Ascension Athletics has focused its attention on two segments of the city’s populace in an effort to improve the overall atmosphere in the city.
Ascension, a mixed martial arts studio at 190 Main St., has set its sights on police officers and at-risk youths.
Ascension’s co-owner and co-founder, Jeffrey “Jeff” Haddad, explained he had wanted to open his own MMA studio since he was 16. The opportunity finally arose while he coached wrestling at the Boys and Girls Club of Bristol Family Center.
Haddad explained that he and co-owner Matt Bessette (a fighter in the UFC), developed a program that allows area police officers to train, for free, in hand to hand combat.
“First, we looked at the data,” said Haddad. “Cops who are trained in hand-to-hand combat on a regular basis have higher success rate in regards to reducing complaints and injury, because they know how to escalate force better.”
Officers receive hand to hand combat training through their department, but it’s minimal, explained Haddad. This is a problem because “you’re asking cops to recall all that training in a split second when there’s a lot at stake.”
Haddad, a celebrated fighter himself, explained consistent hand to hand combat training allows an officer to have a better barometer for what amount of force may be necessary for any given situation.
“The whole idea behind this wasn’t just to support cops or just to support civilians, the idea was to support the community as a whole, where everyone can benefit from it,” said Haddad. “If we see a community where you have less complaints of excessive force, then the view of the police department changes, but also, the relationship between the civilians and the police department changes, which is very important for everyone.”
Currently, Haddad explained, police officers who are members at Ascension are training alongside other individuals, including individuals who had previously been incarcerated. He believes this is important because it allows for people of different backgrounds to come together in a place where everyone is working to better themselves.
“We are a family-based facility that uses mixed martial arts as a conduit to fitness,” said Haddad, who explained that many members are there to improve their physical fitness, while others are there to train for competitive MMA.
In the near future, Haddad explained, there is one other group that the owners hope to have train side-by-side with are law enforcement – the young people who take part in the youth scholarship program.
The Ascension staff has built a network of teachers and counselors in order to have at-risk youths referred to take part in the incentive-based scholarship program.
“It’s on a per kid basis of what their interests are or where they are or aren’t performing, and then we kind of set standards on where they should be,” said Haddad.
By participating in community service and having good grades, the scholarship includes, “a free membership here, we pay for their travels, I drive most of those kids home almost every night, we will pay for their uniforms, we pay for their camps, we pay for basically everything,” said Haddad.
Ascension Athletics offers more than just hand-to-hand combat. Their trainers offer classes in Brazilian Ju Jitsu, Judo, wrestling, kickboxing, cardio kickboxing, Muay Thai, strength training, condition, and a full Mixed Martial Arts package.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@BristolObserver.com.