Senior Stories

The Next Great American Spectacle?

Herb is 73, and there’s nothing he enjoys more these days than getting Stanley, his fellow retiree, in an inescapable guillotine choke.

Aside from his forearms, Herb holds nothing against Stan personally, something he delights in reminding him as the headlock pinches the blood flow to Stan’s brain.

If Stan doesn’t tap out soon and submit, in a few moments he’ll be unconscious, but not before wondering how the heck Herb managed to slip out of the arm bar he had him in a minute ago.

America, welcome to the next great Baby Boomer recreational activity: Mixed Martial AARPs.

(Or, as the ring announcer might say, “L … L … Let’s get ready to crumble.”)

Haven’t heard of Mixed Martial AARPs yet? You will someday. Take my word.

Just about every other sport has its “senior division.”

Seniors play golf and tennis. They bowl and swim, play bocce ball, basketball and softball. They row. They probably even luge and surf. Why not mixed martial arts?

“Wait a minute, Shields,” you’re thinking. “You’ve not displayed a Yoda of interest in martial arts since the day you began writing this column, so what’s going on?”

Let me give you the run-up.

Three Decembers ago, our son Nick, then a college sophomore and acknowledged video gamer, told us he’d like the soon-to-be-released Nintendo Wii for Christmas.

“It’s going to rule the market,” he told me after I reminded him that, by all accounts, Nintendo at the time was toast.

A Generational Crossover Hit?

Of course the Wii went on to do just what Nick said it would, and the minute I rolled my first frame of its interactive bowling game with him that Christmas, I knew it was going to be a generational crossover hit, something my son had foreseen months earlier.

Flush with I-told-you-so success, Nick must’ve felt himself on a mission, because soon afterward he asked me to watch something on cable TV called “Pride Fighting.”

A documentary about lions?

Some weird twist on GLBT self-expression?

It was neither. Instead, it looked something like professional wrestling, that is to say, buff guys and pre-ordained outcomes.

Only it wasn’t.

The spectacle we were watching is called “K-1.” It’s a combat sport played out in a ring, like pro wrestling, but that’s where the similarity ends. K-1 combines techniques from karate, tae kwondo, ju jitsu, and something called Muay Thai, the national sport of Thailand. Add kickboxing and regular boxing and there you have it: mixed martial arts, or MMA.

I know: I thought Muay Thai was a mixed drink, too. But it’s a martial art that allows the use of elbows and knees for striking.

In Mixed Martial AARPs, they would be for support.

The object of K-1 tournaments is to determine the best stand-up fighter in the world, and, from the looks of things, that meant the fighter still standing when it was over. Watching what these guys were doing to each other made “brutal” sound like a champagne review. Yet Nick assured me that this three-round sport is far less punishing than regular boxing because there are so many fewer head blows.

Elbow Action

That may be, but what about that last elbow to the Adam’s apple?

(Mixed Martial AARPs acknowledges that the pointy elbows of many of its combatants’ pose a health risk. Therefore, any elbow that breaks either the skin or the artificial voice box of an opponent will result in a mandatory 2-point deduction, under the 10-point must system.)

At first, I thought Pride fighting was just another tawdry concoction to keep cable going 24/7. But after watching a few bouts, I began to appreciate the multi-faceted athleticism these fighters possessed.

So there I was one Saturday night, alone in my living room watching an MMA match on – ready for this? – network television. The event attracted 4.56 million viewers, according to CBS, making it the top-rated show for males ages 18-34, beating out every major league baseball playoff and college football game that week.

Nick, you called it again.

As I was watching Seth Petruzelli knock out Kimbo Slice (the latter looking like an indigenous Australian nightclub bouncer), the wheels began to turn.

This could be a new boom. A Boomer boom. Sure, there’d be neurologic and orthopedic waivers to be signed and spandex modifications to be made. But what an upside!

Stanley, meanwhile, has slipped Herb’s guillotine choke after Herb’s arthritis suddenly flared up and he couldn’t remember where he was, and now Stan’s inflicting the old ground-and-pound on his septuagenarian adversary and … there it is! … Herb taps out! Herb has tapped out! We have a submission, and it’s not a screenplay! It’s … M-I-X-E-D … M-A-R-T-I-A-L … A-A-R-P-S …!

John Shields is (was) a commentary page columnist for the (late) New Hope Gazette and a features writer, both of which put him in the heart, and the tradition, of literary-rich Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A former varsity baseball head coach, he recently celebrated his 18th anniversary as a kidney transplant recipient. That transforming experience, along with those gained as a teacher, healthcare administrator, stay-at-home dad and frequent guest at area operating rooms, provides a unique frame of reference for his (former) weekly column, titled, oxymoronically, Everyday Things. See more of John’s work at



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