Tan, rust, brick and mortar walls stand tall in the historic south Minneapolis building where Dog Soldier MMA lies tucked away. Peer into former stable windows and you can see into a world within a world where learning to stand tall is about much more than physical fitness.
Vaughn Lodge opened Dog Soldier MMA in March 2013, but the story started long before, in Little Earth. Little Earth is an urban housing complex in south Minneapolis which provides affordable housing with Native preference. Over a year ago, tension was building among different groups within the Native Community. Lodge remembers, “People were coming to me and saying my daughter has been attacked, or my granddaughter has been sold into the sex trade…and for me it was like, what can I do to make a difference? What can I do to make a difference?”
It didn’t take long for Lodge to decide—He had years of experience in mixed martial arts and knew that this was something he could share, something that would help. He volunteered to teach self defense classes at Little Earth and, from there, the classes blossomed into a structured, disciplined program for more than fifty young people.
Lodge realized he wanted to do this full time: to open a gym, but keep it community based. A friend told him to check out the Plan it! entrepreneur training program happening at BiiGiiWiin in partnership with NDC. BiiGiiWiin is a branch of the American Indian Community Development Corporation. Lodge applied and shared his idea: “We come from a warrior culture where, culturally, we fight. We fight all the time. You go to a reservation, trust me, you’ll see fights—all the time.” Lodge wanted to deconstruct the modern trends that commercialize gangsterism and objectify women. “How do we change that back to our traditional values?” asked Lodge.
Thus came Dog Soldier MMA. Dog Soldier was actually a Cheyenne warrior society from the plains, “They were the most feared warriors in all the plains…because they had a code,” Lodge stated.
BiiGiiWiin and NDC welcomed Lodge into the Plan it! program. He learned fast, developed a business plan and found a location to lease. With NDC’s help he accessed pro bono legal assistance to review his lease and worked with his landlord to convert the space into a gym. He now has three different payment plans for classes offered twice a day. Dog Soldier MMA is growing but Lodge has not forgotten his roots. He continues to waive tuition for his high school students who cannot pay on the condition that they maintain a 2.5 GPA, 80% attendance and complete 20 hours of verifiable community service. “It’s a fine balance between what you give the community and then what you take for yourself,” Lodge noted. Lodge is learning to manage the balance well!