that, there are sports currently legal that are much less safe. Kid’s full contact karate, Jiujitsu, and even wrestling yield more injuries per participant than Pankration does. Meticulous safety records are actually kept by the USFL and they are available to all of the naysayers. So if those people who protest the sport actually learn the rules and see the tract record of the contests, they may not be as quick to judge. This is absolutely nothing like amateur or professional mixed martial arts. National Geographic did what many companies before did, they portrayed it as actual mixed martial arts and left out a lot of the safety protocols practiced by league and promoters.
With all of that said, the question of “why” even do it may still be asked. Why is it necessary? Well, it isn’t, but it is a sport and just like the kids of yesteryear who looked up to Reggie Jackson or Joe Namath, kids nowadays look up to UFC fighters. Those same kids may be martial artists. The problem with MMA for a long time was that there was really no way to be an amateur like the options in boxing, wrestling, and other martial arts. In most sports, you can practice in school and you can even participate in tournaments as a kid. Nothing like that is available for MMA for kids except pankration. If you want to be the best at something, you have a serious advantage if you are afforded the opportunity to learn and participate at a young age. The best wrestlers and boxers in the world participated in USA boxing and wrestling as kids and now kids who participate in Pankration can have that same chance to become professionals with a wealth of experience.