Martial Arts vs. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

In a time when mixed martial arts is becoming the rage, with the UFC making millions of dollars per pay-per-view show, gaining a fan base in 36 countries and growing, multiple smaller organizations popping up all over the country, and more states sanctioning mixed martial arts (Arizona’s governor just signed a bill today calling for the regulation/legalization of MMA), I’m often disturbed by the fact that many mixed martial arts fans and practitioners believe there is no place in today’s society for traditional martial arts.

Now, I train in a traditional martial art, and I’m a huge MMA fan. I train in Ninegate Kung Fu (full name is a lot longer). Our form of kung fu includes a number of animal styles, as well as non-animal based forms, various weapon forms and a number of different forms of meditation and internal training.

As you may have seen on this blog, my kung fu school had a two-day seminar on groundfighting and throws. However, during this time, we also personally trained with my teacher’s teacher (the grandmaster), and his # 2, as well as two women from the school in Buffalo, NY. We worked on a stick-fighting form that finds its basis in a monkey style, as well a number of two-man drills designed to both improve our stance-work as well as general strength and agility. These drills mainly drew from tiger and dragon forms.

We also worked on internal training referred to as iron shirt, where you work to strengthen your chi (seriously) so that you can harden your torso to withstand really hard hits (even from some weapons). You may be skeptical, and I understand that, but I’m just using it to illustrate, because it is this sort of training that many MMA fans and practitioners have a problem with.

In addition to all the kung fu, I love MMA. I love watching it, discussing it, writing about it on the blog, guessing on outcomes of future matches, everything. I respect many of the fighters’ skills, fighting styles, strength and conditioning, and I think many mixed martial artists are some of the toughest athletes out there, period.

To give you a bit of background on MMA (since my background article on MMA keeps getting pushed back), mixed martial arts fighters usually combine a mix of various martial arts and fighting styles to put together an effective striking game (often with boxing, dirty boxing and kickboxing) and ground game, often in addition to a submission fighting style (like brazilian ju jitsu), and many times a strong wrestling background.

Contrary to the original UFC, in today’s UFC there are many rules, weight classes (like in boxing and wrestling) and heavy regulation in the states where it is sanctioned. Fighters must undergo pre and post-fight physicals, often including things like MRIs and CAT Scans, and many fighters after each event face medical suspensions after fights. In fact, it’s rare for a fighter to not face some sort of medical suspension, even for something as simple as a black eye. Safety is paramount.

The reason behind the different styles is to give fighters a chance to get out of a situation using as much of an arsenal as possible. Fighters can fight on the ground or standing up, and referees are closing watching to see if a fighter gets knocked unconscious or choked unconscious, for example. And there are ringside doctors present to respond to any apparent injuries, and talk to the fighters after the fight. Again, safety is paramount.

So – after all that, you’re probably asking yourself what the debate is about. For example, there’s a video on YouTube of some people from my school breaking concrete bricks with palm strikes (Technique called Iron Palm). Now, in the comments section, some people were very impressed, and others offered really intelligent comments such as “Well, I guess you’ll be ready if a brick attacks you in an alley,” and other great gems about how any MMA fighter could grab us in the clinch (a muay thai kickboxing technique) and knees us a couple times until we passed out because we couldn’t do anything to defend ourselves because bricks don’t hit back.

Now, first let me say – I think all kung fu and martial art practitioners are aware that there will likely never come a time when a brick attacks us in an alley….maybe someone wielding a brick….but I would also go as far as to say that all martial arts practitioners know that in a fight, no opponent is going to stand still for us to hit them. So what then, you ask, is the point of doing something like breaking bricks? Well, it’s a great exercise for toughening and strengthening the hands as well as practice proper breathing and technique. But what real world applications does it have? Well, at the higher levels of Iron Palm training, the strength and speed with which you break bricks translates into being able to break/crack bones.

MMA is a combat sport….let that soak in for a minute….a sport. And there are rules in sports. Now, in my kung fu training, we train for real world applications, not tournament style fighting. Now, I am in no way saying my kung fu training is better than MMA training. It’s just different. In MMA, you don’t train to gouge somebody’s eyes out before you break their neck (a technique we were practicing during the throws seminar). And in kung fu, you don’t train to fight for three five-minute rounds. In kung fu, you don’t specifically train to improve your cardio like in MMA. Again, one is not necessarily better than the other, they’re just different. It’s a difference of training for real-world applications versus combat sport fighting.

Do the two cross-over? Obviously. There are certain techniques within traditional martial arts that cross over well to MMA, and there are plenty of MMA techniques that could cross over to a real-world situation where your life is being seriously threatened. But let’s get back to basics for a minute – MMA stands for Mixed MARTIAL ARTS. It’s still martial arts training, but with a different goal.

I know that this kind of seems to come out of nowhere, but I guess I’m upset by people constantly debating which is better – not unlike the boxing versus MMA debate. A lot of purist boxing fans believe that MMA is a flash in the pan, and that even though boxing pay-per-view numbers are falling, champions like Floyd Mayweather pull down $20 million a fight whereas the highest paid champion in the UFC only made about $1.1 million for a championship fight, and that his actual fight fee was $400,000 – the rest came from sponsorships and a share of pay-per-view buys. So – which is better? Again, I like both. They’re just different. A combat sport is a combat sport to me, whether it’s boxing, martial arts or mixed martial arts. I don’t know if it’s just because I appreciate it more than others, but I’ve seen some awesome mixed martial arts matches, some awesome boxing matches and some awesome martial arts fights (granted, these were tournament style, not life-or-death, but they were still based solely within one martial art).

So…until more training options are available in my area, I’ll be training solely in kung fu. Once the options open up, I’ll add some more styles, but I think I’ll always practice kung fu.

With the rise of MMA, I do feel that some true martial arts styles are losing their luster, even in popular culture. Take martial arts movies, example. No longer do we see movies like “Enter the Dragon” or even Jet Li’s epic “Hero.” Instead we’re given mostly comedy martial arts, mainly in the form of Jackie Chan, or sensationalized pieces of shit like “Never Back Down” (which, for the record, I’m sure I’ll still watch).

But that’s a topic for another day, and another post. For now, I’ll leave it that I love kung fu and I love MMA, and I think there is plenty of room in the fight world for both.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a traditional martial arts student and fan. It also appals me that the "common fan" thinks that there is no room for tradition in todays world of MMA. Without it there would be no MMA. I too have studied a few different disciplines so i guess I am an MMA practitioner? Not by any stretch of the imagination! I wholeheartedly support the sport as you all well know, but there is still room in the world for the traditions of Shaolin. Namaste-Leebo Jakes