Junior Spartans

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children should have at least one hour of physical activity per day for the health of their minds and bodies. Many experts recommend using that time teaching them to channel their energy into a practice like martial arts, which require concentration, patience and practice.

Ultimate Fitness and MMA in Tupelo offers three opportunities per week for children to attend a Junior Spartans class. By teaching basic jiu jitsu moves, instructors encourage respect and discipline. Students are boys and girls, ages 5 to 12 years old.

Hurley notes that sports like jiu jitsu can be particularly helpful for children who have difficulties focusing. The structured classes and fast-paced combat holds their attention on the task at hand. Respect—for teacher, self and other competitors—is emphasized at every turn.

Class sizes range from 15 to 30 students. Multiple instructors are present to ensure the children are not just burning off energy, but learning useful skills.

“Not only is it great for self-discipline and keeping them active, but it also builds confidence,” said Grady “Sue” Hurley, owner and instructor at UFM.

Hurley knows a thing or two about martial arts. He has completed 35 combat sports fights and holds a 13-1 professional MMA record that he hopes to make 14-1 when he fights in the middleweight championship on August 5. He teaches the Junior Spartans class, along with Dr. Mark Romano, Katie Barnett and Nelson Browning.

Hurley says that as martial arts go, jiu jitsu is ideal for children. While it is a combat sport, it is not a striking sport, which means that students are learning how to defend themselves using their bodyweight as leverage instead of kicking or punching. UFM calls it “bully-proofing.”

“If someone attacks them, instead of hitting back and getting in trouble, too, they can use a jiu jitsu move to hold the other person until help comes,” said Hurley.

Class begins with a warm-up, which consists of full-body activities like bear crawling that teach agility. When each student has completed their warm up, the junior spartans gather around their instructor in a semi-circle and await their instructions. Hurley or another teacher demonstrates the move they will be learning step-by-step then releases them to give it a try. Hurley counts, “1, 2, 3,” and the children respond with a clap in unison before lining the wall. Partners are matched up based on size and skill level. The instructors pace the mat, examining posture and technique and giving one-on-one support until the new move is mastered by the class. Afterwards, they play a “game.”

The instructors set up stations, one on each end of the mat, where the kids practice their skills and one in the center ring, where they face-off with a classmate. They rotate through each station until everyone has visited each one.

“They think they’re just having fun, but really they’re putting what they’ve learned into practice,” said Hurley.


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