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TAP OUT Ciara Galvin puts experienced MMA fighter Peter Bracken to the floor during her training session with Impetus MMA Club in Castlebar. Pic: Conor McKeown

Fish out of Water
Ciara Galvin

IT’S not often you get to pin a 6’ 2” former Irish rugby international to the ground until he begs for mercy.
Ok, he didn’t exactly beg for mercy, but the former Ireland international and Connacht tighthead prop Peter Bracken did ‘tap out’ or submit to his opponent - moi.
You see, in my wisdom (and for the love of the job), I foolishly signed myself up to take part in an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) class at Impetus gym in Castlebar.
The mission was simple, throw yourself in at the deep end and hope you come out unscathed.
I assumed with the popularity of the sport, thanks to people like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), there was going to be some other females attending. Alas it was just little old me and six males who looked like they knew their way around a wrestling mat.
Walking into the gym I must admit was seriously daunting. The last bit of fighting I had taken part in was probably a verbal slinging match with one of my brothers when we were younger and I’m more familiar with Mai Thai, the cocktail, than Muay Thai, the fighting discipline.
I introduced myself to Piotrus Nowacki, the owner of Impetus gym and an MMA fighter who finished up competing last year.
Piotrus informed me that on average it takes a person two years to learn the basics of MMA and currently there are about 20 people attending the gym, including three women.
Some train five times a week, others tick over on three, but one thing comes across very clearly – most people take part in MMA to compete. Currently there are three professional fighters at Impetus.

Pad work
Then it came to my turn. Feeling like I was in a scene from ‘Million Dollar Baby’ I donned some grappling gloves and did some pad work with the owner.
Back in the day (late last year) when I used to go to the gym I was familiar with pad work from doing some boxercise classes. However Thursday’s refresher course cemented my suspicions that I have the coordination akin to that of an intoxicated, tightrope walker.
Such was my concentration level (trying to impress the others) that Piotrus actually had to remind me to breathe while completing each sequence of punches and ducks.
After this, he suggested I get a taste for what it is like to deal with being ‘taken down’ and expertly executed a single leg takedown on me while I was pondering how I was going to actually defend myself. After hitting the deck three more times I realised there was pretty much no way of defending myself against someone as trained in MMA as Piotrus.
While Piotrus explained the various disciplines within MMA – wrestling, kick boxing, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai – I got a strong urge for some ‘Dutch courage’ before taking to the matt against the aforementioned Peter.

David and Goliath
As Adele’s ‘Send My Love’ blared across the radio in the gym, I prepped myself for some grappling with Peter who assured me he would go easy on me. Don’t worry though, there’s no double standards in this gym – Peter regularly grapples with the other women in the gym and assured me that they’re just as able to put up a fight as their male counterparts.
Ensuring this journo came away relatively unharmed, Peter, whose weight category within MMA fighting is in the 140kg range, said he would hold back.
For my introduction into being disarmed (literally) Peter told me to lie on the ground in order to show me a move called ‘Kimura’.
The submission move is named after judo great Masahiko Kimura, who used the move to snap MMA legend Helio Gracie’s arm in a fight in 1955. I’m thankful that it was only after I had taken part in the move that I googled that lovely factoid.  
The move involved Peter approaching from the side-control position, he then grabbed my wrist, reached over my arm that was being held by his hand and grabbed his own wrist and began pushing my arm away from his body, moving it toward his head. This type of lock hyper-rotates the shoulder and before there was any chance of my arm snapping like poor Helio Gracie, Peter let go and allowed me to practice the move on him.
I have to say, there was a little part of me that relished having control over a 38-year-old man to such an extent that he tapped out. I assume Peter indulged me in tapping out, but I’m going to go with the ‘he tapped out because he was writhing in pain’ scenario - poetic licence and all that!
There’s an amateur MMA event taking place in Garbo’s in Castlebar on August 28 and though I joked to Piotrus that I’d be back training again next week for this, the fact I treated myself to a Supermacs after training is a fair indication that I’m never going to be the next Ronda Rousey.
I did gain some appreciation for just how technical MMA fighting is after always viewing it as a barbaric game of Twister.