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Published: November 17, 2008

WINCHESTER, Mass. — At the high school in this small, pretty and proper-looking town near Boston, a student was being choked by another student — with the school’s permission.

Just another meeting of the Winchester High mixed martial arts club, which may be the only of its kind in the country.

It began as the brainchild of In-Goo Kwak, a senior at Winchester who began campaigning for the program when he was a freshman. A student of martial arts since age 8, he wanted to create an outlet for students who were not interested in traditional sports.

Now housed in the school’s wrestling room, the club has nearly two dozen participants, ages 14-18.

At a class last month, Kwak arranged for a guest instructor, Marcelo Siqueira, someone who planned to make regular appearances. Siqueira runs a martial arts center in nearby Somerville and was a national karate champion in Brazil. He has a black belt in Brazilian jujitsu and studied at the famous Chute Boxe mixed martial arts academy in Curitiba, Brazil.

Siqueira was here to help Kwak, one of his students, and also to scout for potential talent. Siqueira manages a few professional fighters. He understands all too well the sport’s violent reputation, having fought in Brazil’s Vale Tudo arenas, the home of the no-holds-barred, bare-knuckle matches that gave birth to mixed martial arts.

“A lot of people think it’s too aggressive or violent,” Siqueira said of the sport of mixed martial arts. “But after a while, they see a different perspective.”

He added that the club offered an opportunity to pour out aggression in a safe environment designed for it. He spoke passionately about the self-discipline required to be a fighter.

Mixed martial arts was illegal in nearly every state in the country in the early 1990s, but is legal in most states now. The sport outgrosses professional boxing in pay-per-view revenue. It is now an arena for serious athletes. To succeed, a fighter must acquire the skills of four separate combat sports — boxing, wrestling, kick-boxing and submission grappling — and combine them.

Kwak lobbied for the program for two years before it began in 2006. When school administrators saw his commitment and professionalism — he pursued everything from correct safety measures to financing — they supported the club.

The school’s only concern was that the students were not actually hitting each other. They practice kicks and punches to pads, but do not kick or punch with one another. The club has not had a serious injury in the two years it has been active.

Brian Carroll, the athletic director at Winchester High, said he was thrilled with the program’s success, in particular mentioning the students’ dedication.

“They worked extremely hard,” he said. “They’re dedicated. So any way we can support them, we’re going to.”

Kwak said one of his goals with the program was to offer something to students who were not “the jocks who dominate the sports.”

Alex Woudard, a freshman, said he did not like sports like baseball or football because they were too slow.

“I started a few weeks ago because I watch this stuff on TV and I wanted to do it for real,” he said.

In the beginning, the club met once a week, with about five students. Kwak has done all of the organizing for the club, including fund-raising. Last winter, he went to business after business in town, asking for donations. In exchange, he offered to use the companies’ logos and mention them as sponsors in the club’s introductory brochure.

But beyond that, he did not have much to offer. That, coupled with his age, got him turned away frequently. Of about 100 businesses, 10 donated money. But Kwak slowly began to receive support.

Tom Defranzo Martial Arts, a local tae kwon do school, donated equipment. Kwak has developed a list of guest instructors like Siqueira. Robert Flint, a graduate of Winchester High who is a martial artist, donates his time several days a week.

“I thought it was a joke the first time I heard about it,” Flint said.

Kwak, who plans to stay involved with the club after he graduates, said his goal was for his group to compete with other clubs. He has reached out to Boston University’s mixed martial arts program to try to organize a meet.

The potential is there. Wrestling, vital to a complete game in mixed martial arts, is a sport in which Winchester High excels. Its wrestling team has gone 60-0 in the past two seasons.

And that means the so-called jocks have a place in the program, too. Brendan Cleary, a three-year member of the wrestling team, was one of the first students to sign up for the club and helps out with instructing.

In Siqueira’s class last month, he explained the process of training in mixed martial arts to the students circled around him.

“You don’t teach M.M.A., you teach the pieces,” he said.

He said the sport required skill in boxing, wrestling, submissions and kicking. He then taught a basic wrestling move, the shoot, but with a twist. He begins the technique with a punch to occupy the opponent’s hands.

At the end of the lesson, the students lined up and one at a time sparred with him. For the students, it was an opportunity to battle a world-class athlete.

“That’s perfect, there’s nothing you can do,” one student said in frustration as he sparred with Siqueira. From somewhere among the group of students watching came this response from Flint: “Could have something to do with him being a world champion.”