GRASSROOTS: Kick, sweep and takedown

Mixed Martial Arts is fast becoming a mainstream sport. Sophie Mei gives it a try in Sheffield.


"Organized like a team and fighting like a family. It's in our ethos," says John Goldson, owner of at The Forge Martial Arts Centre, Sheffield.

It is written on the wall at the newly refurbished Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Centre. This is not your softly-lit leisure gym, ladies don't do lunch here, this is the place "to learn to become a man," says Ross Pettifer, a fulltime professional fighter who trains at this Gracie Barra school.

I think he was trying to reassure me as I stood looking worried in my fluffy jacket and suede boots.

The red and blue coloured mats, a sign of conflict in this city, aroused feelings of uncertainty but Ross and John's friendliness and banter quickly warmed me into the fighting spirit.

MMA is a full contact combat sport commonly referred to as 'cage fighting,' mixing a variety of Martial Arts and fighting techniques. It has been thrown into the spotlight courtesy of Alex "Reidanator" Reid, glamour model Jordan's other half, who won Celebrity Big Brother 2010.

MMA began underground and without many rules, just a cage and a pair of topless men fighting.

It has now been refined and combines a mix of modern and traditional martial arts with regimented rules attached.

"If anyone is wanting to come here and just fight without thought – they can get out now," warns John.

The scene has swept into the mainstream arena due to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and pay per view channels. It is now competing with the boxing and wrestling audience's as it is the latest fighting craze.

The combat sport, originally from Brazil is, based on Vale Tudo. In 1993, MMA was brought into the mainstream by the Gracie family, which gave birth to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the United States.

There is no official rule regulation body in Japan and Europe but as the sport progresses; the promoters have added regulations to protect their fighters.

Gracie Barra Company is a global organization formed by more than 100 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools, The Forge Centre, Sheffield being one of them.

It has the mission of training body, mind and spirit through the highest level of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instruction as a means for individual development and the strengthening of the family spirit, going beyond the competitive realm.

Let's get down and grapple... do not try at home

1. Bandi kick Kick with the shin as you step and turn from the side. No need to defend, just retaliate by kicking through the opponents legs to ensure power.

2. Elbow After your kick step and follow through with your elbow.

3. The Shark aka Grapple On the floor wrap your legs around your opponents head. Pull your opponents arm across your body whilst elbowing their head.

Finally, push your legs off from their hips...

Top instructor John Goldson shares his secrets

Who does it?

"Anyone can do MMA without stepping into a cage or having a fight. It helps develop fitness and flexibility."

What are the risks?

"We train smart so we prevent injuries. We're a team and work together."

What style?

It's a mixture of 3 disciplines – Stand-up (boxing, Muay Thai), Clinch (wrestling, throw downs) and Groundwork (grappling).

What do you wear?

"It's no glitz and glamour but now people tend to wear shorts and t-shirts to train. Professionals wear fingerless gloves for training and beginners usually wear weightier gloves."

PHEW! Traditionally men are topless and women wear very tight tops for fights inside the cage, along with adequate protection. Luckily for me, no titivating of my top was needed, as I am an amateur in training.

Verdict? Girls can grapple… It's definitely an intimate sport but so much fun!

I'd always wanted to try MMA 'Cage fighting' after I met a professional fighter in Dubai. I did think it was just two people grappling inside a cage so I was glad of a warm welcome and full explanation of the professionalism involved in MMA.

It's an addictive sport and a brilliant discipline. I'd love to do it more regularly as it's great for building strength endurance and a good way of releasing your aggression.

My style? "Pure aggression. Doesn't give up."

To which John added: "There's a reason why a lot of women don't fight. They're far too aggressive."

MMA sessions run Tuesdays and Thursdays 6-8.30pm and Saturdays 11am-1pm at The Forge Martial Arts Centre, Clough Road, Sheffield. Tel: 07738 588 925 or email:

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