IncredAble Adaptive MMA began serving students, on March 26, 2018 but its formation and concept had its beginnings in 2017. We currently serve 35 youth and young adults, ranging in age from 4 years old to 21. Requests for service are increasing. The program takes place on the mats of the Jackson Wink Academy, in Albuquerque, NM. The Jackson Wink Academy is world renowned for its professional mixed martial arts athletes and coaches. The inspiration for the program was the Winkeljohn’s daughter, Autumn. Autumn who is now 19 years old, suffered a massive stroke at birth, resulting in a form of Cerebral Palsy (hemiplegia). Autumn grew up in our small, family gym and participated in the kid’s classes. She gained confidence and fitness but admittedly would become frustrated at times, if she couldn’t keep up or do what she needed her body to do. It was good in that it pushed her but it would have been nice if at times, she could’ve had more individualized help without making her feel embarrassed. Of course her step dad, Coach Wink would try to teach her, but it’s not the same effect when your parents are trying to teach you to do something.
Mixed Martial Arts is the culmination of the best therapies. It requires the use of large muscles, fine motor skills, social skills and language communication. It also helps regulate the neurological/sensory system for many special needs kids. We began to see the many ways in which this sport could be of therapeutic use to so many children but not feel like “work”. It has more than met our expectations thus far. We have seen amazing gains in the students. For example, we have a student who is performing better in school academically now. We have one who is more motivated to do some weight bearing, get out of his wheel chair and use his crutches. We have a young lady, whose weight was a concern and she refused to exercise in the past. She loves to show off her sporty outfits now when she trains. Seeing their smiles and confidence is life changing for us.
All participants of IncredAble Adaptive MMA train for free, with a trained athlete/instructor, as well as receive free gear. The objectives of the service is to allow the disabled to experience the benefits of the sport to include; teamwork, strengthening, confidence, focus and the acquisition of basic mixed martial arts skills. This is all taught in a safe, comfortable environment.
Our instructors are patient but they challenge our students to perform skills and techniques, that the students never thought they would or could do. We also serve at risk youth, giving them a positive outlet for their emotions and exposure to role models in the sport. For example, we have a class of children from a local organization which serves the homeless and disadvantaged. We have had teens in our program, who have a history of abuse and trauma. Currently, the model is such that one of our trained coaches works one on one with the student, or in small groups. Lessons involve teaching the belt material created by Coach Mike Winkeljohn.
The at- risk youth have the opportunity to develop the same skills. Both populations begin to realize the benefits of goal setting and working towards a belt as well as they receive the guidance of positive role models. The expected impact is to create a more independent, physically fit, disciplined and confident group of disabled and at risk youth, as well as to diminish or eliminate the tendency of at risk youth to gravitate towards crime. As many of us know, martial arts is also useful in reducing victimization and bullying. The at-risk youth are paired with coaches/ athletes, who were addicts, suicidal, incarcerated as youth or who have experienced family trauma, at an earlier time in life. Many of our coaches and athletes were once bullied, which the disabled often experience. A few of our coaches have family members who have special needs and are therefore sensitive to some of the issues and effects of having a disability. Our coaches’ backgrounds allow them to feel compassion for this population and a strong desire to help teach what they know.
Continuation of private instruction, group classes and public activities which raise awareness of the program, would help it grow and would allow for IncredAble Adaptive MMA to reach its objectives. Donations and grants are utilized to subsidize payment of coaches, and costs associated with fundraisers and events. We have primarily used fundraising to fund our program. In January 2019, we will be expanding our program to help serve Native American youth and teens, in the Laguna Pueblo of NM. Our goal is to one day expand the program to other parts of the country. We have already had requests to do so. In order to support our desired expansion, it would be necessary to train and ensure that coaches elsewhere can adequately implement a program, with demonstrated competency in working with special and at risk populations. Possibly, prospective coaches would be asked to come and stay for a period of time in the dorms at the Jackson Wink Academy for training and mentoring. Currently our coaches have training in CPR/First Aid and some communication skills training, for working with special populations.
IncredAble Adaptive MMA utilizes student participation and assessment of their acquisition of belt material, up to a brown belt level to measure our effectiveness. In addition, a parent/guardian and participant feedback survey is also utilized. The survey is to measure satisfaction with the program, as well as efficacy of implementation. In addition, coach and caregiver feedback and observation is also taken into consideration. Surveys also help us to determine areas of strength and areas of growth. All families surveyed thus far, have reported an increase in confidence and fitness in their child, since the inception of the program.
We want to encourage anyone who is struggling with a disability or anything else in life that seems insurmountable, to try mixed martial arts and try training in the sport. Mixed Martial Arts in particular, evokes images of violence in the cage, but there is a compassionate and positive side to the sport. Martial arts has proven its powerful, positive effects on so many lives. We are just blessed to be a part of our students’ journey.