Reporter has aMMAzing time at gym

Town Crier's Perry King gets the boom lowered on him

Never in my life have I ever been manhandled by a man 60 pounds lighter and a foot shorter than me.

With not a day of mixed martial arts training under my belt, I set out to get a taste of what polished fighters go through as they train for regional and national competition. After 90 minutes on the mat, at Central MMA gym at Eglinton and Laird, what I tasted was the mat, my drenched T-shirt, and my forearm — after it was squeezed against my face while I was losing consciousness.

Brazilian jiu jitsu is Central’s core martial arts specialty. Michael Aviado, a 120-pound, 5-foot-3 man with the biggest smile on his face, demonstrated BJJ’s effectiveness against larger opponents — and his own vice-like grip — when he challenged me to keep him pinned down at the shoulders.

In a matter of seconds, he had wriggled free, me falling on my side and he squeezing my neck into a D’Arce chokehold, rendering me briefly incapacitated.

“Never ever give your opponent your back,” Aviado told me, after releasing me from the UFC-like submission maneuver.

Between my demonstration with Aviado, and a preceding practice of techniques with Zied Ben Afia — a Central instructor who has black belts in karate and aikido — I was walked through an intense, exhausting session, where I was taught the merits of effective self-defence.

Aviado, a purple belt in BJJ, pinned me down, and challenged me to get out of his grips.

“Imagine you had a 120-pound intruder in your house,” said Aviado, who has been training and competing for six years. “You have to call 9-1-1. Try to get loose.”

For a couple of minutes, I could barely free an arm. I grunted and squirmed as he wrapped my shoulders. I had to pause intermittently on the ground to collect my energy, grimacing and sweating profusely. I couldn’t use my legs to break free or even
push his head away from my body.

The small gym, only in existence for about six months, teaches and trains fighters of different ages in a range of martial arts, also incorporating kickboxing and Russian sambo.

Gym leader Egor Radnik, who opened the gym here after quitting his job in marketing, had me sign a waiver — just in case — before my encounters with Aviado and my grappling partner, Zied Ben Afia.

“Now, we’re going to have some fun,” he chuckled.

I asked to be treated like a regular gym member, and tried with all my might to keep up. At times, I would be so exhausted I would try to take a seat. But Radnik would make sure I didn’t.

“You’re not taking a break until I say so.”

The cloudy September afternoon helped keep the room cool enough for Ben Afia and me, and the dozen other fighters, to practise wrestling and judo-like techniques.

After a brisk warmup of jogging, jumps and ab crunches — with no time to rest — Radnik demonstrated basic throws and takedowns.

“You have to be proactive, rather than reactive,” he said, as he walked the class through proper hold technique, clutching a students’ arms to demonstrate several movements.

I moved in rhythm with Ben Afia. He displayed confidence in his movements, snapping me over his shoulder with a definitive thud.

The thud didn’t hurt, but a couple of nearby fighters fell on my left foot, which was swollen the next day.

I tried to keep up, and in a moment of triumph, keeping his shoulder and tricep close to me, I snapped him over my shoulder, securing him in place on the ground with my knee.

“Good job, Perry,” Radnik observed.

I felt invigorated, charged with energy and wanting to keep on practising, all the while gasping for breath. It is a feeling many in the gym shared.

Comprised of a slew of 30-something guys and girls with growing pedigrees, members keep coming back because they love mixed martial arts — to the point of addiction.

“This thing made me quit smoking,” said Aviado, a marketing consultant who is training for the BJJ world championships this month in California.

“We live in a time where we haven’t fought any big wars. We’re frustrated. We’re going from cubicle to cubicle, and never really get to exert what it is to be in a real fight. This is the closest thing.”

Jason Frias, a gym member who placed second in his heavyweight, purple-belted class at this year’s BJJ Toronto Open tournament, says what he loves is that one tends to become more passionate as one progresses.

But getting better in the sport requires hard work, testing your physical limits.

“It’s the old adage: it doesn’t get easier, you just get better,” he said. “You are your own worst enemy, that’s all that there is to it.

“If you support everyone around you, like a good team, you will progress.”

Observing the fighters as they kept practising after my session, I could see the bond they have with each other: catching up on their time apart, refining holds and advising each other as they worked out.

In a way, it made me want to come back again.

But, not until I get some ice.

About this article:

By: Perry King
Posted: Oct 21 2013 2:57 pm
Filed in: Sports
Edition: Toronto