Friday, 3 June 2011

MMA: A smart lad re-mix it!

This post is a little different to my usual ones. I think that all my training for shodan grading is taking it's toll on my brain and I have writer's block this week! So, here is a post I wrote about 18 months ago for my blog on the Martial News website. It is about MMA! I don't do MMA or know much about it but Martial News supports a lot of MMA and cage fighting so I decided to find out more about it and write my take on it. This is what I made of it....

Anagrams of mixed martial arts include: a smart lad re-mix it (Is this a clandestine reference to Bruce Lee – sometimes attributed as the father of modern MMA?) Or: art drama sex limit (is this some kind of description?) or how about slimier mad ax tart (unkind, I’m sure) or perhaps the best: its real drama time! (If you substitute the ‘x’ for an ‘e’). Yes, I really do have time to do this!

Things I like about MMA:

It has a history: Any sport that has bothered to trace back its own roots and write about it gets my vote. There is a good Wiki on MMA – check it out if you haven’t already done so. Though its current form is very modern the concept of mixed martial arts is very ancient. The earliest reference to it in recorded history is the Greek sport of Pankration which is a mixture of wrestling and boxing. This was introduced to the Greek Olympic Games in 648 BC. Apparently modern mixed martial arts competitions have come to feature many of the same methods that were used in pankration competitions in the ancient Greek world.

Skill and fitness: I have watched several videos of MMA fights, read about training schedules, listened to some fighters being interviewed and it is clear that these people are fit, highly trained and skilled individuals who show a lot of dedication and commitment to the sport – at least as much as I’ve seen in any other martial art.

Excitement: The fights are quite exciting to watch and would probably be more so if I understood more about what I was seeing (I can’t quite work out what is going on during all that clinching and grappling on the ground). I prefer watching the fight whilst they are still standing up but that’s probably because I understand striking arts better.

Honesty: There is an honesty about MMA in that it claims to be a sport and nothing else. It’s all about the fighting. Sometimes more ‘traditional’ martial arts don’t quite know what they are really about. There are dozens of styles of karate now and most of them will lay claim to having their roots in classical Okinawan Te. Yet many have developed karate into a competitive sport or have diluted karate to a few kicks, blocks, strikes and kata. Karate is clearly different things to different people. MMA on the other hand does not promise to train you on the path to enlightenment or improve your whole life – it’s a sport, plain and simple.

Things that confuse me:

The name: ‘Mixed Martial Arts’. This name was coined in the early 1990s by the super heavy weight Greco-roman wrestler and Olympic gold medallist, Jeff Blatnick. I suppose the name fits when you think about the definition of MMA, which according to Wikipedia is:

“Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques, from a mixture of martial arts traditions and non-traditions, to be used in competitions. The rules allow the use of striking and grappling techniques, both while standing and on the ground. Such competitions allow martial artists of different backgrounds to compete”.

The thing that confuses me about the term MMA is that it’s not clear whether it’s referring to the individual who is trained in more than one martial art style or whether it’s the competition that is ‘mixed’, i.e. boxers vs. Wrestlers, karateka vs. Jujitsuka etc. I suspect historically it is the latter and this fits better with the wiki definition above. However, from what I have learnt it seems that now it is more likely that it is the individual who is trained in more than one martial art and the competition pits against each other people with very similar skills.

I think MMA has evolved to the point where the term MMA is not so appropriate to describe it. There are now many clubs that offer to train you in Mixed Martial Arts. Presumably this refers to training people in a set of fighting skills borrowed from arts such as Brazilian jujitsu, boxing, wrestling and full-contact karate and re-packaged to offer the optimum fighting portfolio for an MMA fighter. I would imagine this approach would offer a more fast-track way to learning what is necessary to become a good fighter. Whether a fighter trained in this way is better than one who has trained in each martial art individually and evolved their own package of skills I don’t know.

I would also argue that this new ‘genre’ of martial arts training referred to as MMA training has in fact become a new ‘single’ martial art in its own right so perhaps MMA is not the right thing to call it anymore. Likewise with the competitions – the fighters generally have similar skills to each other so the fights aren’t really ‘mixed’ anymore. Still, I expect they are stuck with the name now.

Rules for winning a fight (or not losing one): According to Wikipedia: “Victory in a match is normally gained either by the judges' decision after an allotted amount of time has elapsed, a stoppage by the referee (for example if a competitor cannot defend himself intelligently) or the fight doctor (due to an injury), a submission, by a competitor's cornerman throwing in the towel, or by knockout.”

I can understand from a health and safety position why you would need so many ways of stopping a fight but it seems to me that you win by virtue of not losing! This doesn’t sound to me like a very satisfactory way of winning. I won because I went the full time, I wasn’t stopped by the referee, doctor or cornerman, I didn’t give in and I wasn’t knocked out – but one of these things did apply to my opponent! Isn’t that a bit like winning a race because all the other competitors dropped out – you didn’t need to be the best or the fastest or even finish the race? You just needed to be the one that didn’t drop out! It sounds to me that you win an MMA round by default.

Things I don’t like about MMA.

The posturing and the hype: I once went into WH Smiths to see if I could buy a martial arts magazine. They were positioned on the top shelf, which I couldn’t reach, so I asked a man nearby if he would pass one to me. He looked at what I was pointing at and asked me if I really wanted that one. Not being able to see what it was I said yes so he gave me a funny look and passed it to me. I can’t remember what it was called but it was an MMA magazine. The first thing I noticed was the testosterone wafting from the pages. This glossy magazine was full of pictures of oiled, tattooed bodies posturing for the camera. There didn’t seem to be any useful articles about martial arts in it – just news about competitions and who the top fighters of the day were. I felt embarrassed looking through this magazine, as if I’d picked up a porn mag by mistake – no wonder the man gave me a funny look!

It seems to me that MMA is portrayed as being more about the fighters than the fights, that having sex appeal and the ‘body beautiful’ is the most important thing. I’m sure it’s not the most important thing but it is portrayed that way in the media. This brings me onto my other bug bear....

Overt sexism in female MMA: If you are not a ‘hottie’ or a ‘babe’ in female MMA then you may as well forget it – or at least it seems that way from the way these girls are portrayed in promotional videos. Though these girls are good fighters it is clearly their looks and bodies that get them a long way and it seems to be the feature most admired about them. I visited a website for an MMA club and there were tabs to click for information on class times, instructor details, future events and one labeled ‘babes’. I thought (naively) this was going to be information on children’s classes so I clicked on it and was taken to a page with photos of scantily clad female fighters holding up their winning trophies! It is hard to believe that such overt sexism has been allowed to creep into a 21st century sport. Presumably the girls involved revel in the male attention it brings and there is no doubt they take the fighting seriously but you just don’t see this attitude to women in other martial arts. Shame on MMA.

Conclusion: Well that’s my appraisal of my first impression of MMA. I admit I have never visited an MMA club, attended an MMA competition or even know anyone that does MMA fighting so my appraisal may be simplistic and naive. However, apart from the hype and sexism, I think MMA as a sport is okay. It’s more exciting and skillful than just boxing or wrestling and is going to great lengths to make itself an acceptable mainstream sport – you never know, maybe one day it will make it back into the Olympics.

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Charles James said...

Sue said, " ... this new ‘genre’ of martial arts training referred to as MMA training has in fact become a new ‘single’ martial art in its own right so perhaps MMA is not the right thing to call it anymore." and I say, agreed:

MMA - Mixed Martial Art ... I realize the definition as it stands officially yet my view is that MMA is no longer a mixed martial art but can now be considered a martial art system on its own right. [See Sue, agreed ;-) ]

Example: Isshinryu is an Okinawan system of karate. Originally it might have been thought of as a mixed karate system since it derives its fundamentals from Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu and Kobudo. Yet, because it combined those into one it was not referred to as a Mixed Karate Art or MKA but instead Isshinryu or one-heart-system.

I feel the MMA moniker remains because it sounds "cool" and it is an accepted sound bite that triggers specific thoughts and perceptions yet to me since it has taken several aspects of martial systems and combined them into "one" system that it actually should be called a "martial art of a sportive orientation."

Oh, yes, I also agree with Sue's remark - that they are not really mixed anymore either and for the same reasons she provides and I commented above. ;-)

etali said...

I'm a huge fan of MMA - I'm doing my own "mix" in that I've just added BJJ to my Karate. I compete in Karate, will compete in BJJ when I get better at it, and long term want to step into an octagon.

Winning by submission or KO isn't winning by default IMO - it's winning by being better than your opponent. One thing I hate about Karate's point striking is that even though we compete at a decent level of contact in my style, you're not really testing your fighting prowess in point sparring - just the speed at which you can perform the moves. It's an interesting competition, but it's not a fight. Also, the amount of arguments about whether a move should or should not have been an ippon disgusts me.

Perhaps I'm just aggressive, but I'd much rather win by making my opponent give up (or force them to stop for safety reasons) than leave it in the hands of the judges - judging is subjective and there's always room for people to argue the decision, but having someone say "I give up" is conclusive proof that on that night, you were the better fighter. To me that's not winning by default, it's winning by forcing the other person to lose.

Shinobi Ninja said...

I actually wasn't that big a fan of MMA at first because it seemed to be just a hodgepodge of "a little of this here and a little of that there." But over time, I've come to appreciate how intriguing it's become for me. I'm not going to go out and buy tickets anytime soon, but I am interested in learning more about it.

Sue C said...

Hi Charles, I understand that several karate systems are an amalgam of 'karate styles'. Certainly shukokai, which is an offshoot of shito ryu is a combinations of shuri te and naha te styles. I think wado ryu in a combination of karate and jujitsu. I'm sure many other martial arts have a mixed origin. MMA must be a mix of mixes! "martial art of a sportive orientation." Not sure it trips off the tongue to well - nice try though :-)

Etali, I'm sure you're right about the submission rule - forcing your opponent into submission is a positive way to win (I said my viewpoint may be naive and simplistic!). Good luck with your BJJ training, you're clearly very competitive.

Shinoba Ninja, I was in the same boat as you - rejecting something because I didn't fully understand it. Now I've looked into MMA I have a lot more respect and appreciation for it. I always think we should seek to understand something before we judge it harshly.

Unknown said...

Sometimes I wish we had more posturing in TMA. How awesome would it be to approach a point sparring match, wearing a hooded sweatshirt so it's half covering your face, entering the ring while the heavy metal/alternative song of your choosing is playing in the background?! Maybe it's just me, though?

John Coles said...

There is a fantastic academic article titled Producing Pain: Techniques and Technologies in No-Holds-Barred Fighging by Greg Downey, an anthropologist at Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW. He writes about the evolution of UFC/MMA and the techniques that evolved. He suggests that MMA is not a distinct martial art (though not in those words) rather than referring to the mixing of martial arts. This evolution and emergent new 'species' reflects what Farris refers to in Heavenly Warriors as the princple of counter response and symetry. The tendency for adversaries to adopt the same technologies and tactics as each other.

Sue C said...

Stacy - posturing, as in psyching down your opponent, maybe, but posing, like a self-regarding peacock, no! lol

John, that article sounds interesting, is it available on the web?

John Coles said...

SueC - not so much. Give me your email and I'll send you a copy.

Sue C said...

Hi John, I'd love a copy of that paper. My e-mail is

Thank you :-)

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Sue C said...

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Kelley Hale said...

More than being a modern, organized, and less brutal version of Gladiator, I think what draws people to MMA is the fact that it is also considered as a sport, like boxing and such. I wouldn’t reiterate each and every one of the underlying virtues of MMA, since you’ve already mentioned everything that’s there to say about it, but I do hope that more people will come to realize its benefit, rather than see it as merely a brutal exchange of strength for entertainment. Thanks for sharing this great article!

Kelley Hale @ Krav Maga Academy


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