October 13, 2008
Youth fights worry martial arts teachers
Recent case of youths trying Ultimate Fighting has officials concerned.
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland Fitness Center employee and professionally trained fighter Eric Henry talks about the differences between street fighting and professional fighting Saturday and how they relate to the recent fight club arrest by city police.
Eric Henry has practiced martial arts for 20 years, and his personal preferred style is bare-knuckle karate. He stresses that when you know your physical capabilities, there is no need to prove it to others.
When Henry learned that area teenagers had held an ultimate fighting club in September, he attributed it to nothing more than egos gone out of control and too many movies.
“These people need to learn what it’s really about,” he said.
City police broke up a group of about 20 teens Sept. 20 who had organized a fight club behind St. Mary’s Cemetery on Route 281. Police identified several participants, ranging in age from 14 to 18 years old. Police have arrested one of the participants.
Police are organizing a meeting Tuesday with parents of those involved, and potentially some professional martial artists to discuss the issue.
Ultimate fighting is a mixed martial arts sport, which employs techniques such as judo, Greco-Roman wrestling, jujitsu, or tae kwon do.
Jeff Edwards, an instructor at North East Martial Arts Institute in Cortlandville, said he has no doubt what youths see in movies could have played a role in the incident.
“Personally, I think it’s really stupid,” he said. “Kids have come here to train and are surprised to find out it really isn’t like in a movie,” Edwards.
Edwards has trained for 23 years, and earned his black belt in 1991. He specializes in Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do, a style developed by Bruce Lee.
Henry was surprised that teenagers would want to engage in any mixed martial arts fighting without any grasp of training.
“The lack of training means a lack of control, and that means a higher danger level,” he said. “Part of being intelligent is that when you know what you can do, there’s no need to prove it.”
After the September arrest police encouraged anyone who wanted to participate in that type of activity to take classes.
For Henry, training is about taking aggressive energy and using it in a safe environment. That energy is something that belongs in the gym alone, he said.
Henry teaches private classes at the Cortland Fitness Center. He has been in 13 mixed martial arts fights, with one knockout to his record. About four went to decision in his favor, or were a submission, or yielding to the opponent.
One aspect of the sport he feels teenagers fail to understand is that ultimate fighting, especially those events broadcast on cable television channels such as Spike, is a staged contest.
Henry feels those shows glamorize the sport, especially the lack of control.
“There is a code to being a fighter,” he said. “You train to be superhuman, to be more than the average person, but I also have to be the holster.”
Mary and Bob Kelly of Homer sent their 12 year-old son, Jonathan, to learn from Henry at the gym. Jonathan has practiced karate for six years, and is a brown belt.
Mary Kelly enrolled her son in karate to teach him self-confidence.
“It’s a tough world out there and we wanted him to learn how to defend himself,” she said.
However, this does not mean being a bully, and Mary said her son has always resorted to using humor to get himself out of a problem.
“One percent of the human population wants to learn how to fight, and one percent of that actually wants to fight,” Henry said. “The rest of the world just thinks they can.”
Henry said he has heard of so many misconceptions about fighting, that he has resorted to ignoring any questions that deal with movie fighting stunts.
For Henry, martial arts are not just about technique, but understanding what body parts you hit and how they are affected.
For example, he said, you block the side of your face to prevent a damaging blow to nerve endings and not necessarily to the skull.
“To untrained people it’s the difference between using a slingshot and a .357-magnum,” he said.
Edwards feels anyone can learn martial arts, but respect for self and others is essential to participate.
He teaches classes to various age groups for a fee. However, he said he is willing to negotiate on price, especially if someone cannot afford the cost but has passion for martial arts.
Edwards said he places emphasis on developing a student’s individual strengths, and refining the technique to become well rounded.
“I’d rather have kids come here who want to learn how to do it properly because that might mean they’re not fighting on the street,” Edwards said. “You teach them self-discipline, which also means self-restraint.”
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