Some years ago I attended an event in Moscow that was called “Fighting Without Rules.” In fact, the fighting was not entirely without rules – gouging and hitting people in the loins were forbidden – but otherwise, pretty much any combat strategy was permitted, and gloves and protective headgear were banned. It was brutal and exhilarating. And then the kids stepped into the ring.
As I watched the little dudes beating the tar out of each other I thought I had stumbled upon an “only in Russia” moment of such purity it would be difficult to top. Until yesterday, that is, when I found lots and lots of videos on YouTube featuring little kids in America beating each other up for the amusement of adults. It’s a sport apparently: They call it Kids’ Mixed Martial Arts.
Apparently some 3 million children in America are involved, with boys (and the occasional girl) as young as five getting involved in the ultra-violence. But the media only started to take note recently.
For instance, I saw an article in Britain’s Daily Mail, written (as usual) with the outrage dial turned up to 10. CNN also ran a photo spread featuring lots of images of shaven-headed little bruisers. The YouTube videos are the most striking however: I saw one in which a pair of what looked like eight-year-olds tossed each other about a ring and laid down some brutal choke holds. It looked painful.
Indeed, after watching one of these videos a California politician was so appalled that she has demanded the state get involved to regulate child fighting, as it does adult violent sports.
Now my kneejerk response is that her proposal makes sense; but my considered response is that when a politician cobbles together some legislation after watching something on a screen for a few minutes, it never ends well.
Kids’ MMA has its defenders after all: parents and coaches who insist it isn’t just about kids pounding each other into the dirt. No, they say: It’s also about self-respect, exercise, learning good sportsmanship, etc. That may be so, but it is also undoubtedly about teaching little kids how best to pound each other into the dirt. And human nature being what it is, some of these kids are going to be nasty little rotters who will take the skills they have learned in the ring and apply them in the playground.
It’s not that I’m against violent sports or entertainment, and I don’t think kids should be coddled. For instance, it’s considered totally acceptable to teach children martial arts like karate and judo. Indeed, when I was a boy I lost all interest in judo precisely because the trainers insisted we shouldn’t use it to crush our enemies. It was about fitness, and self-defense or some such rubbish.
As a kid, I also enjoyed a good fight, especially when I wasn’t involved. The entire population of the playground would gather in a circle and chant “fight” whenever a brawl broke out. I remember one particularly awesome struggle in which the class bully received a thorough drubbing from a female classmate, Kelly Phillips, who at the age of 11 was already a strapping lass. He never recovered: All the way through high school he bore the mark of a boy who had been defeated in mortal combat by a girl.
Still, there’s a difference between playground wars and kids’ MMA, namely that the teachers at my school did not run out and join us in our fight circle to cheer on the violence. Instead, like the responsible adults they were, they broke up the battles. But at MMA events, the parents sit in the audience celebrating the beatings. And that seems a bit odd.
Indeed, when I watched those YouTube clips, the first thing I thought of was not kids’ karate, or a youthful variant of MMA, but rather those weird pageants in which horrible parents dress their toddlers up in tiaras and flouncy dresses and make them perform bizarre routines in grotesque parodies of adult beauty competitions. Kid fights, it seemed to me, were the male equivalent. Here tiny boys are transformed into hyper-violent muscular bruisers in a grotesque caricature of masculinity, and forced to compete in tournaments so that their parents can compensate for their own frustrations and disappointments.
In the CNN piece I read, the photographer, Sebastian Montalvo, observed that what struck him most about the parents was: "They're mega-competitive." He added that they "love their kids 100 percent" but also that "they just want them to win."
I mean, you really do have to wonder about halls full of adults who have gathered to watch little boys punch each other in the face. I’d suggest that if a father wants to compensate for feelings of failure or inadequacy in his own life, it’s generally better to buy a big dog, or a huge truck. These days you can even buy rubber testicles and hang them from the tow bar, and nobody needs to get put in a choke hold.
That said, I cannot deny that if somebody offered me free tickets to a kid fight I’d almost undoubtedly attend – although purely for research purposes, of course.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
What does the world look like to a man stranded deep in the heart of Texas? Each week, Austin- based author Daniel Kalder writes about America, Russia and beyond from his position as an outsider inside the woefully - and willfully - misunderstood state he calls “the third cultural and economic center of the USA.”
Daniel Kalder is a Scotsman who lived in Russia for a decade before moving to Texas in 2006. He is the author of two books, Lost Cosmonaut (2006) and Strange Telescopes (2008), and writes for numerous publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Times of London and The Spectator.