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.
The 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
- Commission approved gloves
- Weight classes
- Time limits and rounds
- Mandatory drug testing
- No head butting or kicking to the downed opponent
- No knees to the head of a downed opponent
- No downward point of the elbow strikes
- No strikes to the spine or the back of the head
- No groin or throat strikes
- No small joint manipulation
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:
- 95% of fights go to ground: this oft quoted statistic is based on speculation and the fact that the majority of UFC fights end up with the fighters on the ground grappling for a submission hold. However, in the vast majority of situations were you are likely to defend yourself the ground is significantly less safe than the soft canvas of the Octagon and is more often than not full of hazards such as broken glass, furniture, paving stones etc add to that the fact that more often than not in a self defence situation you are likely to be facing more than one opponent and the favored strategy of Octagon fighters becomes a suicidal one in the streets
- Techniques not allowed in UFC fights are ineffective: This one is also a favorite of UFC advocates on internet forums. It is of course complete nonsense, and nonsense that can very quickly be dispelled. A sharp blow to the eye effectively blinds your opponent for more than the duration of a fight, (rarely longer than 60 seconds outside the controlled environment of a sports competition), if you doubt the effectiveness of strikes to the neck and their importance in self defense, the safest option is to get somebody to slap you hard on the side of the neck, although excruciatingly painful you’ve got a good chance of picking yourself up of the ground within a couple of minutes suffering from little more than damage to your pride. A downward elbow strike to the back of the neck or a blow to the throat however, is not something you should experiment with as there is a significant chance that you could suffer long term or even fatal harm as a result. There are few men in the world lucky enough to not know the devastating effect of a blow to the groin
- Fighters are not able to apply techniques that they have not practiced in full contact sparring: Although it is certainly true that in order to learn to fight effectively you need to have some experience of full contact fighting to learn how to deal with the “adrenaline dump” that will naturally occur in a self defense situation, many martial arts styles have supplemented this with other training methods allowing fighters to apply devastating or potentially lethal techniques in real situations and these training techniques have been tried and tested in real mortal combat over hundreds of years
- Sparring is the only effective training method: As above, although sparring is an essential part of any fighters training other training methods have been developed in traditional martial arts and tested on the battlefield over hundreds of years and proven to be effective
- To be a rounded fighter you need to spend a lot of time learning grappling: The reality is that it is impossible to address every possible situation unless you have a lifetime to do so and are unhindered by commitments to anything but your training. A luxury not available to the many millions of individuals across the world who spend some time training in martial arts with self-defense in mind.
Much more important scenarios such as:
- Being attacked by more than one opponent.
- Being attacked by an assailant who is armed.
- Being attacked from behind or from your periphery.
- Being attacked in an hostile environment.
- Being attack by an opponent with an unnaturally high pain threshold due to intoxication from alcohol or illicit drugs.
- Being attacked by an opponent with a significant height, weight or strength advantage.
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. http://www.martialartsopendirectory.org
Article date: August 2006.