Fixing MMA's bad rep

 Mixed martial arts has a rep--and not a good one. The sport is known for blood and is often associated in the minds of many with a criminal fan base.

Since it burst onto the scene at the start of the last decade, mixed martial arts (MMA) has drawn a diverse range of fans and aspiring competitors. But at one extreme end of the spectrum have been men affiliated with local gangs.

And just last week, a prominent MMA trainer was charged with domestic violence and a myriad of gun offences. Such incidents have tainted the public image of MMA, which is already controversial due to a perception that the sport is simply no-holds-barred cage fightng.

And it has forced gym owners like Harley Chappell to confront the issue head on.

This spring Chappell and Darwin Douglas, along with their wives, bought Revolution Martial Arts after the gym's previous owner announced his intention to move and close up shop. Both men were longtime gym members and one of their first undertakings after purchasing the gym this spring was to throw open the doors to local RCMP officers.

That no officers stopped by on a recent Friday, during an open house for Mounties, disappointed Chappell; but then, the lack of interest could itself be a positive omen for the new owners.

Chappell said the Chilliwack gym--which shares a name and a website with another facility in Langley, but is otherwise unaffiliated--has never had the gang problems that have plagued MMA-connected gyms to the west. Of the 80 or so people who train at Revolution, most take wrestling or fitness classes, he said. About half are children, and about half of the adults are women. The men, he says, come from all walks of life. On Monday, Chappell was grappling with jiu-jitsu instructor Steve Jacobi, a straight-laced sergeant with the Conservation Officer Service.

But Chappell--who himself works as a traditional counsellor with the Xyolhmeylh Child and Family Services--said gym owners and MMA trainers still need to work to disassociate themselves from those who offer MMA with the criminal lifestyle.

"We've been plastered with this image for a long time now and we have to do some work now," he said. "If we want to stop this bad image, then we need to do something about it--take control."

His gym, he thinks, has been able to avoid catering to criminals by stressing a focused and introspective attitude.

"I tell a lot of people, 'Leave your ego, and almost leave your pride outside.'" Martial arts training, Chappell said, "is not so you can poke your chest out and strut around. It's the exact opposite."

Chappell himself is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specialist, not an MMA fighter. (He says he doesn't like getting hit). But he's a fan of the sport and says it requires a certain skill and technique that can be invisible to the casual viewer looking only for blood.

"It looks very easy on TV. You don't realize what work it takes, what discipline, what respect it takes."

He's also a believer in the power of sport to steer kids away from more harmful pursuits.

"They can't be out late on a Friday night because they need to be here Saturday morning." Chappell calls the sport a "very good tool," pointing to the emphasis on discipline and respect.

"For me, MMA itself has a lot of positive things," he told the Times. "I work with a lot of high-risk kids--that's my job during the day--and to be able to see some of those kids having an outlet, you know it's not the traditional sports where they want to play baseball or they want to play soccer; they want to do something that they're going to be able to be proud of and be happy.

"We've got a couple of kids who, if they weren't here training to fight amateur MMA, I don't know where they'd be. Probably nowhere good."


Several young Revolution wrestlers recently brought back hardware from the B.C. Kids Only Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships with medals.

Brenden Reeves won gold, Brendan Pravdzik claimed a silver and Jesse Moore, Mitchell Kaemmer and Ashton McDonaugh all won bronze medals. Reece Jacobi and Hunter Mullis rounded out the Chilliwack Revolution contingent.

Harley Chappell and Jared Revel are also heading to Los Angeles this week for the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation's Pan-American Championships.

Darwin Douglas, meanwhile, will compete in a sanctioned MMA fight in Nanaimo.

By Tyler Olsen, The Times March 25, 2011 6:42 AM

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