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Airmen, civilians gain resilience through MMA

By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson Air Combat Command Public Affairs

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(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on similarities between how mixed martial arts can make both Airmen and professional mixed martial arts athletes become more resilient.)

As an Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter gets his hands wrapped and steps into the cage for battle, a cold chill runs down his spine; he’s nervous about the challenge ahead.

Comparable to UFC fighters preparing for combat, Airmen may get a similar feeling whether preparing for upcoming deployments or hurdling through peaks and valleys throughout their careers.

One way Airmen can remain strong during possible feelings of stress or anxiety is through the Comprehensive Airman Fitness program, which encompasses a variety of targeted activities and resiliency skills. The program’s goal is to build and sustain a resilient Air Force community that fosters mental, physical, social and spiritual fitness.

With mixed martial arts, Airmen can use all four pillars of fitness to not only learn to fight, but also to remain resilient through rough times, according to Tech. Sgt. Franklin Mosley, 633rd Security Forces flight chief and combatives course instructor.

“MMA and combatives training is like therapy for me,” Mosley said. “Let’s say, for instance, I’m having a bad day. Jiu jitsu, martial arts or combatives lets me get it off my chest. Rolling with the Airmen or even guys I train with outside of the military, allows me to be inside my own temple, so to speak.”

Using martial arts for therapy helps Mosley remain mentally fit.

“There are no worries; there’s no judgement,” Mosley said. “It’s just me battling it out with my partner. And then when we’re done that’s still my partner – my brother or sister.”

Ben Rothwell, an American mixed martial artist, ranked number five in the UFC, said when he has to fight his friends in the ring, it’s all business. Similar to how security forces Airmen clash head-to-head when they train with combatives, the bond between friends remains the same whether on or off the mat.

“Mental fitness and physical fitness go hand in hand,” Rothwell said. “When UFC fighters and Airmen train for combatives or to stay in shape, they don’t realize that what they’re doing is also mental training.”

Rothwell said the difference between a win and a loss, whether in an Airman’s career or in a UFC fighter’s career in the octagon, depends on a person’s state of mind.

“I have 10 losses in my career,” Rothwell said. “Those losses have made me who I am; those losses are why I’ve become mentally tough.”

There is a delicate mental balance one has to find between being aggressive and being calm, Rothwell said.

“From my experience as a gym owner and a manager, I’ve watched people grow over the years,” Rothwell said. “I’ve watched 350 pound men lose 70 pounds and gain confidence and happiness. I’ve also seen kids who were getting bullied in school with lousy grades come back through martial arts to  stand up to those bullies, get straight A’s and find real success in life.”

Seeing how people grow through resilience in martial arts also helped Rothwell and Mosley grow spiritually.

“When you talk about spiritual resiliency, one of the things that are very factual is how people are able to build through moments of meditation or solitude – into a more centeredness of being,” said Chaplain (Maj.) Ismael Rodriguez, 325th Fighter Wing chaplain, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. “What martial arts teaches is that centeredness of being. It’s that underlying factor of spiritual resiliency which helps the person not only to fortify himself, but also enables the mental capacity to get stronger, and therefore, the physical capacity to get stronger.”

As Rothwell and Mosley grew stronger over the years, they had an increased desire to share information with others, which in turn builds connections and the social pillar of fitness, Mosley said.

“These are the types of people I’m spending hours on end training with,” Mosley said. “But at the same time, we’re honing techniques and building relationships. We’re also willing to help each other out, even if it’s outside of training or a personal or family issue.”

Even though UFC fighters, Airmen and martial artists are training for different types of battles, they are still communicating with their training partners and coaches, who they may also view as family, Mosley said.

“You are still going to have a relationship whether you are asking for help on a personal issue or having that go-to person to ask for help on a technique,” Mosley said.

According to Mosley and Rothwell, combatives training offers more than just self-defense and physical exercise because the lessons learned can be incorporated into any aspect of life.

“MMA changed and saved my life because the sport allowed me to give back and watch people’s lives change,” Rothwell said. “I see it more in MMA than any other sport, and I think it’s a very powerful and incredible thing.”


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