University of Missouri Fields Pankration Team
In an example of the classical Greek blend of intellectual education and athletic training, the University of Missouri Pankration Team has formed to compete in U.S. and international cometition.
Formed and coached by MU graduate student and pankration champion Duane Hamacher, the club met with quick success when one of its members, Lee Whitaker, won the women's division at the 2001 World Pankration Championships only two months after the club's formation.
Hamacher, a student of WPF president Craig Smith in the Celtic system Sli Beatha, began competing in pankration in 1999. "There really wasn't much for a Sli Beatha student to compete in before 1999", said Hamacher. "At least not in our area, and on an amateur basis. Some of us wanted to compete in karate tournaments, but Craig said no and took us to a karate tournament to show us why he wouldn't let us. When we saw how limited the competition was, and how you couldn't strike with full force, we understood why."
Hamacher says that the limitations of karate tournaments were a shock to the Sli Beatha students, who were used to classes which frequently brought blood, and occassional broken bones. And as Sli Beatha is basically a striking discipline, the growng grappling movement offered them nothing, as it didn't allow striking.
But when pankration came onto the scene, it seemed to offer practitioners of multi-dimensional, full contact disciplines like Sli Beatha an arena in which they could compete. When Smith started the WPF, Hamacher signed up to compete in the Tornado Internationals Pankration Tournament held in Kansas City. Though he had never competed before, and Smith simply told him to do his best, Hamacher won the men's light-heavyweight division, beating opponents from some of the leading fight clubs in the midwest.
He followed that up by winning the Heart of America Open some months later.
As the pankration movement began to grow, Smith felt that universities would be an ideal place to promote pankration, and asked Hamacher if he would be interested in forming a team at the University of Missouri. Hamacher was enthusiastic, and formed the University of Misouri Pankration Team as a subsidiary of the Mizzou Martial Arts Club, in which he taught Sli Beatha.
The response to the new team was immediate, with one of the first members being Lee Whitaker, a Sli Beatha student of Hamacher's.
Lee Whitaker (Above left) after winning the World Championships in Chicago, with Duane Hamacher, Master Bob Schirmer and Team- mate Greg Walsh.
Though unable to compete himself, due to an injury sustained in Army basic training several months before, Hamacher took two members of the newly created MU team to the World Pankration Championships hosted by Master Bob Schirmer in Chicago. With only two athletes in competing, the MU team took home two trophies, a fourth place in the men's middle-weight division and an amazing first place - a World Championship -in womens', taken by Lee Whitaker. It was only Whitaker's third competition, and she had only been training in Sli Beatha for about a year, but she was used to having to fight men in class, so fighting other women was a welcome change.
Mizzou Team-mates on a tour of Chicago after the championships.
As word began to spread of the new pankration team at Mizzou (University of Missouri), interest began to grow and new members joined. Though few were familiar with pankration, the concept was familiar as a result of the UFC and the rapidly expanding MMA (mixed martial arts) movement. The sport appealed to those with a background in wrestling or other combat sports, and the team aspect was attractive because it provided the opportunity for training, travel and regular sanctioned competition. Within several months, the team had grown to 12 members.
Hamacher says that a university setting is ideal for a pankration team. The facilities at MU include a padded combat sport training room, as well a full sized gymna- siums for tournaments, and there are a large number of people in a university environment who are interested in a sport like pankration.
One of the things that have surprised both Hamacher and the WPF is the growing number of females who are beginning to train for pankration. Nobody is happier about this than Whitaker, who occassionally finds no other females to fight at tournaments - particularly tournaments that are close to home where people know about her.
The Mizzou PankrationTeam after a Feb, 2002 tournament.
Each member either took first, second or third in their division.
A Mizzou Pankration Team member (right) dominates his opponent at the Kansas City Classic.
Hamacher says he feels more universities should add pankration to their intramural sports, and that there is a good possibility pankration may be added to intercollegiate athletics sometime in the future. With this goal in mind, the WPF has named the MU Pankration Team a Charter Club, and charged it with developing Collegiate Pankration, a program for the expansion of pankration and formation of pankration clubs and teams at colleges and universities across the U.S. and the world.
If the University of Missouri Pankration Team is any indication, university teams may be springing up all over the country, and perhaps all over the world - and the classical Greek blend of physical competition and education will be an important part of the worldwide movement to return the ancient sport of pankration to its former position as the ultimate combat sport - and one of the most revered events of the Olympic Games.
To contact the University of Missouri Pankration Team: firstname.lastname@example.org