Sunday, March 4, 2007

Mixed martial arts become hobby, much more for some

By Josh Hachat

NEWARK -- Rich Franklin needed a hobby after a high school football career didn't materialize into a college one.

He ended up in mixed martial arts (MMA). Though his hobby turned into a rewarding career in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it would have been appealing even if it never turned into a profession.

"I took it up just to have a physical activity to do, and I ended up doing it all the way through college," Franklin said. "The best thing about this is it's something you could sink in all your time into as a hobby. That's exactly what I did."
It's also what more and more people are doing, even in the local area. MMA has turned into a booming industry and not just in the fight world. Practicing its many forms -- which include karate, boxing, ju-jitsu, kickboxing and Muay Thai -- has turned into a popular way to get or stay in shape.

Those effects have been felt in Licking County, where local martial arts studios have seen dramatic increases in classes -- either to learn self-defense, get in shape or stay in shape.

"(Martial arts) is a tough workout," said George Annarino, owner of Annarino's Martial Arts School. "You can get in shape, build confidence and discipline."

But Annarino said he's nearly running out of space because of the influx of new participants. Other local dojos have said their classes have increased in numbers in recent months.

Annarino's children's classes are split up into upstairs and downstairs classes at his studio because of high numbers, and he said adult kickboxing, jujitsu and karate classes have tripled in participation during the past six months.

He credited the rise of the UFC as a major reason classes are growing, even if almost all of his participants never will end up in even an amateur fight.

Most, however, became intrigued by some aspect of the sport and decided to train in one or more areas.

"I think the grappling arts have really taken off," Franklin said. "It's a good way to train, where you don't have to worry about getting all beat up and banged up. You can be a doctor or whatever and practice jujitsu and not have to worry about breaking a hand."

Franklin watched MMA take off in his hometown of Cincinnati. The gym where he trains -- the Jorge Gurgel Training Academy -- recently opened a new 13,000 square-foot facility because of the increased growth.

Annarino, meanwhile, said he gets comments from participants who say they're in better shape after training in MMA than they ever were lifting weights and doing cardiovascular work.

"It tightens and tones your body and really gets you into shape," Annarino said. "They feel good about themselves. It helps with their confidence. It builds their body and their self-esteem."

The footwork and hip movement in many aspects of MMA also is beneficial for other sports, and Annarino said he has plenty of people training in MMA to help in other sports.

But MMA is for anyone from beginners to advanced practitioners. Annarino gets plenty of new faces who participate in the 1 1/2 hour classes, which take place multiple times a week. Most also become hooked after starting, thanks to getting into better shape or gaining a new-found love for the sport.

"You have to invest some time into it, and once people do that, they get the feel of it and want to get a little better," Franklin said. "Next thing you know, you're doing it two to three hours a day."


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