Councillor Doug Ford’s office has suggested Toronto schools look into a community service program backed by the violent mixed martial arts league, Ultimate Fighting Championship.
In an email obtained by the Star, Ford’s constituency assistant, Anna Vescio, asked a Toronto District School Board trustee to circulate a brochure touting an initiative called UFC Community Works.
According to the brochure, the program promotes “the development of discipline, respect, teamwork, honesty, time management and physical fitness” through mixed martial arts training and meetings with UFC fighters.
The email was sent Thursday, one day after Premier Dalton McGuinty announced bold new anti-bullying legislation that seeks to curb aggressive behaviour in Ontario schools. Some TDSB trustees were left questioning the sense of proposing a program backed by UFC.
“I think it’s a terrible idea,” said Pamela Gough, TDSB trustee for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. “Schools are all about peacemaking right now . . . we don’t want to promote violence, we don’t want to promote fighting.”
Now, I'm two ways about this. I explored the issues of kids learning martial arts for self-defense and self-confidence in Her Son's Hero, and while I admire many UFC fighters and appreciate what the organization has done for the sport of mixed martial arts, I can't really promote the UFC being in schools at this time for several reasons.
It takes years under a good teacher in a good school to develop real martial arts discipline and skill. Most of the UFC fighters have been training for years, since they were children in some cases, to get to the level of competition they're at. Encouraging kids to this goal is great--I don't argue that. And having someone like, say, Georges St-Pierre come and talk about his experiences being bullied and learning martial arts as a way to gain confidence would be a real asset to other children facing similar experiences.
However, one assembly with a star fighter does not a complete program make. If the goal is to get kids into UFC-sponsored martial arts classes, then it might get a tiny percentage of respondents who can afford it. But what about the rest? What will the student body overall learn from a one-hour talk from a fighter they may or may not know? Unless the program involved real professional advice on how to stop bullying and how to protect yourself without resorting to violence, it's kind of hard to say how effective this program would be.
I've never had a real issue with corporate sponsors in the schools because kids are smart consumers and are exposed to advertising and corporate messages everywhere anyhow. Unfortunately, the UFC brand is not exactly a female friendly one. The league has yet to sponsor any female fights, and Dana White has explicitly said he will not welcome them into the Octagon. The only real role models for girls appear to be the Octagon girls, who are all fit and intelligent women, but whose roles are reduced to strutting around in bikinis between bouts and blowing kisses to the camera. Unfortunately, the organization's fan base hasn't proved itself any more intelligent on the subject of women--or gays or anyone else, for that matter--when it comes to commenting on the internet. (Dear world: not all UFC fans are this moronic. Some of us are nice!)
Dana White himself is not the man I would choose as a children's role model, either. I suppose the Brothers Ford might admire the uncensored, straight-from-the-hip, pejorative, swearword-laden rants Mr. White is famous for. But a mouth unused to politics, and one that wishes to speak to generations of children about violence, bullying, self-defense, discipline, fitness and RESPECT should not be sounding off so frequently without a filter.
There are other ways we can bring martial arts and MMA into the schools without involving the UFC. As much as they could bring to the table, I can't really tell what level of involvement they'd have with the students. They need more than just an afternoon assembly and a handful of stickers, brochures and T-shirts to take home.
I'm not saying that we should entirely shut out the idea the UFC's presented here. Martial arts and MMA are still great programs to introduce into schools. I've seen presentations by karate and kung-fu schools that have been terrific at teaching kids to avoid violence. Why not have instructors teach a gym unit of martial arts as part of the phys-ed curriculum? I think I'd prefer that to dodgeball, myself.
As for resolving conflict nonviolently, I understand the Board's stance on fighting and their gut reaction to the UFC. But I've received tons of in-school conflict resolution training, and I can tell you for a fact that if it comes to blows, all the words in the world are not going to keep a fist from flying into your face. Kids aren't always in control of their emotions--that's what makes them children. Providing them a safe place to learn how to focus their energies and control their baser emotions--as well as an outlet for violent impulses--might better serve their specific needs than trying to get them to articulate their feelings.
I applaud you for trying, UFC, and I am sorry, Board of Ed, that we can't come to a middle ground just yet. There are a lot of parental ideas and philosophies that need to be challenged still when it comes to learning about martial arts, and the school may not be the place for them. Not yet, anyhow.