Donning a pair of boxing gloves, Jackie DeMartino, 22, of State College, dodges the kicks of a fellow Central PA Mixed Martial Arts student, striking at the other student in return.
After a few minutes, an alarm sounds, giving the students a chance to rest and change partners. After a few moments, DeMartino faces off against a different student.
CPAMMA, located on West College Avenue in Ferguson Township, offered a women’s only sparring day Sunday for the female fighters of the community.
DeMartino said she’s been a student at CPAMMA for two years. The recent Penn State graduate said she was looking to improve herself physically and mentally, but she wasn’t drawn to the club sports at the university.
She ended up getting more out of the school than she thought, she said.
“I first came in thinking it would just help me physically,” DeMartino said, “but I learned so much about discipline, humbleness, respect — just how to push myself to my limits.”
Sporting a purple band around her arm — the highest level a student can achieve before testing to become an instructor, DeMartino said she’s not only pushed herself further than her limits, but also says she feels safer.
“I don’t want to be walking around the streets at night feeling vulnerable,” she said. “Now I feel comfortable just being by myself any time of day.”
CPAMMA has been offering classes in the area for about two years, but head instructor Ryan Gruhn said the roots of the school go further back than that. Gruhn has been part of the State College MMA scene since the group was known as the State College Martial Arts Academy.
Due to the rise in popularity of MMA fighting, the group rebranded itself as CPAMMA in 2010, he said, showing the community that the school teaches all martial arts, not just one.
Most people seeking training are looking to do something active while having fun, he said — a totally different attitude than what many gyms offer.
“These days it’s people running on a treadmill, not doing anything that stimulates your brain,” Gruhn said. “With this, you don’t even realize you’re getting a good workout because you’re having fun while learning.”
The school offers classes for all ages, he said. Classes start at age 3, while their oldest student is 93 years old. The school also boasts about 900 students during the school year, as it’s a popular spot for many Penn State students.
Instructor and competitor Elise Pone, of State College, said she’s been fighting for about three years and teaching for two. She encouraged more women to check it out, saying women sparring against women helps gain a better sense of how a student’s skills are developing.
“At a thing like (the sparring event), you have women working against other women with similar size and weight,” she said, “which is what we would be competing against. It also helps with empowerment and self-esteem issues, too.”