Gym of the Month: Elite Training Center

By Joe Wilhelm
Photos by U of MMA staff and courtesy of Elite Training Center

Shawni Young believes in putting the art back into mixed martial arts.

Lost in the hype, spotlights, and flashbulbs is an ancient tradition. One behind the highlight-reel knockouts and takedowns that so captivate an ever-growing MMA fan base.

Classes emphasize a traditional martial arts value system as well as skill and technique. (Photo courtesy of Elite Training Center)

Classes emphasize a traditional martial arts value system as well as skill and technique. (Photo courtesy of Elite Training Center)

“We’re here to learn the martial path. It’s not just about punching, kicking and beating the crap out of each other,” Young said. “It’s to try and better your overall life, both inside and outside of the gym.”

“Mixed martial arts wouldn’t be mixed martial arts without thousands of centuries of battles between samurais and other warriors throughout the world. Fighting wasn’t always a sport as it is now. It was a way of life and a necessity to feed families and save lives.”

Young, a former IFC champion, is Elite Training Center’s program director, one whose martial philosophy and adherence to tradition is alive in the school’s fight team, as demonstrated by a subtle, pre-fight gesture performed by every ETC fighter.

“We bow in and off the mats every time,” Young said “So even though we train in modern martial arts, we pay homage to where those martial arts come from. That creates a level of respect and appreciation for what we do, not just for the martial art but for our opponents and training partners as well.”

“It’s a pause where you let everything go before engaging in your art. And that moment is for you and for your training, for bettering yourself.”

The gym also borrows from Eastern tradition in having its own belting system, providing one of the only belted MMA curriculums in the United States. The idea, initially resisted by some, has quickly become popular among students and instructors alike.

“We have a solid rotating curriculum that gives students the opportunity to test and promote within the system,” Young said. “It really forces the issue of honing your craft and knowing what to expect when you enter the classroom. It’s made our students much more successful and has increased our retention because they know they’re going somewhere and we’re showing them the way.”

The Elite Training Center Fight Team (left to right): Coach Travis Williams, Tommy Aaron, Coach Josiah Doby, Janelle Morales, Albert Morales, and Roman Todorovich. (Photo courtesy of Elite Training Center)

Some of the Elite Training Center Fight Team (left to right): Coach Travis Williams, Tommy Aaron, Coach Josiah Doby, Janelle Morales, Albert Morales, and Roman Todorovich. (Photo courtesy of Elite Training Center)

In an effort strengthen the school’s connection to martial arts tradition, Young and the collective brain-trust of Elite Training Center exposed their team to the true grassroots of their art form, by taking them to a place where martial arts transcends its American identity.

“We had some Muay Thai instructors who had never been to Thailand,” Young said. “So [ETC owner Brian Rauchbach] and I decided to take them all to Thailand in December of last year to give them traditional Muay Thai training.”

“When we went to Thailand we not only saw the martial art, but the culture and the poverty behind it. You get to see why people are fighting over there. They’re not doing it for a workout or because they want to jump in the cage. They’re doing it to survive.”

Suddenly, Young’s fight team found themselves far away from the lavish, air-conditioned gyms of the free world, in a place where fighters begin competing at eight, not eighteen, years-old, where punching-bags are replaced with banana trees, and a single loss can mean going hungry for a night, or longer.

“Those kids start at eight years old in Thailand because that’s how they feed their families,” Young said. “It was a really powerful experience for our team because martial arts is about so much more than just fighting in the cage.”

Among those to visit Thailand were amateurs Roman Todorovich (170 lbs., 4-1) and Tommy Aaron (155 lbs., 1-0), both of whom enjoyed victories at the University of MMA’s Fight Night 3 in August. Todorovich forced a round one submission against Ronald Minera and Aaron won by decision against Dellwuan Macon.

The duo has forged a strong bond, in part because of their regular eight-hour training days while in Thailand. Todorovich and Aaron exemplify the reciprocating “team-first” culture encouraged at the gym; a culture designed to elevate the school’s prestige to new heights.

“At Elite, there are no egos,” Aaron said. “We care about others more than ourselves.  I’m more nervous when my buddies go into the ring than when I go into the ring. When my buddy Roman was taking some blows in the first round I was feeling pretty nervous.”

Tommy Aaron (red) controlling the fight with tenacious ground and pound. (Photo by Primo Catalano/University of MMA)

Tommy Aaron (red) controlling the fight with tenacious ground and pound. (Photo by Primo Catalano/University of MMA)

Aaron, who made his amateur debut with the University of MMA in August, had plenty to be worried about leading up to his bout with Macon. The eighteen year-old, whose debut had been postponed by a rash of injuries, was pitted against a fighter ten years his senior.

“Tommy’s fight was nuts,” Young said. “I cannot wait until that video comes out because it was insane. We didn’t want to screw up his metabolism at eighteen by having him cut a bunch of weight, so he was fighting in the 155-pound weight class. And the guy he was fighting was so much bigger.”

Prior to the fight, the size difference between the two fighters escaped nobody, least of all Aaron.

“He was a strong guy,” Aaron said. “He was a lot bigger than me and you could tell he was a lot bigger than me. But to be honest, I felt as though we were equally strong.”

“He was a super nice guy. We were talking and laughing and cracking jokes while we were both wrapping our hands next to each other.”

The image is near-comical. Aaron, who has dreamed of a professional MMA career since twelve, nonchalantly joking with his opponent on the verge of his first amateur fight. Pre-fight jitters? Flight or flight instinct? No such emotion from the eighteen year-old artist.

“I was playing video games on my phone and sleeping for most of the day before the fight,” Aaron said. “There is pressure, of course, but the less I focus on the pressure, the better.”

Perhaps the lack of concern is justified. Following his debut performance, Young, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed in the professional ranks, believes Aaron has the total package.

“Tommy wants to fight in the UFC,” Young said, “And when you see his composure as an eighteen year-old, I think you’ll agree that he can do it. He absolutely has all of the tools to be successful in that arena one day.”

For Aaron, it started in Club Nokia, with six minutes in August providing valuable experience for the potential champion of tomorrow.

“I was down for a little while, but I’m so happy to have fought and gotten my first win,” Aaron said. “Hopefully the cobwebs are no longer there. I can’t wait to get back in there.”

“I’m working to be on the highest level. I think I can do it for sure. I have so many great people around me who I trust.”

Within the support system of Elite Training Center, it will be fascinating to witness the maturation of Aaron and his network of like-minded craftsmen.

Elite Training Center is located at 1628 South Pacific Coast Hwy in Redondo Beach. For more info, visit www.EliteTrainingCenter.net or call 310-543-1600.

Share your view

Post a comment