Sunday, March 18, 2007

Champion Adds Punch to Training Seminar

By Jesse Munoz

Roughly 40 martial artists of mixed ages and abilities got the opportunity to train with a prize-fighting legend on Saturday, as former Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight champion BJ Penn hosted a training seminar at Big John McCarthy's Ultimate Training Academy in Valencia.

"We find out who people at our school are interested in being around and learning from, and then we set up a time for them to come out," said Ultimate Training Academy owner and longtime UFC competitor John McCarthy. "BJ is extraordinary as far as martial arts, what he has done, how fast he has done it, and what he can do now."

Having earned the nickname "The Prodigy" - the result of his fast track to superstardom in the Brazilian ju-jitsu world - Penn, 28, was first introduced to the sport as a 17-year-old living in Hawaii.

A few short years later, Penn would become the first American ever to be crowned the black belt division gold medal winner at the 2000 Mundial World Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - beginning a fighting career that would see him become a UFC regular and eventual welterweight champion.

"He's phenomenal. He's called the prodigy, and that's for a reason," McCarthy said. "So when you get a chance to work out with someone like that, it would be like being able to learn from Dick Butkus in football or Brian Urlacher now, or Muhammad Ali in boxing."

For the cost of $150, martial arts students from McCarthy's Academy and across Southern California were able to participate in the two-part workshop which featured a three-hour morning session focusing on a number of BJ moves and takedowns, before a second three-hour session pertaining to mixed martial arts training - a form of fighting which mixes striking and grappling techniques with a number of different martial arts styles.

"We have some students that want to learn one particular technique, and some students want to learn everything," said McCarthy about the response of students who registered for the workshop. "But (Penn) wants to make sure he's teaching things that aren't too basic for people, but things that aren't too advanced to where they're never going to get it."

"Definitely whatever I picked up over the years and whatever insight to fighting, to mixed martial arts and ju-jitsu," Penn said about what he was hoping to impart to students. "I love passing on my knowledge, and I'm just here to do that and make sure these guys have a good time."

In between the morning and afternoon training sessions, students were excited about the chance to meet and train with such a bona fide fighting legend.

"It's been pretty exciting," said Daniel Pollaccia, 24, who made the 90-minute commute from Apple Valley to Valencia to participate in the workshop. "I'm a big fan of BJ Penn. He's my favorite world champion, and I can learn a lot from him. I figure, learn from the best. If you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best, and that's why I'm here."

"I've learned a lot. It's a lot of information crammed into a few hours, but it's well worth it," said Todd Bogart, 34, Burbank. "BJ Penn is real knowledgeable and has a unique way of teaching that I think is real easy to follow. It's been real valuable and extremely beneficial to my development."

Even younger students seemed to be enjoying the experience of learning from Penn.

"I like his ju-jitsu and his striking," said 11-year-old Pico Canyon Elementary School student Stevey Blaszof, who is already a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do. "I wanted to learn some of his moves."

"Right now, I'd rather be out in the ring fighting," said Penn when asked what aspect of his career he enjoys most, "but I don't mind the coaching and teaching, and bringing people along. You get a different feeling out of that, and it's good.

"I just hope they're having fun."


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