The sound of punches and kicks hitting pads echoed off the gymnasium walls.
Close to 20 participants rotated through stations, working on the skills that make up mixed martial arts. They learned arm bars, grappling holds, kicks and punches.
To ensure their bodies were ready to fight, they did abdominal planks, jumping jacks and toe-touches.
Bargersville resident Jason Ramey sweated as he jabbed repeatedly at the hand-held mitts his sparring partner held up.
“More than anything, I love the training. You can push yourself as much as you want, as far as you want. You get out of it what you put in,” he said.
Ramey is part of a growing segment of people turning to mixed martial arts to stay in shape, as well as to compete in amateur bouts. The fighting style blends martial arts with wrestling and boxing.
Mixed martial arts classes are among the top 20 most popular classes offered in fitness clubs in the United States. Almost 25 percent of all U.S. clubs offer the option, according to the the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, the largest fitness professionals group in the world.
That trend is flowing into other markets as well.
Every week in the gymnasium of Fair Haven Christian Church, youths and adults come together to learn the basics of mixed martial arts. They work on balance, isolate their core muscles to improve overall strength and practice the technique of forward kicks.
Coaches show participants how to properly grapple, maneuvering an opponent into submission.
“Because of this class and their interest in it, a lot of people here have become fans,” Ramey said.
The 37-year-old had been interested in mixed martial arts for years, as the sport gained popularity on television and elsewhere. As he heard of more and more friends training in the style, he decided to try it himself.
Ramey had done some boxing in the past but wanted to add some skills, including martial arts and wrestling. He started training at Indy Boxing and Grappling, an Indianapolis gym specializing in martial arts. He also started doing mixed martial arts classes at Fair Haven.
The work he puts in is ideal to keep him sharp in his job as a firefighter for the Bargersville Volunteer Fire Department, he said.
“It’s so relevant to the activities (firefighters) do. We go from doing nothing to having to perform at a high pace for short stints of time,” he said.
He goes to the MMA class at Indy Boxing and Grappling three times a week. The class teaches technique while challenging competitors to prepare their bodies for future bouts.
“They hit you real hard with some conditioning drills and then sparring,” he said. “That’s what I get the most out of it. I get to spar with professional fighters with fights under their belt. They take the time to stop and let me know mistakes I’m making so I can learn.”
Ramey also trains on his own. He runs six days each week, alternating between distance and circuit training. One day he gets in 5 miles on the treadmill, the next he’s doing intervals of sprinting 30 seconds, walking 30 seconds, for a total of 20 minutes.
Contrary to the stereotypes, mixed martial arts fighters don’t put in hours lifting weights, Ramey said. He has almost entirely cut that aspect of his workout, building strength through sparring instead.
“The biggest thing for me, as a heavyweight, is the cardio,” he said. “Hitting people is pretty easy, and taking hits is somewhat easy. But if I can outpace someone, I’ll have an advantage.”
Often, his training partner at Fair Haven is Michael Kernodle.
Kernodle, 21, has been doing some form of mixed martial arts since he was 11. As a child, he often got into scrapes and scuffles with other kids, and he was looking for a better way to defend himself.
He started with karate classes then moved on to wrestling and eventually boxing.
“I bought my first pair of gloves when I was 13,” he said. “After that, I just stuck with it. I was probably doing it every day.”
Now an amateur fighter, Kernodle is participating in the Midwest Fight Series event at
8 Seconds Saloon in Indianapolis tonight. The amateur showcase will bring competitors from all over the area to display their skills in one-one-one combat.
For him, getting in the ring and squaring up against another competitor is the ultimate combination of preparation and personal motivation.
To get ready, he wrestles or boxes nearly every day. To strengthen his body, he wears ankle weights to work. Sometimes he’ll carry a bag filled with books wherever he goes.
“I’ve always enjoyed working out, and I’m a very competitive person,” he said. “I train almost every day. It’s fun.”
Ramey will participate in the Midwest Fight Series tonight, his second-ever bout. At his first match in July, he recorded a submission win in the second round.
While Ramey doesn’t recommend just anyone get into mixed martial arts competitions, he said learning how to do it and training for it can do everyone some good. His own children are in the youth program at Fair Haven Christian Church.
“Anyone can learn how to throw a punch and get benefits jumping rope. The actual training of it, it is for anybody. We start here at the church at 5 years old and go all the way up to people in their 60s,” he said.