My son Danny, a.k.a Little Conor, is seven years old.
For a year and a half, Danny listened to me hype the Floyd Mayweather Jr. – Conor McGregor money fight, which took place in August 2017. He begged me to stay up extra late to watch the fight. After an exhausting amount of arguing, we agreed to watch it together. I paid $130 CAD for myself, my daughter Michelle and Little Conor to share an experience of a lifetime. Nothing was spared, from the potato chips to the popcorn. Our mini-MMA party was about to begin but by 10:00 p.m., both my little warriors were beyond exhausted and decided to retire to their beds and fight another day.
Little Conor missed the circus that night but early on the morning after, he asked me to replay the fight for him. He was so excited as he watched every round, standing up and mimicking the moves of the boxers. He shouted at the television, cheering McGregor on. In the middle of the tenth round when the referee called the bout (McGregor lost by TKO), Danny was screaming at the television, outraged at the decision. He couldn’t believe that the fight was stopped. Conor had become his idol and Danny was disappointed beyond reproach. For a week, that’s all he talked about at school: The fight was rigged, Mayweather cheated, and there should be a rematch.
Danny was so inspired and intrigued by the fight, he asked if he could take MMA lessons. My wife and I weren’t sure whether this was a good idea for several reasons.
For starters, about a year ago, Danny was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). In other words, Danny is inattentive, hyper active, impulsive, argumentative, irritable, spiteful, and manipulative. We feared that if he participated in a MMA class, he might seriously hurt another child because of his impulsivity. We decided to do some research to determine if MMA was appropriate for our child.
The psychiatrists I googled believed MMA can be helpful in decreasing ADHD symptoms. “Martial arts training offers mental discipline and physical exercise,” indicated Dr. Edward Hallowell of Harvard University, a child psychiatrist specializing in learning problems. “It provides kids with an ideal opportunity to master self-control.”
Dr. Hallowell believes it’s much easier for children with ADHD to focus if there are fewer distractions and the coaching is directed specifically at them. If they are playing a sport where the coaching is directed more at the team as a whole, an athlete with ADHD may have a harder time paying attention. This is why Wrestling, Grappling, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu and other martial arts are considered better options for hyperactive children.
Dr. Eric Small M.D, and the director of sports medicine for young athletes in Mount Kisco, New York, agreed MMA is an excellent sport for kids dealing with ADHD and other behavioral issues. “Children with learning difficulties and behavior problems seem to thrive in the ordered environment of a dojo (self-defense training school). Martial arts offer a great, calming routine and are very good for helping kids with attention deficit or hyperactivity disorder focus.”
After researching the subject, we decided to sign Danny up for MMA lessons. After a few weeks of looking around, it was recommended we try Grant’s MMA & Boxing Gym.
Grant’s website summarized their “Mini Me MMA & Kids Training Program” as: “By teaching children how to play safely and have fun learning about fitness and martial arts, they begin to learn how their bodies work and how to interact with others.”
Social interaction was another skill Danny needed to work on. He had tremendous difficulty playing with kids his age and often insisted he’s either the boss or has the first turn. If his ‘me first’ needs weren’t met, tantrums quickly followed. In Grades 1 and 2, kids accepted this immature behaviour, but we became aware that as he grows older, he may become isolated, which could lead to depression.
There was something unique about Grant’s. Danny’s personality dramatically changed over the six months since he started MMA training.
Initially, he was hyper during classes. He had trouble focusing and listening to the instructors. Sometimes, he’d tease kids and argue with the instructors or act goofy during sessions, but at some point during his training, things began to take shape for him in a positive away.
Within a few months, Danny was listening, following instructions, and really seemed to enjoy the training. He was punching, kicking, and grappling with intensity. He wasn’t being silly or inattentive and his mind was one hundred per cent in the moment. I felt he may have been the best student in the class. The instructors provided a lot of individual coaching and praised Danny’s efforts. Oddly enough, there was also a respect factor Danny developed for the instructors that he rarely exhibited during his daily life. Perhaps it was because if the students didn’t listen, they were forced to do twenty push-ups or sit-ups. I don’t know if that would work at home or school!
The instructors wear the traditional Gi. All of them seemed as if they were actively training and looked the part of an MMA competitor. They started every class with a short meditation, which seemed to help the kids focus. Afterwards, the students warmed up with jump rope, running drills, push-ups, sit-ups, and obstacle courses. Each lesson focused on striking or grappling but there was so much more. “We developed this program for kids to have fun and make friends, to be active and learn the basics of grappling and striking,” said Todd, one of the instructors at Grant’s. “We want them to play safe with their peers. We hope that it improves their concentration and body awareness. Hopefully, MMA teaches them to develop confidence through practice and success. It’s vital for them to learn the virtues of martial arts: courage, discipline, respect, humility, and honor.”
After six months of classes, respect and discipline are beginning to seep into my son’s life. His schoolteachers asked if he was on some new medication. Our friends and family want to know if we’ve participated in new wave parenting classes because they are amazed with Danny’s personality change. What we noticed most of all is his ability to concentrate and listen.
Before MMA, he’d ignore us when we asked him anything, whether it was what he wanted for dinner or how his day was. After six months of MMA classes, his communication skills have improved. He’s able to concentrate better in class. For the most part, he is able to sit at his desk and not be a constant distraction to his schoolmates. He’s finishing his tests and taking pride in his writing.
I can honestly say that after six months, we’ve seen drastic changes. In addition, his instructors believe Danny has some real talent and have asked us if we want him to compete in MMA competitions.
Whether it’s the tremendous instructors at Grant’s, the sport of MMA and the dedication it demands, or a combination thereof, it’s become clear to me that Danny truly wants to be the next Conor McGregor.
Whatever the case may be, I’ll always be in the front row, cheering him on.
Myles Shane is the vice-president of the Hiltz Squared Media Group in Toronto.