Mixed martial arts hooks local sixth grader

Nationally ranked snowboarder Ananda Ortanez was looking for something thrilling to do in the off-season. But surfing and skateboarding just didn’t do it for the 11-year-old La Jollan.

Last January, he signed up for a free trial at San Diego’s Elite Training Center, home of UFC Mixed Martial Arts champ Dean Lister. Just one day in the gym and the sixth grader was hooked.

Ananda has been training four days a week with Jiu-Jitsu coach Elias Gallegos and Muay Thai coach Jhanex Alviz and has competed in several competitions.

“When I started, I didn’t win my first couple of competitions,” Ananda said. “Afterwards I worked harder, and then I started winning. So it taught me that working hard rewards you.”

In October, he competed in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) Championship at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and placed first in the white/yellow belt children’s division (for those who are 68-to-78 pounds).

“He’s only a white belt, but he beat all the yellow belts, the intermediate kids,” said Alan Ortanez, Ananda’s father.

BJJ originated from early 20th century Judo and is heavily focused on ground fighting to gain a dominant position by using joint-locks and chokeholds to force an opponent into submission. It is the only type of martial arts where a 100-pound person can successfully defeat a 400-pound person.

According to Alan, the instructors don’t go as far when it comes to children. Tournaments are structured and they look mainly for technique rather than submissions.

Considered a devastating medium, Muay Thai - “The Art of the Eight Limbs” - uses hands, shins, elbows and knees extensively. A practitioner has the ability to execute strikes along eight “points of contact,” as opposed to “two points” (fists) in Western boxing and “four points” (fists, feet) in the sport-oriented forms of martial arts.

“It does seem really violent, but what they learn is discipline right off the bat, and my son has never even considered fighting outside of his gym,” Alan said.

It has given him confidence, maturity and a level of respect, for not only hard work, but also learning responsibility as he advances through the discipline.

Contrary to the origins of Muay Thai where no protection was used, when Ananda fights today, he wears gloves, headgear and shin guards - and head and ear guards for BJJ.

At a little more than 4 feet and 75 pounds, the training has enabled him to gain lean muscle mass, increase his cardiovascular endurance and become extremely physically fit for his age.

Despite such intensity, his heart remains in snowboarding and his father isn’t pushing him to be a pro-fighter.

Whatever this young standout decides, Alan said he would support him 100 percent.

He is a contender in the Gracie World Championship annual Jiu-Jitsu tournament Jan. 24 to 25 at the 2009 Los Angeles Fitness Expo.