Walk into the CSMMA martial arts studio in Coral Springs on any day after school, and your ears are assaulted with the sounds of a couple of dozen kids grunting and yelling, their coaches shouting instructions, as fists slam into pads and bodies fall onto mats.
The kids on one side of the gym are learning karate, one of the oldest and most traditional of the martial arts. The other half of the gym is a Mixed Martial Arts class, better known as MMA, made famous by professional fighters who battle each other unmercifully for sport.
"The TV sport aspect is one side of it, the martial aspect is the other side of it, and with the children we try to focus more on the martial aspect of it," Magnus Virgin, who teaches MMA and owns the studio, told NBC 6 South Florida.
They're teaching, and the kids are learning, the same skills used by professional MMA fighters. To many people, the name conjures up images of savage men fighting barbarically in a cage.
"Yeah, there's definitely a stigmatism that comes with it because of the adult side," said Lizette Andino, who has a daughter in the class. "But this is the kids' side, it's more about teaching them defense techniques in case they do need it."
MMA teaches a variety of moves designed to take down an opponent without throwing punches, moves designed to subdue an aggressor. The skills learned in the class are really a reflection of what's happening in society, and most of the parents said they have their kids there because they want them to have the tools to fight back against bullies.
"You turn the news on, every day you hear about people being bullied," said Denise Jacobazzi, who has two sons, ages 8 and 11, taking the MMA class. She said she's become something of a crusader for the concept.
"Give them the tools that they need and the knowledge that they need, they don't have to beat other kids up, they just have to know how to fend other kids off of them," Jacobazzi said.
Karate teaches punches and strikes, but MMA kids learn how to grapple on the ground.
"Our goal is to never fight back, we don't want to punch and kick the bully, we want to make sure that we don't hurt them because a lot of times when you strike back and retaliate you end up being in trouble," said Virgin, explaining that it's often the person who retaliates by throwing punches who gets into trouble at school.
Lizette Andino's daughter loves the MMA class.
“It's definitely a good thing, it helps in so many aspects of their lives," Andino said, pointing out that MMA seems to build character. "Confidence, self-esteem, discipline."
That, Andino said, translates to better academic performance, too. MMA is just about putting bullies on the ropes, the parents say it makes them feel like they're in their child's corner.
"I can't even let my kids go around the block on their bikes for fear that something's gonna happen to them so putting them in something like this gives me a little more assurance that they're gonna be okay," Jacobazzi said. "I can't be around them 24-7."