The newest masters of MMA: Park Slope children

MMA is an increasingly popular after-school activity among children in Park Slope.


Ryan Walker

The Park Slope Academy of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is one of many martial arts training centers that offer lessons for children. Martial arts is becoming a popular after-school activity for kids. (Staff Photo by Ryan Walker)

Ryan Walker, Social Media Editor

Like clockwork, everyday at 5:15 p.m., street corners in Park Slope flood with children dressed in pristine white uniforms adorned with colorful belts. 

“Do you want to do this now that you are 5?” a man asks his son as they weave through the crowd. 

At 5 years old, the boy can now participate in mixed martial arts, one of the Brooklyn neighborhood’s favored after-school activities.

There are an abundance of different training centers condensed into a five-block-wide area. 

“It’s a kid-centric area,” Steven Crocilla Jr., an instructor at Park Slope Academy of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, said. “There are a lot of activities that cater to kids. There’s fencing next door and coding down the street and two YMCAs all for them.”

According to Elite Training Center in Los Angeles, MMA dates back to Ancient Greece when hand-to-hand combat became part of the Olympic Games. Legend says that the teachings were then picked up by a Buddhist monk and brought back to China, leading to the creation of kung fu, judo and karate. As people began to travel more, the idea of MMA spread, contributing to more variations within the discipline. The establishment of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the 1990s allowed MMA to increase in popularity. The organization reshaped combat fighting by pitting athletes of different disciplines against each other, ultimately creating like-minded and well-rounded fighters.

The Park Slope Academy is located in an area dense with businesses offering programs designed for kids. (Staff Photo by Ryan Walker)

For the young families of Park Slope, MMA are about more than a well-rounded fighter. At Amerikick Martial Arts, a karate-focused school, students come for reasons ranging from self-defense to anger management.

“We are one specific type of MMA, but there’s an option that appeals to everyone … it’s about what works,” the front desk receptionist said. 

In Park Slope Academy of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, students focus on long-term goal setting. 

“It gives them something to work toward. They know a black belt exists, but at least in our discipline, it takes 10 years to earn,” Crocilla Jr. — who began his training in 2008 — said. 

Despite the various motives, students ultimately enroll because “it’s Park Slope,” the receptionist said. “You get hoity-toity parents around here who have the best things and the best schools and who want the best activities for their kids.”

A version of this article appeared in the Dec. 6, 2021, e-print issue. Contact Ryan Walker at [email protected].