Why martial arts is growing in Orange County: A cultural and fitness phenomenon

Stock Image/WordPress

Pent up emotions, a need for a social outlet and the ever-elusive search for one’s purpose, can be some of the reasons for a change in scenery or the discovery of a new hobby for anyone. It’s that exact feeling that drew combat sport social-media personality and Subfighter MMA student, Adam Arabshahi to hit the gym and train in mixed-martial arts.

“I was kind of going through a pretty hard time in life and just had a lot of uncertainty, anger… and needed an outlet to express,” says Arabshahi. “That was kind of a big motivator in me, kind of trying it and sticking with it and why especially the first few years I got so obsessed and so hooked with it.”

Since starting martial-arts in 2019, Arabshahi continues his MMA training at Subfighter MMA in Laguna Hills, Calif. where he looks to continue developing his MMA skills and adding to the growing martial arts scene in Orange County. 

According to a 2021 survey by Statista, since 2012, the number of martial arts businesses in the United States has grown at an average rate of 18.7 percent. In Orange County, Calif. alone, there are over 100 martial arts schools teaching a range of different martial arts including Taekwondo, Karate, Muay Thai, MMA and more.

Martial arts adds to the seemingly endless list of fitness programs that surround the entirety of Orange County. However, many people find that training in martial arts can be beneficial in ways not recognizable to the untrained eye. 

“I have seen lots of character growth from many of [National Taekwondo Academy] kids,” says taekwondo instructor and third degree black belt, Cassidy Lo. Lo started learning taekwondo at National Taekwondo Academy in Aliso Viejo, Calif. around nine years ago and continues to teach taekwondo there today. “I think that with the right leadership and mindset, the industry of martial arts in O.C. will continue to grow and hopefully maintain the standards the sport demands”.

One of the most talked-about martial arts in Orange County right now is jiu-jitsu. Having originated in Japan and Brazil, jiu-jitsu is a grappling and submission-based martial art. Orange County is home to over 100 jiu-jitsu studios. 

“A lot of my friends were doing it to stay in shape and train,” says jiu-jitsu blue belt, Tyler Long. “I’ve noticed more and more people try jiu-jitsu as of recently- I would say that it’s growing.” 

Many people are aware of the traditional gyms, exercise routines and diets. There’s no shortage of regular gyms with elliptical machines, treadmills, a weight section and other typical gym equipment. 

For some, martial arts gives those looking to get or keep in shape a new perspective. Training with teammates, coaches and trainers offers a one-of-a-kind fitness experience that challenges the body and mind in many different ways. 

In an increasingly dangerous world, many seek to boost their confidence by learning how to defend themself. 

“I always liked martial arts and my parents would want me to stay active,” says National Taekwondo Academy student, Seena Mohajeran. Having trained under National Taekwondo Academy for almost ten years, Mohajeran attributes his passion for the sport to his eagerness for wanting to better prepare himself in case he is in a dangerous situation. “ I was motivated because I wanted to learn self-defense.”

Possessing the skill of self-defense, from any kind of martial arts discipline bestows the feeling of empowerment and confidence, something that many fitness-enthusiasts and those seeking a healthy lifestyle desire for themselves. 

If you ask anybody looking to be fit or stay in shape, one of the top reasons as to why they lead a healthy fitness lifestyle, is that they have been inspired by someone, something, or even a goal they have set for themselves. 

The world’s most premier mixed martial arts promotion, the UFC, has a major role in the development and upswing of martial arts studios in Orange County. 

“I had become a fan, I would say of MMA, a little bit during the Jon Jones, Conor McGregor era [of the UFC],” says Arabshahi. “It’s definitely growing more and more, especially now that it has entered the mainstream in multiple different forms of media.”

In February, the UFC held one of its pay-per-views, UFC 298, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.. UFC 298 became the highest-grossing mixed-martial arts event in California with a gate of $7.26 million. 

“The fans were so loud and omnipresent,” says UFC commentator Jon Anik in an Instagram post. “Looking forward to coming back.”

Southern California and Orange County in particular, have been a well-known hotbed for immigrants looking to start a new life for themselves in America. Orange County’s diverse population demographics also bring in new students for martial arts as well as those already equipped with martial arts experience from their native country. 

It isn’t only adults who participate in martial arts, young kids and teenagers frequent martial arts studios with desires to stay fit and healthy, with some even having aspirations of someday becoming a professional fighter.

Most martial arts studios provide a youth program with curriculum specifically geared towards younger students. 

Discipline, self-control and respect are some of the appealing attributes that parents look to martial arts studios to help instill in their children. Those fundamental attributes, when instilled into kids at a younger age, pay dividends when facing the adversity that comes with adulthood and maturity- something a regular gym, for its lack of personal coaching, cannot do.

“Honestly, it seems like a lot of the coaches have the biggest impact,” says Subfighter MMA student Gamal Darwish. “The MMA world is such a tight-knit community that I had no idea about.”

While some may train to achieve personal fitness goals, we must not forget that fighting is a sport. Competitions and tournaments for the different kinds of martial arts frequent Orange County and provide a competitive scene for those looking to test their skill.

When looking at the future of martial arts in Orange County and in the United States as a whole, one can not help but expect a martial arts bull market.

“I think that with the right leadership and mindset [martial arts] will continue to grow in OC,” says jiu-jitsu white belt, Marshall Compher. “Martial arts are really cool when you get the hang of it.”

The future of martial arts in Orange County can best be summarized as a unique and up-and-coming sensation. With Orange County’s concentration of fitness-oriented individuals, accompanied with martial arts influencers and the support of fighting promotions such as the UFC, it can only be assumed that martial arts will continue to have a place in Orange County.

“You could hop on Instagram and you’re seeing MMA highlights, not just from the UFC, but from Bellator, PFL,” says Arabshahi. “Combat sports are much more mainstream.”

The growing martial-arts scene in Orange County has proved that it’s much more than just a trend and a violent, niche sport. 

Martial arts for its variety of disciplines, ability to foster friendships and communities, giving the vulnerable the ability to defend themselves and assist in finding one’s purpose, are some of the reasons that it will continue to remain a key piece of the modern Orange County culture.