Martial arts are born in the most unlikely places.
In some people’s minds, they’re born in distant East Asian countries, in shadowy outposts where deadly masters gaze approvingly at their emerging protégés. To others, they’re born in Chuck Norris movies.
But to the 40 or so trainees at the Universal Submission Academy (U.S.A.), they’re born in a 2,200 square-foot building in Creston under the tutelage of an appropriately unassuming Brazilian jiu-jitsu master, Kevin Moore.
Moore, at 5 feet 10 and less than 170 pounds, is as tough as 51-year-olds come – he recently competed in a Las Vegas jiu-jitsu tournament against a much younger opponent who stood 6 feet 6 and weighed in at 290 pounds. Also, he’s a truly dedicated teacher with the resume and work habits to support his teachings.
“I’m not the nutritionist who goes to McDonald’s,” Moore said. “I practice what I preach.”
So six days a week, dozens of eager students, men and women ranging in age, show up at U.S.A. to train under – and with – Moore, learning the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the striking techniques of Muay Thai and the intricacies of mixed martial arts (MMA). For many who watch the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) on television, the subtle and artful techniques that drive the sport are lost in the flurry of action.
But, as demonstrated by Moore and fellow coach Travis Davison, MMA is really all about technique, not power. That’s how a 120-pound woman can force a 200-pound man to submit. Along with Moore’s gym at the Creston Center, U.S.A. also has a facility in Bozeman where roughly 60 people regularly train.
“This is an ever-evolving, intellectual sport,” Moore said. “We don’t take the guy coming off the streets who wants to be a better bar fighter. That’s not our gig.”
Moore recently organized a MMA tournament in Kalispell. Part of what he is hoping to do with his shows is prove to people across the state that his sport is a martial art – not a violent brawl. He stresses the intellectual aspects of MMA, which are evident if one watches the two-and-half hour nightly training sessions.
Moore and Davison break down the training into days of strictly Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is the basis of the grappling ground portion of their students’ MMA repertoire, and days of Muay Thai striking techniques. Striking includes variations of punches, kicks, knees and elbows.
Some training days are dedicated to full-fledged MMA, incorporating elements of both jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai, along with many other styles, including boxing, tae-kwon-do and wrestling, among others.
But Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the foundation.
All of jiu-jitsu stems from posture, Moore said. Poor posture leaves you vulnerable. Good posture makes you ready. Along with posture, the other two fundamental elements of jiu-jitsu are position and submission. Without good posture, you can’t position yourself correctly, and if you don’t position yourself correctly, you’ll have a hard time forcing submission.
Submission often happens when a competitor works the vulnerable joints of his opponent. Moore said a huge muscular man is going to have similar joints as a scrawny guy. If you get a big guy in a well-placed chokehold, Moore said, it doesn’t matter how small you are.
“If you’re not getting oxygen to the brain, you’re going to submit or you’re going to sleep,” Moore said.
Moore cringes at terms like barbaric when people talk about MMA. As a slight man, quick and light on his feet, he seems to single-handedly dispel the image of the barrel-chested warrior intent on pain. A member of the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, he understands the subtleties that make MMA a true martial art.
Sheila Averill is hardly barbaric. A grandmother of three who sports an exuberant smile, she was the only woman at U.S.A. on a recent Wednesday evening. She is fit from years of working out in the gym, but until recently she had no experience in martial arts. At the end of last month, she was convinced by her son and one of his friends to check out U.S.A.
She went, expecting to leave within a few minutes. Two hours later she was ready to sign up. So she did.
“I’m totally hooked,” she said. “It’s more like a dance on the mat and you’re literally maneuvering at all times. It mesmerizes you.”
As her training gets more intense, Averill thinks she’ll need some good fighting gloves. One of her kids has already made a suggestion.
“(He said,) ‘You get the ones that say UFC on them,’” Averill said, “and you’re going to be one bad grandma.”
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