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Picking a Fight

Studying martial arts can be extremely rewarding for your fitness and overall well-being. But picking the right system is crucial if you’re going to enjoy yourself and, ultimately, stick with it.

John Tranchina
Marc Rains
November 28, 2018

The popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting has grown exponentially over the last 10-plus years to the point where the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and other smaller organizations have overtaken boxing as the preferred combat sport.

Thunderkick Tulsa is a prominent gym in Tulsa, training local fighters while also providing lessons for Brazilian jiu-jitsu and kickboxing — both for adults and children.

“We kind of stick around three areas, from mixed martial arts to all levels of fitness cardio kickboxing and kids’ jiu-jitsu classes and adult jiu-jitsu classes,” says Thunderkick co-owner, head instructor and fight coach Thomas Longacre, a former MMA fighter himself.

As the name suggests, MMA combines a multitude of different martial art styles, including boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and muay Thai, among others.

Erin and Thomas Longacre (Photo: Marc Rains)
Erin and Thomas Longacre (Photo: Marc Rains)

To many fans of the UFC and local events such as the Xtreme Fight Night series that takes place every two months or so at the River Spirit Casino in Tulsa, watching MMA fights is much more exciting, and features more fierce action than boxing. That sentiment seems to be shared by new people entering the cage to fight.

“It’s more interesting and more realistic for either self-defense or just lifestyle,” Longacre says of the increase in people joining MMA gyms. “I think boxing is great, but if you aren’t born and bred in it, you’re not going to come into it.”

Longacre believes that the more progressive TV exposure of MMA fighting, with reality shows like Fox Sports’ The Ultimate Fighter, and with most bouts being shown on cable rather than super-expensive pay-per-view, has helped grow the sport’s popularity as well. That also helps get some people interested in trying it, particularly when they see that the fighters’ backgrounds might be similar to their own.

Thomas Longacre notes that the kinds of people attracted to MMA fighting, and the ones who succeed, are hard-working individuals looking for a challenge, ready to fully commit. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Thomas Longacre notes that the kinds of people attracted to MMA fighting, and the ones who succeed, are hard-working individuals looking for a challenge, ready to fully commit. (Photo: Marc Rains)

“How they promote and advertise these shows, I think, a lot of the fame that comes with it, people see the potential of money that can be made,” Longacre says. “I love the embedded shows, the behind-the-scenes of them training, because you get to see the realness that it takes. Either their home life or their training life or their working life, and people get to see, ‘I’m doing that right now, too, I think I might be able to do this.’ And so it sparks them in that direction, and then they get surprised at how much they start enjoying it.

“Even if they don’t fight, maybe they transition to just straight jiu-jitsu (a sport in itself that holds its own competitive tournaments), because not everybody is OK with getting punched in the face. With jiu-jitsu, you still get the hustle and grind, and it motivates in a different type of art. It’s a constant learning and enduring, and the perseverance that you get from that, you can apply in life skills.”

Longacre notes that the kinds of people attracted to MMA fighting, and the ones who succeed, are hard-working individuals looking for a challenge, ready to fully commit.

“It isn’t for everybody, but if there’s something that you’re lacking, I think the constant will that people have to improve and better themselves [fuels them],” he says. “Everybody wants to prove to themselves and others, ‘I can do this.’

“Hardly ever are you going to see a rich person become an amazing fighter. You’re always going to have those guys who have had to endure a lot of hardships. And sometimes those people flourish more. It’s a fighting mentality, where we fight and grind to get that paycheck, we fight and grind for our family, we fight and grind to stay off the streets. I think that’s a foundation of being a fighter, because you want to do whatever it takes to achieve that. It depends on how hard you want to work, to train.”

Another significant portion of Thunderkick’s business is kids’ jiu-jitsu instruction, and Longacre believes that beyond teaching coordination, self-defense and self-confidence, the lessons the children learn in overcoming obstacles can be applied in all aspects of their lives.

“They get to learn through example, and training too, that while they’re in bad positions, ‘You’ve got to fight through this, keep pushing, don’t give up.’ And after we get done, we explain to them, ‘This is the reason why we push you hard,’” Longacre says. “‘When things get tough, we’re ingraining in you that you’re going to figure a way out to get through this problem. Ask for advice and ask for help. And that’s going to help them in their schoolwork, in whatever they do. Pushing them to do a couple more rounds or a couple more laps, that helps them push themselves. We’re sowing the seeds now for them to reap the harvest later.”

And Thunderkick’s commitment to kids goes beyond jiu-jitsu lessons. They have also launched the Genesis Project, which brings in Tulsa-area foster kids for instruction once a month, providing an outlet and a safe environment for at-risk kids.

“I guess you would say the gym is like a sanctuary. It’s more of an outreach thing than anything, because we get so many different types of people who are going through things, and they’re just needing a group to hang out with and be a part of,” Longacre says. “The atmosphere that it brings to people is pretty cool Just being part of a fight team, that’s pretty awesome for those whop are having friend issues or needing to be a part of something, need some healing in certain areas.”  

Thunderkick Fitness
4107 S. Yale Ave.,
Unit 244 | Tulsa

April 2020 Cover