A New Martial in Town

Enter the world of kiddie MMA

Last year, Alejandro Rivas got into a bus accident when he was visiting family in Mexico.

"When we were coming back on our bus, the bus was going too fast and there was a sharp turn," Rivas, 11, explains. "And it was night, so he didn't see it, so he had to turn real quick. And it just flipped over and over, and I lost my arm."

Before losing his right arm, Rivas was taking Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes twice a week at New Era Fitness (21 Bisbee Ct., 913-0080). After three months of recovery, he convinced his mom to let him resume his martial arts class.

"I just told her, 'I really like it; I would like to do it more,'" Rivas recalls.

Tim Valdez, who runs the gym with his cousin Eric, says he teaches martial arts to give kids like Rivas confidence in their day-to-day activities. Located near the intersection of Cerrillos Road and I-25, New Era strives to teach its students to "be strong enough to make their own decisions and not follow the crowd or follow the trend," Valdez says.

Valdez' unique instructing style is one of constructive criticism.

"If you're going to let [a student] know what he's doing wrong, you've got to show him how to correct it," he says. "And praise them when they do it right."

Valdez, 29, got his start in martial arts nearly 15 years ago, when he began training under mixed martial artist Alberto Crane. Valdez' development took him to tournaments across the Southwest and even Brazil, but in 2009, he suffered a game-changing injury when he ruptured a disc in his neck during training.

The doctors told him to slow down. With all sports comes risk, Valdez explains.

"It was unfortunate, but it happens," he says. "I accepted it. I just moved on."

He found time to open the gym shortly after. Now, Valdez says he gets "the satisfaction of seeing the kids grow and develop."

New Era offers classes Monday through Thursday for kids and adults. Boys and girls ages 5 and over (or as young as 4, if they can pay attention) are welcome. Starting in September, the gym will start teaching kids MMA classes. But don't think Valdez doesn't already sneak in a few cage-fighting moves to his jiu-jitsu class when he gets the chance.

"A couple times a week, we'll give kids a little taste of MMA," he says. "And they like it. Everybody likes watching [Ultimate Fighting Championship]."

Classes, which happen twice a week, begin at $60 a month per student. But New Era also offers family discounts for multiple students as well as scholarships for students who might not be able to afford the full price. "We won't deny any kid," Valdez says. "We'll always figure some way of getting them here."

Rivas, who's now been attending class consistently for a year since recovering from his injury, says Brazilian jiu-jitsu is something he wants to keep practicing as a hobby for the rest of his life. Just last month, he came in second place in his weight class at the Southwest Grapplefest tournament.

He says wrestling these days is not much different from before.

"It's just kind of the same thing, but you're using one arm," Rivas says. "Although they still get you, you still have your feet."

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