Friday, October 8, 2010

On MMA and the legitimacy of pre-existing martial arts

MMA is a revolution. In the past decade or so, fighting has become huge again- not just the peacock displays of professional wrestling or the respectable art of boxing. No, with MMA, we have once again embraced the spirit of the warrior.

It's interesting, then, to see the discrepancy of respect for older martial arts between MMA practitioners and the fans. This isn't solely the fault of the new wave, and in fact has increased awareness. The ignorant are all the more so, however.

First off, my take on MMA is roundedness. It's about being capable of handling any situation in a fight. Striking, grappling, groundwork, what have you. I respect that, I really do. But many martial arts, especially the most traditional, are focused on specificity. Wrestling. Boxing. Karate. Judo. Fencing. Assuming the traditional art makes the rules and keeps the fight to the appropriate specialty, it should be able to beat MMA. That's not the way it goes, though, and a competent MMA fighter will go for any weaknesses.

Does this mean that boxing is shit, that wrestling is nonpenetrative man love? Of course not. Our culture values boxers and wrestlers, as well they should- both styles are brutally effective in their given field. For some reason, this reverence hasn't translated as well to Eastern martial arts in the eyes of a nonfighter.

There are a couple reasons behind this. Eastern martial arts tend to contain more philosophy than a lot of people are comfortable with. Whether you believe it or not is up to you, but it's still taught with the techniques. Many of the underlying themes are parallel in Western martial arts, though often more elaborated.

More importantly, though, I blame the 70's. There was an influx of martial arts being taught, especially around California and the West Coast of the USA. Men and women who were already well-versed in their styles were impressive enough to draw customers, and it became quite profitable.

In China, Japan, Korea, wherever, the dojos were rather strictly self-regulated. A new one opens up, the local adepts come to test the newcomer, and the newcomer needs to prove themselves capable of teaching. This doesn't exactly work in Western culture- we know it as "breaking and entering with assault", rather than "dojo challenging". Groups like the WKF (World Karate Federation) and the ITF (International Taekwondo Federation) eventually gained control and stopped many corrupted schools, but the damage was done. In the public's eye, Asian martial arts were ineffective. In truth, most displays of taekwondo or karate are done by intermediate practitioners at best.

Today it is far too easy to become a black belt. Why put in a decade or more of training and practice when you can order a belt off eBay or a supply store and watch a few videos on YouTube? Then you can start luring in those who don't know any better and sell them belts and teach them useless lessons. This is not applicable to all schools- hopefully only a quarter or so operate like this, at most. But what kind of school is the most likely to go out and do mass demonstrations or performances?

To people who know what they're doing, however, the traditions can be powerful. Muay Thai is common in MMA. Karate and Taekwondo aren't unheard of, though rarely are they unaccompanied by some style that covers groundwork. The techniques taught work. You learn that, though, from utilizing them properly, and many fans don't have the fitness or skill required to pull it off.

Now, I might be a little biased. I'm pretty tired of telling people that I've practiced karate for a couple years now, and having them respond with random flailing and "hiii-yah!" Even worse is when some out of shape moron with a TapOut shirt tells me to stop skipping around like a fag. I spar with friends who do MMA, with friends who do BJJ, with friends that just do whatever. I win some, normally when I can keep them in kicking range but out of takedown range. I lose some, especially when people shoot past my guard and get in close.

The moral, I suppose, is that one singular martial art probably won't be perfect. It'll work for most self-defense situations if you can twist them to your advantage, but professionally you need a better foundation. Pick up a second one to cover your flaws, meld them together... Which is really what MMA is.

For alternate workout options:
19 Different Pull Ups


  1. In a real self-defense situation MMA (or any martial art) is really not as important as just knowing how to disable your opponent by any means.

  2. i would be broken attempting to train as an mma student :[

  3. Good post. I've been considering joining a local BJJ school as I finally have the income to support a hobby like this.. I'm thinking I'm gonna get into better shape first though cause right now I doubt I could keep up with the kind of endurance training BJJ offers. It honestly doesn't look it when you watch them fight on TV but that shit is an incredibly exhausting workout.