How does doing a “downward dog” pose help someone train for combat sports?
Well, in a direct sense, it probably doesn’t.
But if you ask Steve Hartwig, chief instructor at MANA, A Center for the Active Arts on the Langley/Surrey border, he’ll tell you that yoga gives fighters balance, physically and emotionally.
“When a fighter enters the cage, the whole world is revolving around them,” Hartwig noted. “There’s TV, and there’s lights, and there’s noise, and to keep their centre when they walk into the cage and the door closes, yoga is probably one of the best practices.”
Yoga, Hartwig says, helps combatants because it lessens the impact of tension eating at them and wearing them out, and helps them remain focused and relaxed.
Hartwig leads the World Class fight team that includes 16-year-old Langley resident Ben Smyth, who, when he isn’t training and competing in mixed martial arts and amateur wrestling, strikes a few poses in the MANA yoga studio.
“It helps with my flexibility, but it’s also really good with managing my stress,” Smyth said. “Hitting the pads and sparring de-stresses me as well, but yoga is the new way to calm down.”
Yoga, MMA, and wrestling are cathartic for Smyth, who has a lot on his mind these days.
During last month’s BC Summer Games in Surrey, Smyth’s thoughts were with his dad Kevin, who is in a fight of his own against cancer.
“He’s quite the fighter,” said Smyth, who represented Zone 3 Fraser Valley at the Games and wrestled to a bronze medal in the 84 kg weight class. “If he’s fighting for his life every day, I can go out and not fight for my life just once every few months. It makes me realize [wrestling and MMA] is not as serious as I think it is.”
Hartwig has been training with Smyth since 2009 and says he has made grown, both in stature (he’s 6’4” tall) and maturity over that time.
“I’ve had the opportunity to watch Ben grow over the past three years,” Hartwig said. “Obviously he’s grown a lot in terms of height. His mindset is something that we’re really working on right now because he is, in a lot of cases, fighting bigger and older opponents based on his size and his weight class. He’s having to deal a lot with the mental and emotional side, as well.”
Hartwig said Smyth is a tireless worker in the gym, oftentimes training five or six days a week.
“And on top of that, seeing what he’s going through in his personal life, is a testament to his character, for sure,” Hartwig said.
Smyth is looking to get back on the winning side of the amateur MMA ledger after losing his last bout May 25 during the Battlefield Fight League 16 show at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver.
Jayden Martin defeated Smyth via second-round TKO in their 175-pound matchup.
“I got tired, got too excited and gassed myself,” Smyth said. “We scrambled around and he got me into a position I couldn’t get out of and he finished me, there. He was throwing knees to my body. Because it’s amateur, they call it really quick so the referee stepped in right away.”
Smyth says he “likes MMA a lot more,” but realizes wrestling could be his ticket to a university scholarship.
“MMA is not going to take you as far, in my opinion,” Smyth said.
With just a year-and-a-half years experience under his belt, Smyth is still learning the intricacies of amateur wrestling.
“I’ve got a lot of bad habits that I have to get rid of, and I have to wrestle a lot differently, being taller,” he said. “I think a lot of people think of [height] as an advantage, but I don’t think about it, too much.”
Hartwig said amateur wrestling training is helpful to MMA fighters because of the commitment the sport demands.
“There’s a tenacity about wrestlers,” Hartwig said. “The sport of wrestling gives people that will to survive, that driving motivation. Wrestling is a very difficult sport, physically, because you’re always pushing yourself. With wrestling, there’s a lot of drive and determination, there.”