WOOD RIVER — The training floor of the War Room Mixed Martial Arts Academy is busy with a mix of people hitting bags, the mat ... and sometimes each other.
Rock music keeps the energy high as men, women and children train by themselves and with partners and coaches. For seven years the Wood River gym has provided training in various fighting disciplines for those looking to get in shape as well as those hopeful to step into the professional mixed martial arts cage.
No-holds-barred fighting has a long history over various cultures. The Greeks and Romans engaged in an Olympic sport called pankration that blended boxing and wrestling. The sport of modern mixed martial arts developed from underground full-contact wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The competitions that mixed fighting and grappling styles received widespread popularity in America in the early 1990s through the Ultimate Fighting Championship. According to industry statistics, pay-per-view MMA events can draw more than 1 million viewers.
Brad Jones has fought professionally in mixed martial arts competitions since he was 18. As a child, Jones was interested in wrestling but was unable to do so in high school because he was on the hockey team. Undeterred, he found a gym that offered mixed martial arts training. The introduction led to 35 matches in the MMA cage and a lasting passion for the sport. When the head coach of that gym moved, Jones took the opportunity to form the War Room Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Wood River with some of his teammates.
The War Room offers training in taekwondo, boxing, muay thai (kickboxing), jiu-jitsu, wrestling and self-defense.
“I try to have coaches that have specialties in something but are good at everything,” Jones said.
One of the War Room’s assistant coaches is Mark Heinold of Alton, who teaches wrestling fundamentals. Heinold was active with wrestling in school but got away from it as an adult. When Heinold saw his weight going up, he decided to get active with the sport again.
“I like the endurance and skill that it takes,” he said. “It’s hard work.”
Heinold attributes a 50-pound weight reduction to his wrestling training. He is now able to share his love of wrestling with kids age 5 and up as well as adults.
“During the season, the kids come in here from the schools to practice during season and off-season to stay competitive.”
“It’s a family-oriented atmosphere. We try to stress family here,” said Jones, commenting on the diverse array of people on the gym floor. “When we started we were strictly fighters. Now only an eighth of my clients are fighters. We have women and kids training. We have guys that want to be able to hold their own if they ever need to. And there are people that just want to get in better shape.”
According to Jones, the image of mixed martial arts fighters has improved over time.
“We are not looked at like thugs or hooligans out trying to get in a fight. We are recognized as professionals. People want to come train with fighters because they like the results they get from us,” Jones said.
“The biggest misconception is that if you come in you have to fight your first day. This is not Fight Club. You’re going to first have lessons. After you’ve proven that you can do it, you can start sparring. But you can also train here and never once get hit.”
Jones said one of his more popular classes is for physical conditioning and fitness.
“We start kids at 4 years old and have students in their sixties,” Jones said. “Anybody who is willing and has the heart to come in, we’ll be happy to work with.”
The War Room Mixed Martial Arts Academy is located at 316 Lakin Blvd. in Wood River. Training sessions are held 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends. A list of classes, programs, trainers and other information is available at www.warroommma.com.