Dropping troubled kids into a mildly-abusive environment is a time-honoured and satisfying tactic. Whether it’s the army or combat-sports, the general idea is to curb teenage frustration by straining young bodies and minds in a sadistic but controlled manner.
There are many different avenues for developing punks, but there is a mental aspect to combat sports that’s cuts particularly deep. Being beaten in a fight can be devastating to the ego. From being rocked by a left hook to feeling your arm about to snap at the elbow, it’s a visceral experience to be at the mercy of a single opponent.
Furthermore, being outclassed is something that happens a LOT when you first start training. For an angry youth, that can be both a healthy outlet and a source of important lessons about controlling emotions–swinging like a madman will not get you far against an experienced fighter. Technique, patience and strategy are key to long-term success; riding emotions and raw power will lead to a burn out and a messy end.
In the corner of using recreational violence for the good of society is the recently ended life of Bob Shamrock. Shamrock ran a special ranch for troubled young men on their way to becoming incarcerated adults. He made them chop wood, solve their disputes with proper boxing matches, and develop practical ambitions. The most famous of the “youts” are of course MMA legends Frank and Ken Shamrock. Ken in particular credits Bob with keeping him out of jail by channeling his anger into training, and encouraging him to pursue competitive martial arts as a career.
In the same vein, the New York Times recently ran a piece on pastors taking an active role in MMA training. The goal of these churches is clearly to attract the absent 18-34 male demographic back to Sunday services. But whatever the motivation, it may be doing some good. Church leaders try to combine the self-discipline and confidence required for training and competition with Bible lessons, “family values” and personal responsibility. Like Shamrock, they focus on troubled young men bursting with daddy-issues.
The continued popularity of war suggests that there may be a lot of pent-up aggression in today’s society. There is a bit of accepted violence left in mainstream sports like hockey, football and rugby. But there’s something passive about checking, tackling and brief scuffles that do not satiate the more vicious instincts. While machines get faster and deadlier, we find people just as annoying as our smelly ancestors did. It’s only logical that to keep the social order intact some kids will need a regular ass-kicking.
Unfortunately, Charles Daniel “Krazy Horse” Bennett recently took it upon himself to poke holes in the hope for a better world through competitive violence. After 40 professional fights and experiencing the full range of ups and downs that MMA has to offer, “Krazy Horse” should have acquired some personal restraint. Yet he was allegedly furious enough about being roughed up in a training session to leave, return an hour later, and assault a teammate with a large piece of steel in the parking lot. Though it may not have been his intention, Mr. Horse highlights an important dilemma with teaching delinquents how to fight.
While combat sports can be a healthy way of controlling anger, it will never solve the problems that keep the rage boiling up. If someone has serious emotional problems, it will take more than MMA to keep them out of jail. Violent crimes are common among young men in particular because of a fluctuating combination of testosterone, self-esteem, and emotions. Without some guidance and little understanding that can be an overwhelming situation.
Learning to control emotions completely is something that most people will never accomplish; life is just too damn aggravating. When stress and anger bubble to the surface, combat sports can burn it off like a little extra fat. But when emotions flow unchecked they function as fuel–a pissed off human can justify all sorts of destructive behaviour.
Combat sports training is a tool that can be used for self improvement. Getting beaten down for hours on end will take the edge off of most people, but there’s no guarantee for a model citizen over a stronger, faster criminal. The deciding factor in what people will accomplish is maturity, and that cannot be taught; it has to be absorbed through life experience.