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The myth of mixed martial arts

On November 12th 1993 an American no holds barred “NHB” martial arts tournament entered by the world’s top martial artists revolutionized martial arts forever, allowing the development of a new and superior fighting style, known as “Mixed Martial Arts” (MMA). MMA was not encumbered by the traditions and ineffective techniques of traditional arts, finely honed and evolved using on those techniques that were proven to be effective in the ring. At least that’s what the UFC publicity machine would like us to believe. Under closer scrutiny however, the reality is somewhat different.

Myth of mixed martial artsThe first glaring falsehood is that the competitors were far from being the recognized leading exponents of their styles, the eight competitors were largely unknown in the martial arts world and their statuses were grossly exaggerated as part of the promotion (e.g. Kimo Leopoldo was erroneously touted in UFC III as a "third degree Black belt taekwondo). In fact the only leading exponent of his style was Royce Gracie a practitioner of a modified style of Japanese Jujitsu (which later became known as Brazilian Jui-jitsu) and one of the organisers, who went on to win three of the first four UFCs.

The “no rules” claim was also untrue as biting, ‘fish-hooking’ an opponent’s face, eye gouging and throat strikes were illegal, eliminating the favored techniques of many of the more popular traditional martial arts.

Competitors who broke the rules were fined £1,000 and would loose bouts by default. As time went on more rules were introduced to protect the fighters, appease the legislators and make the fights (which rapidly turned into very dull wrestling matches) more entertaining. Today these rules consist of

Serving to further eliminate the possibility of practitioners of traditional Asian martial arts ever winning the competitions, by disallowing practically all of their favored techniques.

The fights were held in an octagonal cage unimaginatively christened “The Octagon”, which was touted by organisers as having been specially designed by doctors and martial artists to create an enclosure that would act as a neutral arena to showcase skills of many martial arts disciplines. However, there is little evidence to support this and the design of the ring appears to be based more around providing the optimal view for spectators and the television pay-per-view viewers.

As a result of the restrictions of the rule base and the environment, two specific sports martial arts styles became the favored mixed for the competitors. Muay Thai, for the stand-up striking and Brazilian Jui jitsu, for the grappling. Both had already been optimized for this sort of competition by focusing training on winning fights in environments similar to the UFC Octagon.

In a relatively short space of time and largely as a result of the revenues generated from pay-per-view television, UFC rapidly became a multi million dollar industry in the United States resulting in many martial arts schools in the US redefining parts of their training programs as MMA to cash in on the growing demand from fans to be able to say that they trained in the same styles as the UFC fighters.

Along with that a number of myths were passed on to the fans by the UFC franchise as “facts” supporting UFC as the ultimate testing ground for the effectiveness of martial styles in self defense situations, most prominent amongst these were:

Much more important scenarios such as:

Are all scenarios that are typically not addressed in MMA training, which is completely focused on winning competitions in the very artificial environment of the Octagon.

The basic reality is that most traditional martial arts were developed for real combat in real self defence situations and the fact that there is often so little emphasis on grappling is because grappling is at best an unwise strategy to adopt in self defence situations and at worst could be a fatal error. The only safe strategy for self defence is to focus on putting your opponent on the ground creating the opportunity to get yourself away from the threat to a place of safety.

Mixed martial arts training is optimised for winning competition fights not for defending yourself in the real world. If you're aim is to be a competitive fighter then it is probably your best option, however, if your aim is to learn how to defend yourself against violence in your everyday life you should be aiming to find a good traditional martial arts school.

by Daniel Land.

Article date: August 2006.

Right Path London Personal Training | Goya-ra-ru Martial Arts, Birmingham.