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  • Writer's pictureRachael Fulton

A Day In The Life of a Griphouse Dinky Ninja

"This is a rough and ready gym by the way, none of your LA Fitness or whatever you're used to."

Danny Gray's warning as we entered Griphouse Gym was hardly necessary.

Suddenly surrounded by cauliflower-eared gentlemen strangling each other on mats, kicking each-other in the head and sparring in cages, it was clear I wasn't in Pilates anymore.

Danny is one of hundreds of fighters who train at The Griphouse, Glasgow's number one training centre for mixed martial arts.

The rapidly expanding, full contact combat sport of MMA has a huge global following, and the Griphouse's home fighters - the Dinky Ninja Fight Team, are taking title after title in national and international championships.

After a beginner's crash course in jabbing, crossing and striking in the ring with Danny, the stamina and strength required to compete in the sport was painfully apparent - as was the fact that my career in MMA is likely to be short-lived.

"We're a big centre for mixed martial arts training," said Guy Ramsay, owner and coach at the Griphouse.

"So we combine Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling, strength and conditioning and boxing and put it all together for the best fight sport on the market at the moment - mixed martial arts.

"It's like a decathlon - you're having to do all the individual sports, get good at all of them and do them all at the same time."

The Griphouse is equipped with a weights room, boxing ring, fighting cage and coaching spaces where visitors receive training in jiu-jitsu and MMA grappling and striking techniques.

The gym runs 'fundamental sessions' which focus on fitness and strength training, which then lead onto fighter development classes that apply specific fight coaching.

Whether visitors want to train socially or work towards competing professionally, they can find a path for progression at the gym.

"You've got people who want to compete and people who are just drawn to the fitness side of the training," said Guy.

"But it's the competitive fighters that inspire everyone else to get involved.

"You come into a class and see a world champion here and there, and it creates a really good vibe."

Guy and fellow Griphouse founder Paul McVeigh give classes and coaching to budding fighters, training up the gym's next generation of champions.

Amongst them is 26-year-old Joanne 'Jo-Jo' Calderwood, recently crowned International Sport Kickboxing Association world champion.

During our visit to the Griphouse, Joanne was fragile from trying to keep her weight down in preparation for an Oran Mor fight against Swedish No 1 Jenny Krigsman.

Joanne was eating plain chicken from a Tupperware box, as she had been for days, to ensure she qualified for the flyweight category. She was exhausted from a strict training regime was and preserving her energy for the weekend's big fight.

Around her, fighters who didn't have upcoming titles to defend or attain did press-ups on their knuckles, battered punch bags and wrestled each other's faces aggressively to the floor.

"When we started off it was a real minority sport, now it's everywhere," said James Doolan, one of Dinky Ninja Fight Team's successful professional fighters.

"As the sport grows the gym will grow in tandem. Members will keep going up and the fight team will have more success, on an international level and on a UK level."

Most fighters I interviewed at the Griphouse claimed that they've sustained more injuries playing five-a-side football than they had knocking lumps of out each other in the cage or ring. A few cuts and scrapes here and there, but nothing to write home about.

"A couple of cuts, bumps, a broken thumb - nothing major, nothing at all," said James.

"Playing football I broke both my wrists and my toes, so there's no comparison with MMA."

Despite the violent nature of MMA - the bruises, broken bones and ears fat with blood clots, the Griphouse regulars are not the vicious thugs an outsider might expect.

Aside from being polite, friendly and charming, the fighters we interviewed were keen to point out that there was more to MMA than just violence.

When asked about the best part of MMA, the fighters did not respond with gory tales of ruining their opponents' faces or the adrenaline rush of knocking someone unconscious.

Instead, each fighter claimed that the camaraderie nurtured at the Griphouse and the friendships made through fighting were the sport's highlights.

""It's the people - the guys you train with," said Paul.

"It's the camaraderie - there's a bond you get with the people you invest so much time with.

"It builds a family aspect that a lot people are looking for in this day and age."

Despite my apparent lack of upper body strength, stamina and natural talent for fighting, when stepping out of the ring at The Griphouse, I retained a tiny shred of hope that I, too, could one day be a dinky ninja.

Then I watched the footage of Joanne Calderwood, who would be in my weight category, pulverise the Swedish contender at the Oran Mor, and realised it was best I hung up my little boxing gloves for good.

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