Sport and Leisure
The centre opened 12 years ago
'Fighting in a cage is a sport'
Although cage fighting has had its critics in the past, for a group of athletes at the South West Black Belt Academy in Ilminster, it is the sport of men.
It may look like two grown men beating each other up, but mixed martial arts (MMA) is a professional sport.
"For a lot of people when they come in and look at it, it looks like two men beating the hell out of each other," said Matt Folain, 40, a pro MMA fighter who holds nine black belts in various martial arts and runs the South West Black Belt Academy.
"What people have to remember is we are athletes; we are trained sportsmen."
Matt certainly puts the training in; he runs ten miles per day, has daily gym workouts and spas about 20 hours per week.
"Your cardiovascular has to be as good as a marathon runner. What people have to remember it when they're watching it there's a huge difference between violence and fighting. Violence is an emotion, it's a hate thing, something that is a grievance between two people whereas a fight within a cage is a sport."
The centre teaches children martial arts
MMA is a contact combat sport which features a variety of fighting techniques, so karate fighters can compete against judo masters.
Fighters defend the sport by saying although it looks dangerous, as a "sport it's less dangerous than boxing or kick boxing" as in boxing the "competitors have to wear gloves which creates a blunt trauma to the head which is why many retired boxers suffer from conditions such as Parkinson's".
MMA competitors use open palmed and open fingered gloves which create more of an instant shock which creates the knock-out quicker and if caught on an edge like the eyebrow then it can cause bleeding which makes it look worse.
Some of the fights take place in a cage, which adds to the crowd's entertainment.
Phil Dicker, 28 from Yeovil, and 26-year-old Simon Northam from Martock are both members of Team Hellboy.
"It's not a bar room brawl. If you want to see that, go to a pub. It's a controlled sport, said Phil.
"Coming here has calmed me down a lot. I used to have a very fiery temper. Because I'm 6ft 4, everyone (who was) a bit shorter than me when I first came in completely demolished me.
"It's a great equaliser and you learn your place very, very quickly," he said.
Simon said there was no danger that they would use their skills outside of the cage.
"It's the discipline and the respect you get and the understanding of what you do; you would only use it to your bare minimum to get out the situation (if involved in a fight).
"[The gym] is there to help people to change their lives."
In fact it is the camaraderie between the fighters which is what makes the sport so appealing.
Phil said one of the great things was that during training sessions at their training centre in Ilminster, everyone pushes each other to their own individual limit.
last updated: 22/04/2009 at 14:07
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