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MMA and the Streets
With the advent of modern Mixed Martial Arts Competitions, the general public’s perception of effective hand to hand combat has changed significantly. Spectators were shocked when, at the first “Ultimate Fighting Championship” on November 12, 1993, a comparatively diminutive Brazilian by the name of Royce Gracie dominated a competition of larger, “deadly” fighters including a boxer and a savateur, using a style of grappling techniques pioneered by his own family– Brazillian Jiujitsu.
The contest was a gritty, no-holds-barred event, marketed as the ultimate in reality based combat. Fighters of any discipline could use virtually any techniques they chose to defend themselves in a bout that would be ended by knockout, or a fighter capitulating under the brutal punishment they were receiving. Rules were minimal – certain techniques such as eye-gouging and orifice insertion were restricted, but overall, the format was far more permissive than any other combat sport.
The impact of Royce Gracie’s performance in UFC 1 on the martial arts community was significant and instantaneous. He demonstrated that with proper technique, a smaller individual could defeat a larger opponent in such a way as the individual would actually concede defeat, or be rendered unconscious via choking, or incapacitated by manipulation of their limbs.As time went on, aspiring fighters were forced to enhance their combative repertoire to include grappling techniques into their arsenal, and a new sport was born – Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).
While the concept of cross-training was nothing new, and neither were the techniques being learned, the transition represented a massive perceptual shift and went a long way to dispelling much of the mythology associated with the martial arts. As time went on, this fledgling sport developed a significant following, but also attracted a great deal of controversy. After being banned in various locations, event promoters began adopting more stringent rule-sets, in a bid to legitimize the sport.
A consequence of adopting more stringent rules was that the Traditional Martial Arts (TMA) community were able to assert that whilst practitioners of their particular martial art may not have been successful in MMA competition, their poor performance could be attributed to the rules disallowing the use of certain techniques – effectively diminishing the TMA proponent’s capabilities by removing the techniques that made their art so effective. In the MMA community, this particular assertion is known as the “too deadly for the ring” argument, and is generally a source of scorn. Another facet of the same argument is that MMA would not be effective on the street, as it does not take into account the possibility of facing multiple opponents in uncertain and potentially hazardous terrain, and does not provide a practitioner with skill in the use of weaponry.
But what is MMA, exactly? And how does it really differ from TMA? As the name implies, mixed martial arts refers to any combination of martial arts techniques derived from various arts. There is no one unified “style” of MMA, although particular sets of techniques are more popular than others – the Punching techniques of Western boxing, along with the use of kicks, knees , and elbows from Muay Thai are particularly popular for the striking aspect of MMA competition. For the grappling aspect of MMA, techniques of Greco-Roman/Collegiate/Submission wrestling, Judo, Jiujitsu, Sambo, and so on are both popular and highly regarded.So what is it about these specific martial arts that makes them so popular in MMA competition?
Erik Paulson, a seasoned mixed-martial artist once said the key to being an effective martial artist is to train like an athlete – not an artist.Practicing techniques in an “alive” manner, against resisting opponents demands a degree of athleticism. It also forces a practitioner to react to techniques in the same way they would in a real-life self defense situation. The benefit of adopting such an approach to training is threefold.
Firstly, it increases the practitioner’s functional fitness – your body adapts to the type of training you do, and therefore if you train under realistic combat situations, with resistance and speed, your body will develop fitness that applies specifically to the task at hand.
Secondly, techniques that have been tested and practiced against skilled opponents who are familiar with them and are resisting their application will be far more likely to succeed in a serious confrontation. Thirdly, training in an alive sense makes live confrontations less of a shock.
An example of these principles in action is the difference between full contact karate training as opposed to point sparring experience in a real world situation. The individual with experience in full contact fighting is less likely to be shocked or confused if they are punched in the face during an altercation, whereas the individual with point sparring experience is more likely to be flustered. Furthermore, when the fighter with a background in point sparring lands a hit on his/her opponent, they may be shocked to find that their strike was not as devastating as they had been led to believe.
To reiterate Erik Paulson’s quote, the key to being an effective martial artist is to train like an athlete – not an artist.
Taekwondo, for example, is a martial art comprising of many visually appealing techniques, predominantly consisting of impressive kicks requiring agility, balance, speed, and athleticism. However, in competitive taekwondo, the degree of contact is comparatively minimal, and as a result, many practitioners are not considered effective fighters. However, those taekwondo practitioners who have stepped into the kickboxing ring, and trained accordingly with hard contact, and intensive fitness training, have performed admirably, and shown that many of the techniques can be used to devastating effect.
For the sake of this discussion, a typical MMA stylist will be considered one who has adopted striking techniques, has the ability to execute takedowns or throws, and is able to apply a range of submission techniques including, but not limited to joint locks, and chokes. How would such an individual would fare in a street fight when compared to a TMA practitioner?
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of the MMA approach.
Superior conditioning – if the MMA stylist trains as an athlete, their aerobic and anaerobic fitness should be greater than an average individual’s, and they should be more used to being struck or grabbed, and therefore better equipped to resist such techniques.
Efficacy of technique - The techniques used by the MMA stylist are well established and effective, and the practitioner has applied them on resisting opponents many times.
Adaptability – an MMA approach allows an individual to focus on their opponent’s stylistic weaknesses – i.e. if fighting a superior striker, the MMA stylist can switch to a grappling attack, and against a superior grappler, hopefully the MMA stylist can fend off the grappling attacks and create an opportunity to strike by sprawling to avoid takedowns, and by being able to at escape from submission attempts.
Control – Having practiced techniques in a controlled environment, the MMA stylist should be well equipped to control the amount of damage they inflict on their opponent, by applying a choke hold for example rather than beating someone into unconsciousness. From a legal standpoint, that is the preferable approach.
Some of the weaknesses of an MMA approach in a self defence situation are outlined below.
Restriction of techniques – TMA artists often cite that techniques such as eye gouges and so on are not allowed in MMA, leaving MMA stylists in a poor position to defend themselves from such techniques. However, this is not completely true. If an individual has grappling experience, whilst they may not have practiced eye gouging, they will definitely be better equipped to control their opponent on the ground, and to manoeuvre their opponent into a position from which they are able to apply an eye gouge at will. Controlling one’s opponent, and maintaining appropriate positioning are two major components of any grappling style.
Poor preparation for multiple opponents – Whilst it is true that MMA training is predominantly focused on applying techniques against a single individual, it is still effective against multiple opponents. All that is required is a different tactical approach. Obviously, it is not wise to be engaged in a grapple with a single individual while there are several others circling behind you. Having said that, the ability to control one’s opponent, and position yourself appropriately is obviously going to be advantageous in any sort of self defence situation.
Regardless of your stylistic background, the greatest deciding factor in your ability to apply your martial art in a self defence situation is the quality of your training approach. While it is true that certain techniques do allow a smaller or weaker individual to defeat a larger or stronger opponent, when skill levels are equivalent, strength and fitness will be the deciding factors.
Last edited by Deadmeat; 9/17/2007 10:18pm at .