Yukon MP Ryan Leef is using his mixed martial arts background to put bullying in Yukon communities in a chokehold.
The retired fighter-turned politician has teamed up with Whitehorse gym Avalanche MMA to bring the sport to Yukon communities along with an anti-bullying message.
“The ultimate goal of this is to combine mixed martial arts with an anti-bullying message,” said Leef. “When you deliver the anti-bullying message in the schools, for youth between the ages of 12 and 18, you really have to pick something that is going to resonate with the youth. You can’t just show up in a class and say, ‘You shouldn’t bully, here are all the side effects and the implications of being a bully.’ You have to deliver it in a manner that kids can connect with.
“Clearly, today, our kids are really connecting with mixed martial arts.”
Mixed Martial Arts Against Bullying, as the program is called, which has also gained sponsorship from UFC Canada, was brought to Carmacks on Saturday with about 30 people attending, including some youth from Faro.
Deemed a success by Avalanche owner/operator Cliff Schultz, the gym now plans to expand the program to more communities and make visits regular practice.
“We are just going to try to get some funding for it. Ryan Leef is going to help out with that because it does cost quite a bit of money to head out all the time,” said Schultz, who grew up in Carmacks. “We’re going to get some gear together so we can be like a traveling seminar, have a trailer with mats, and head out to all the communities around the Yukon and do things like this. Faro wants us to come to their community, Carmacks wants us to come back.
“When they come to Whitehorse, now (the youth) have somewhere they know they can go to.”
Though martial arts training would, at first-thought, seem to only make more effective bullies, the self-discipline tenet of martial arts is not left behind in MMA. Discipline and respect, inside and outside the gym, are emphasized, said Schultz.
“In MMA, you’re taking bits and pieces from each martial art, and from each martial art we always take that discipline part,” said Schultz. “The first thing is the discipline, how to conduct yourself when you come into the training area. How to treat your opponent, your training partner, that’s all taught too.
“How to conduct yourself outside the gym as well. When people leave they represent Avalanche MMA.”
“It may not be as obvious as in traditional martial arts … but it’s nonetheless there,” said Leef. “It’s not even an undertone, it’s an overt thing that respect, patience, sportsmanship and dedication are all requirements.”
Training at Avalanche helped Miller Rogers turn his life around. Over the last year the 20-year-old has gone from drinking and getting into brawls to becoming a dedicated fighter with a 2-0 amateur record.
“I was always in trouble,” said Rogers. “I have one of those personalities people always clash with. Even now, I go out with my friends, and people are trying to start fights with me. But I learned how to control my aggression from this.
“My mom and my girlfriend have noticed a difference – everybody has noticed a difference in the way I handle problems now. I used to get mad … but it turned into control aggression when I started coming out here.
“It helps release energy; you’re not energized at the end of the day. You’re tired and want to go home and sleep.”
In addition to the anti-bullying message, participants were taken through instruction in Jiu Jitsu, kick boxing and wrestling, as well as boxing with ex-Golden Gloves champion Jess Staffen, Yukon’s only Level 3 boxing coach, and Ashten Staffen, a personal trainer for Yukon Amateur Boxing.
Also giving instruction in Carmacks with Schultz were Miller, T.J. Woodman, Stefan Brynolfsson, Simon Pre’gent and Kenneth Tetlichi, four of which are preparing for their next bouts.
The Avalanche gym, now one-year old, will be looking to improve on its 5-0 fight record at Warpath 3 in Chilliwack, BC, on December 2.
Schultz and Brynolfsson will be going for their second win while Rogers will be attempting his third.
Warpath 3 will also feature Avalanche’s first title fight with Woodman going for his fourth consecutive win.
Another first for the gym will be its first junior fighter, Schultz’s son Ryley Johnson, entering the ring for the first time.
So will Leef, who retired after three amateur bouts, ever re-enter the octagon?
“There’s no way I could do it with my line of work right now,” said Leef. “It’s a far greater role with a far greater purpose. While I miss that level of competition, I’ve moved back to running more because I can do that safely and effectively and be competitive at it without detracting a lot of time from any work that I have to do.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org