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Kevin Forant and Tom Ziegler discuss building confidence and discipline through Hayastan Mixed Marti

Updated: Jan 12, 2019

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has often been referred to as the fasting growing sport in the world, as it has continued to rise in popularity. A passionate and dedicated MMA community can be found at Hayastan MMA Charlotte. They offer a variety of training options, for everyone from beginners to professional fighters. Regardless of skill level, everyone who trains at Hayastan finds an encouraging environment with a collective spirit of self-improvement and continued progress.

A tight knit group of instructors and students rallied to keep the school going after the passing of Founder, Sensei Paul Booe in 2015. Now instructor (and former student) Kevin Forant owns the school, and instructor Tom Ziegler runs the day-to-day operations. Forant, Ziegler, and instructor Tony Tan comprise the head coaching staff.

How has the transition been from student and pro fighter to instructor/owner?

Kevin: It’s been natural. When I first started training with Paul, I told him that I wanted to learn good technique and then I wanted to pass it on to others. I was always a leader in class, and planned to open my own school at some point. Now I teach full time, as well as cornering and coaching fighters.

How long have you been involved with MMA?

Tom: I was a MMA fan first, and then started formally training in 2007 with Paul. I was working in finance and mortgages, but I didn’t enjoy it. Eventually I told my wife that I wanted to focus on this as a career. She was surprised, but supportive—her support of the idea was key. And I made the jump-to doing this full time-in 2013.

Kevin: I’ve trained at Hayastan for ten years. I had no martial arts training prior to that.

Do you still compete professionally?

Kevin: The last time I competed in the cage was almost two years ago. I’m getting older. I’m 37 now, so I’ve let the competing go a little. I have another business and I have a family - a wife and two kids. She’s very supportive and has been to every single one of my fights. But it’s hard to take time away from those things. I’m sure even when I’m 45 and my career is long gone, I probably still won’t want to admit retirement.

What kind of people train at the school?

Tom: We’ve got people who just want to stay in shape; maybe they’re tired of fitness gyms or the same routine. They want to engage their minds as well as their bodies. Others are interested in the self-defense aspect. We also get people who are fans of the sport and want to learn the moves they’ve seen. And there are those people who want to compete and fight.

Kevin: Humans have a primal instinct to be able to face someone if they challenge you. MMA helps give you the confidence to do that. Occasionally, we’ve had a younger person who may be thinking they want to learn this so they can beat someone up. But once they start training, they realize they don’t need to intimidate anyone else, because they now have enough self-confidence. They no longer feel like they have to down someone else in order to build themselves up.

Do you ever get students who are being bullied?

Kevin: We’ve had some single moms bring in their pre-teens or teenage sons who are lacking in a father figure. Not that we can replace a father, but we can help them with some things that fathers would teach their kids, such as confidence or self-defense. We see a change in them. At first, they were nervous, maybe they were even forced into it. But after a month or two, we see them go from making excuses not to train, to finding reasons to come more often.

How much of MMA’s popularity is tied to the UFC?

Tom: It’s become a lot more mainstream and popular since 2005 when “The Ultimate Fighter” show premiered. In the finale, two fighters fought for a spot in the UFC. That was the first time the UFC was on live TV, not PPV. It started to explode. Before that, it had a diehard following, but from then on there was a buzz created about the sport. The UFC created weight classes, rounds, more rules. It came to be regarded as an actual sport.

Kevin: The UFC is a big part of it because that’s what most people see. They are the biggest promoter of the sport and the UFC attracts the best fighters from around the world. It’s how most people are first introduced to MMA, and the growth of the UFC impacts the growth of

the sport.

What are the benefits for people involved with MMA training?

Tom: People can’t help but develop physical benefits and mental benefits. You become more coordinated, agile, and greater focus. You learn how to perfect technique while you’re fatigued. We’ve had people who’ve never played a sport, they come in like silly putty. They get mat burns and bruises, and aches and pains, but over time their body adapts. Their bodies become tougher, and the silly putty becomes more like chiseled stone.

Kevin: Traditional martial arts schools that teach karate or taekwondo tend to emphasize how they build confidence and discipline in kids. But with MMA, those same principles can be applied for adults. It’s not too late. Confidence and self-discipline is developed through MMA. Things like coming to class and working out when you don’t feel like it, eating right, constantly improving yourself. And being in an atmosphere with a lot of camaraderie helps.

The camaraderie is key, right?

Tom: That’s a big part of it. You become part of a team, something bigger than yourself. It’s like being part of a family. The bonds that are created through this shared experience is something that’s hard to put into words, but it’s very strong.

Tell us about the training you offer?

Kevin: People want to train where they can learn skills and techniques that are applicable to competing, even though only about 10% of our student base competes. Most people like to train like a fighter, even if they aren’t interested in competing. They still want to use the same methods. We have strength and conditioning, grappling, and kickboxing/MMA classes, which includes striking. With striking, we also teach knees and elbows (on bags and pads) in addition to punches and kicks. Only people preparing for fights need intense sparring, so that is separate from normal classes.

What would you say to people who are nervous to try MMA?

Tom: Just know that everybody is here to help you get better. You’re not going to be thrown to the wolves, and nobody is going to be pushed to do something they’re not ready for.

How is MMA is different from what’s often the stereotype?

Kevin: With any sport at a high level, it takes smart people. A football game play may look easy on TV, but there’s a lot involved with drawing up a play. With MMA, it’s not just throwing kicks and punches and seeing who wins. It’s about finding and exploiting the weaknesses of others, and developing and applying your own strengths. It’s like physical chess. There is always a move and a counter move, which is constant. Especially with grappling, you need to be thinking two or three moves ahead of your opponent.

Who can do this sport?

Tom: Anybody can do it. People think you have to lose weight or get in shape first, but you don’t. You’ll learn and get in shape as you go. Kevin and Tony and I look out for people who may be struggling with their conditioning. You can go at your own pace. All you have to do is communicate. If you need to take a break, that fine. If you’re not comfortable with something you can just say, “I’ll sit that one out.” Don’t let ego get in the way. The most important thing is to just keep showing up.

Where can people find and follow you?


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