Why Kids’ Jiu Jitsu Programs Will Elevate MMA

Fightland Blog

By Nick "The Tooth" Gullo

It’s easy to see the benefits of signing your kid up in jiu jitsu: self-defense, confidence, discipline, positive social structure, friends—but few realize that such an act may help MMA clear its next hurdle.

And by hurdle, I mean, into the realm of mainstream sports.

Fact is, MMA is not there yet. Not even close. Yeah, there are more events this year than ever. And yeah, you catch every fight you can. But compared to football, well, half the United States, roughly 150 million fans, claim to follow the seasonal drama.

Okay, you’re thinking, how does my kid training jiu jitsu help MMA?

Again, consider football: it’s a complicated sport—eligible receivers, illegal substitutions, the tuck rule. It’s much more difficult to understand than soccer, baseball, or basketball. And if you don’t comprehend the subtleties of a sport, it’s difficult to watch. Painful, even. That’s why football, by and large, fails beyond U.S. borders.

So, why do U.S. fans tune in so religiously? Are they so much smarter than the rest of the world that they’re not intimidated by it’s complexity? No. It’s because as kids they played football, or their brothers played, or their sons played. Six and a half million 8-18 year olds don helmets every year. And watching weeknights in lawn chairs, and Saturdays in bleachers, those on the periphery can’t help but learn and appreciate.

The point being: the primary function of junior sport leagues is not to mold and discover pro athletes—it’s to mold and create fans.

For this reason, as the NFL now faces its greatest crisis via ‘Concussion-gate,’ the league is fighting back by courting high profile mommy-bloggers, flying them to ‘health and safety’ seminars, which really means wining and dining and trying to convince these mothers to spread the gospel that the sport is safe, because in the last two years Pop Warner football participation has already dropped ten percent. Stop and ponder the ripples.

It’s the same in every country—organized youth leagues breed and nurture fans. No different than crops: plant seeds, nurture, and reap.

Yet, in MMA we keep waiting for a prophet to lead us from the desert—a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods or Wayne Gretzky—to sign the mega deal with Nike and lead us to Zion.

But that is never, ever going to happen.

Maybe another GSP or Brock Lesnar gives us a glimpse, but a single star won’t affect a wholesale societal shift. That’s gotta start from the bottom.

So for MMA to break big, the industry must find a way to cultivate fans via youth participation, thus exposing parents, siblings, friends, etc. to the subtleties of the sport. Problem is, most parents will not allow their kids to train MMA. Not ten years ago, and especially not now.

However, I have yet to meet a kid or parent who rolls jiu jitsu, that doesn’t also watch UFC events. There’s no data, but on an anecdotal level, just ask around and you’ll find the correlation is strong. Which makes sense—twenty years ago the revolution started when Royce entered the octagon in a gi, and even now many high-profile UFC athletes tie their belts: GSP, the Diaz Brothers, Jake Shields, Benson Henderson, Anderson Silva, Myles Jury, Tom Watson, Johny Hendricks, to name just a few.

Throughout the United Arab Emirates, sport jiu jitsu is now part of the public school curriculum. But in the U.S., while growth is rising, participation remains low. I spoke with Budo Jake, owner of Budovideos and proselytizer for all things jiu jitsu, and he estimates that in the U.S. approximately 100,000 kids train jiu jitsu. That’s a good start, but it’s nothing compared to those 6.5million peewee helmets.

So do your part. Sign your kid up today, and ten, fifteen years down the road, when the every UFC champion is recognized by half the country, and a large portion of the world, you can tell your grandchildren, that’s because of me.


Check out this related story:

Ottavia Bourdain: My Jiu Jitsu Addiction