MMA fighter hosts youth self-defense classes

Chad Coon: 'Training also helps with motor skills for the kids'

Chris Coon's CrossFit gym offers weekly training sessions in fighting disciplines including boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, Jujitsu, judo, Greco wrestling for youth up to adult group classes. 

Chris Coon's CrossFit gym offers weekly training sessions in fighting disciplines including boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, Jujitsu, judo, Greco wrestling for youth up to adult group classes. 

Herald Review photo/Olivia Fellows

Self-defense can be a beneficial skill and can be life-saving to learn, and one Big Rapids fitness coach has brought the opportunity to get involved to youth in the community through his classes.  

Chad Coon has been practicing martial arts and wrestling since age 4 and has had a passion for coaching and professional fighting throughout his adult life. He wrestled throughout college in Missouri and eventually made his way back to Michigan and began coaching and training. 

He became a professional fighter 12 years ago and has several accomplishments to his name through MMA fighting including being named a Golden Gloves champion.

The lack of access to training in his style of fighting was one reason he opened his own gym in Big Rapids, Coon said. 

“When I went from down in Missouri back to up here there wasn’t a lot of stuff like CrossFit and wrestling training,” Coon said. “I came back and the only places you could go for training was Traverse City or Grand Rapids."

"Eventually, I got tired of driving and made the decision to open my own place," he added. "Coaching at Reed City and Big Rapids inspired a lot of it, and we’ve now got a lot of fighters that we train. We also have people that come in and help with our pad-holding for our kid’s sessions, which has been helpful.”

Coon’s CrossFit gym is located at 823 West Avenue in Big Rapids and has space for larger groups to train. 

He often works with emotionally impaired kids in school, and said through working with kids and parents he saw a need for more physical activity options for kids with emotional struggles. 

“There's just always been a need with coaching youth wrestling, boxing and stuff like that,” Coon said. “We've had a lot of clients that have come in and we do pad work or one-on-one sessions with them. Parents were saying ‘I want my kid to be able to defend themselves and I want him to stop getting bullied,’ and I figured I could help make that happen and we started these classes.

"We also wanted to start a youth class because there was a karate dojo in town and that ended up closing down. What we do is more boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, Jujitsu, a little bit of judo, and some Greco wrestling.

“We have fighters that train here from all different backgrounds,” he added. “One of them, Zach, is a Ferris State University criminal justice student and they need skills like this especially if they’re interested in becoming a cop. He figured he’d get a jump start on it, which is awesome. We’ve had some individual competitions and haven’t too fared well, but people are improving and learning every day which is what I really like to see.”


There are numerous benefits in learning and practicing skills like fighting, wrestling and the more physical hands-on training that Coon’s gym provides. 

He said one of the greatest benefits of training younger kids is seeing their confidence grow. 

"The confidence that the kids build just in the 10 weeks doing a one day a week is amazing,” Coon said. “Parents can't believe how far their child’s skills have come in just 10 days of doing this with only one session every week. Training also helps with motor skills for the kids, mostly because we do a lot of teaching them to walk on their hands, how to move their bodies, and do cartwheels and things like that. If they're going to be an athlete, they’ve got to be able to move a certain way, especially as a top-tier athlete.

“We then get into doing skills like takedowns, and the correct to punch somebody, how to get somebody off of you, and how to take somebody down if you have to,” he added. “Just preparation and training for any kind of situation that they might get into that calls for that. Jiujitsu incorporates a lot of that kind of body movement, and how to move other people’s weight around.” 

The gym has already had a first 10-week youth self-defense session, and recently started with the second set of sessions. 

Coon said feedback from families and participants has been positive, and with each session, he sees more signing up to come to the gym. 

“The feedback so far has all been really good,” Coon said. “I've got a few kids that have issues, autism or they are nonverbal. The sessions just give them a focus and something to work towards and get some of those feelings and maybe the frustration out.

"One student we’ve had was nonverbal and would come into sessions and not say anything, but he looks forward to coming every weekend. Around Christmas, he gave each of us holiday cards with $20 in them, and that was really nice. Even though he’s nonverbal, he always hugs us after sessions and that is really good feedback for us.”

Moving forward, one goal the gym has will be to start sessions for women’s self-defense and training. 

Coon said making a difference in Big Rapids through doing what he loves is a unique opportunity.

“One reason I want to start women’s training sessions is that I hear from parents that are from out of town and they have students that are going Ferris and they're worried about their girls walking around on campus,” Coon said. “We've gone there and worked with their MMA club team and have done some seminars last year, just to help them out because a lot of them don't have this kind of knowledge. I’ve heard from individuals who have gotten jumped at Hemlock Park, believe it or not, and they decided they needed to do something to protect themselves and join my classes and do some boxing.”

“For me, these classes are a way to help out the community in Big Rapids,” he added. “We all love doing it, and we see a lot of new faces almost every session we hold. It’s good for the public to come and get some of the knowledge because you never know what kind of situation you might find yourself in.”

Coon said weekly sessions will likely continue through the winter and into the fall, and planning for new and additional focused group classes will be continuing. 

As the session dates and times are adjusted occasionally, Coon said the best way for interested parties to get in touch with him about signing up is to message him directly via his Facebook page at 

For more information on CrossFit classes, memberships, and pricing, visit the gym's website at