Tag Archives: mixed martial arts

UFC 157: Ronda Rousey, left, versus Liz Caramouche

UFC 157 will be the first time women will be competing in the Octagon, and as I am writing a romance based on this exact idea (tentatively titled What Defines Her, not yet scheduled for Harlequin Superromance), I thought it warranted some discussion.

Women's MMA is nothing new. Women have been competing in MMA events for years through other fight promoters, many of which have sadly folded or been bought up by the UFC. The significance of women fighting in the UFC, however, is in the scale. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the world's largest promoter of mixed martial arts bouts, and tens of thousands (if not a million or more) viewers will be tuning in to this fight between Ronda Rousey and Liz Caramouche. Considering that UFC president Dana White once infamously said he would never allow women to fight in the league, this about-face is significant.

Mixed martial arts isn't without its critics, of course. It has been likened to human dog-fighting, a brutal blood sport pitching two testosterone-fueled muscle heads in what some people believe is a glorified bar brawl. It's nothing like that. MMA requires years of training and discipline, and the men and women who do it are some of the best athletes in the world. I touched on this in Her Son's Hero. 

Despite the hard climb MMA has had to make to legitimize itself, some people still think that because of the violent nature of the sport, women shouldn't fight. Dozens of reporters and critics have had their say and will say it more eloquently than I can. (I recommend this article by Tamos Rios) My beef lies in a few simple facts. (WARNING: rant ahead.)

The media has traditionally treated female competitors in male-dominated sports as novelties, and fans often criticize them much more harshly than they would men. Twice the amount of pressure and expectation is placed on them to be both good at their sport and conform to society's standards of femininity. If they are too beautiful, they are dismissed as being nothing more than eye candy; not beautiful enough and they are mocked mercilessly. There is no pleasing the armchair misogynist whose most hateful words often only emerge anonymously on the internet. And there's no telling the make-me-a-sandwich-rape-joke-making asshats that they are wrong because the armchair misogynist will support their backwards beliefs...just as long as they don't have to leave their keyboards to do so.

Now, I'm not the biggest fan of MMA in the world. I enjoy the occasional match, but I don't watch every single fight. I couldn't tell you the difference between all the submission holds, and I don't practice martial arts. Some would say that I am not worth listening to since I obviously don't understand the subtle complexities of the sport. (I call this the Sarkeesian effect, but that's a rant for another day.) But does a lack of nitty-gritty knowledge automatically disqualify a person from having a vested interest?

I started writing What Defines Her late last year knowing that the heroine would be confronting exactly these issues and a lot more besides. Professional athletes face a lot of challenges as public figures. And I'll admit that I can only scratch the surface of what Rousey and Caramouche have faced in the lead up to this match. (I highly recommend watching the three-part UFC 157 Primetime series on my Pinterest board.)

Rousey vs. Caramouche shouldn't have to be a big deal, but it is. As long as we cling to predefined gender roles, women doing extraordinary things will continue to surprise and fascinate and threaten and terrify those who cannot accept change, versatility or plurality.

Good luck to Ronda and Liz tonight. I'll be watching and rooting you both on!

From the Toronto Star:

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.”

Read the rest here.

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.

 

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Woo hoo! The Globe and Mail has an article about me and Her Son's Hero!

An excerpt:

A bronzed, shirtless Adonis with chiselled abs and his willowy, full-bosomed lover are locked in a passionate embrace: It’s a book cover image that’s classic Harlequin, and various incarnations of this coupling blanket the main wall of the Toronto-based publishing company’s ninth-floor lobby. 

But one stands out: On a book called Her Son’s Hero, the hero in question is wearing a black belt and karate uniform.

In an unlikely combination merging mixed-martial arts (MMA) and romance, Her Son’s Hero tells the story of Dominic Payette, an MMA fighter who falls in love with single mother Fiona MacAvery. But Fiona has an aversion to violence that stems from her desire to protect her son, a victim of schoolyard bullying, and she initially resists Dominic’s advances.

Written by Toronto writer Vicki So under the pseudonym Vicki Essex (“You can’t spell my name without sex,” she says), Her Son’s Hero is a classic tale of opposites attracting – but wrapped in an unorthodox package.

Yay! I hope anyone who spots this article and who's come to my website will think of getting their own copy by clicking on the link in the right-hand sidebar...