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Full Contact Fighting: Reed College religion grad turns tough

Back when Emily Corso was a student at Reed College, majoring in religion, she never expected to be an as-yet undefeated amateur Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) “cage fighter” – much less a Full Contact Fighting Federation champion.

“When I was a Reed freshman, I was overweight, out of shape, and spending all of my time studying at one of the most academic schools in the country – never leaving the library,” Corso says. “My coach likes to say that I wouldn’t run to catch a bus if it was the last one – before I started training.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: DAVID F. ASHTON - Winning amateur MMA Emily Corso says a self-defense class got her into the Reed College gym. The life of this sedentary academic changed when Corso signed up for a “Women's Self-Defense” class offered at Reed by the man who is still her coach: Bill Bradley, owner of Alive MMA in Woodstock, where she now works part time.

“The class gave me a reason to get into the gym," she says. "But then, when I started learning jujitsu – the technique behind the self-defense training – I found I really enjoyed it. I stayed with it while I was at college.

“I did graduate from Reed, and I have a degree in religion,” Corso says. “Although my degree isn’t particularly helpful in MMA fighting, going to college was good. It taught me how to learn; how to think about things analytically, and how to examine a topic from a number of different angles. Actually, it’s quite useful when you're on the mat trying to break a hold.”

The 26-year-old has an amateur record of eight wins, no losses, and no draws. Corso won a title belt in Chael Sonnen’s Full Contact Fighting Federation (FCFF) in her weight class in July 2011 – and successfully defended it twice after that.

“I also won a title with BUDO Fights in Bend, and a Cage Star Superfight belt, all in the women's 125 lb. Flyweight classification,” she says.

But, surprisingly, Corso says her greatest joy doesn’t come from knocking out opponents or getting them to “tap out” after being caught in one of her submission holds. To the public, she’s a winning mixed martial artist “cage fighter,” a jujitsu practitioner, wrestler and boxer "but what’s most important to me is teaching women's self-defense.

“A woman doesn't have to be strong, big, and muscular – ‘pumping iron’ in the gym to start learning self-defense. With just a little bit of knowledge and skill, women learn in my class – it can make all the difference.

“Look: Most of what women hear is to ‘not to fight back’ if you’re attacked,” Corso says. “The reality is, if you fight back at all, in any way – using good technique or not, even screaming or thrashing – your chances of surviving and escaping unharmed increase dramatically. Learning some basic jujitsu techniques gives women the confidence to fight back.”

Jujitsu is based on principles of leverage, momentum, and technique, Corso points out. “So, it’s not about being big and strong, it’s about learning skills I teach here at the gym every Sunday,” she says.

While she’s gotten to love being a MMA competitor, Corso says she also likes the exposure the cage fights bring her.

“A lot of women don’t realize that they could do this," she says. "Women come up to me after a fight, saying, ‘You’re so cool! I wish I could do that.' I give them my card and tell them, ‘You can!’”

The gym where she teaches also offers many fitness classes, she says, including Cross-Fit, boxing, jujitsu, mixed martial arts, and yoga. For details, go to alivemma.net.

With schoolyard bullying being a concern, some parents are enrolling their kids in self-defense classes.

“Instructors use fun games to teach jujitsu," she says. "Their parents tell us that their children have the confidence to break up fights at school and to use their skills for good purposes.”

Eventually, Corso says, she’ll “hang up her gloves.” She would like to become a motivational speaker, while continuing to teach women’s self-defense classes.