Mixed Martial Arts club gives students valuable skills

They join for physical fitness and to learn self-defense skills and improve their sense of wellbeing.

That’s some of what draws participants to the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), which is taught by students at Norwich like Mike Heimall, a 20-year-old from Fort Bliss, Texas.

“MMA techniques come from three primary styles of fighting, which are Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai kickboxing, and wrestling,” explained Heimall, who is an officer of the MMA club, which meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday at 7:15 p.m. in the wrestling room at Plumley.

“MMA was a combination of different fighting styles in order to see which style is the best,” Heimall said, “but as the sport progressed people soon realized that they needed to adopt the different styles to create one synergistic style, and that is where MMA is today.”

A key aspect of MMA is that there is no one way to fight – people must use all their skills to become victorious, he said.

Heimall, who is around 5 foot 8, strong and agile, has been wrestling his whole life and won a state championship in high school. Now a junior at Norwich, he turned away from the mats and turned to MMA when he came to NU.

“I just love it because it the most primal way of competition that anyone can really engage in.”

Eric Pierone is a 19-year old sophomore from Rotterdam, N.Y. who also participates in MMA. He also has been wrestling all his life and, like Heimall, found NU MMA a fitting replacement.

“The sport is intense but we’re here to learn,” Pierone said. “We’re training and trying to show the respect to our partners as we would like from them.”

While the popular image of Mixed Martial Arts on TV is of a brutal sport, Heimall said it’s a single-person sport whose heart is the intense fight between two competitors. “It’s the most humbling experience of my life because of the respect that you need to have for the sport,” he said

Jacob Dennis, a 21-year-old junior from Phoenix, Ariz., has been training since the age of seven and is also an officer of the club.

“I focus mainly on grappling and judo when I teach,” he explained. “MMA is a great way to become physically fit,” Dennis said, “instead of running five miles, try grappling with another person and it will really test your endurance.”

Students who decide to join the club start out with the basics and progress over time.

“A person’s first time in the club, I will try to be as personal with them as I can so they can get through the basics of the different styles,” Heimall said, “then as they start to progress they will get a little bit more of a blend to see how MMA really works.”

MMA aficionados feel that the discipline and respect that comes with the sport, along with the physical stamina required, can absolutely change an individual for the better.

Thom Putnam, who is about 6 foot 2 inches and a big fighter, is a 22-year-old senior from Massachusetts and another club officer. “The more I do combative sports, the less I feel the need to fight in my personal life. It stays in the ring and I am confident enough to just walk away.”

Putnam has a strong wrestling background with striking, which the art of using your fists to punch, and Tae Kwon Do; skills he uses and teaches others for physical fitness and self-defense.

“MMA is different because you’re evolving on your own and creating your own skill-sets,” Putnam said. “If a person only goes into a MMA fight with only one skill-set, they will get destroyed.”

The goal of the MMA club at Norwich is not just about fighting but learning as well. Practices are a different environment than the ring, but it will get a person ready if they so choose to compete.

Practices involve doing drills and learning techniques for about three-quarters of each session, and then grappling and fighting in a low-key manner the rest of the time. During practice the room is filled with the slap of limbs hitting the mat and thud of bodies banging into each other in fast-paced action.

However, those who do MMA say no one is out there to hurt or injure anyone,and precautions are taken to teach participants how to fall and roll. Winning is fun but it’s not everything.

“My favorite aspect of the sport is losing,” said Pierone, “if you lose, it really makes you want to work that much harder; it really motivates you.”

“Give MMA shot because we’re not here to just fight,” said Heimall, “people come down to learn how to defend themselves, and I am here to teach.”

He added that, “My favorite thing about the sport is that moment before the first bell,” Heimall said, “you’re just staring across at the guy and in that moment you just feel all the nerves go away, and you’re just in the zone.”

MMA techniques are cited as being helpful in any situation someone may be threatened. “It’s never a bad time to learn how to defend yourself because even though it’s a sport you can use these techniques to learn how to protect yourself,” said Dennis.

Women are welcome and have benefited from learning the skills. “Last year there was a student at a party who was almost sexually assaulted,” one student said. “She used the things we had taught her and was able to get herself away from that situation.”

If building some grit and determination and measuring up with an opponent one-on-one, appeals, club members say try MMA.

“My philosophy of fighting is you know more about that person than their own mother did the second they step in the ring,” Putnam said. “You know everything about their character by how they fight.”


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