The martial arts are a very special creature. Often cloaked in mysticism, people have always been interested in watching the martial arts being used on screen and in person. Even as a young boy, I remember driving almost an hour away from my home town to watch a local karate school put on a demonstration at a local auditorium. I got to see people breaking boards and bricks, kick through wooden baseball bats and perform feats that bordered on the acrobatic. Although not the primary reason behind why I began to study, it was a pivotal moment in my youth that showed me that karate would play an important role in my life.
The focus of today’s article is a popular sport, which has been around much longer than most people think: Mixed Martial Arts. Now, given that I am a die-hard lifetime student of traditional martial arts, I often have difficulty dealing with aspects of MMA. By its very definition, a martial art CAN NOT be mixed! An old master that my Sensei used to train with, had a saying: “One love, one religion and only one style…” This builds on the premise that it is unlikely (not necessarily impossible) to learn more than one style of martial arts and that a true student must adhere to only one style.
Mixed Martial Arts as we know it today dates back to the early 1980’s with such shows as Battle of the Superfighters and Tough Guy Contest. But the concept of MMA actually dates back much further. There are traces of MMA that can be found in ancient Greece, China and France. But the increased popularity of mixed martial arts would certainly not have happened without the creation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the United States in the early 1990’s. Originally created as a tournament-based method of showcasing what style was best suited for actual street combat, it featured no rules and pitted several fighting styles against one another. Some of the most interesting fights I’ve ever witnessed took place during the very first UFC. You could see examples of a sumo wrestler against a French Savage fighter; a boxer against a Tae Kwon Do black belt, etc… However, it soon became a streamlined fighting organization with an increased set of rules, standardized apparel and fighting methods.
I’ll never forget watching that first UFC on VHS (yes, it was THAT long ago) and seeing Royce Gracie win the tournament. Of course, he also won the second and he happened to be the brother to one of the UFC’s co-founders, Rorion Gracie. Don’t get me wrong; the Gracies have a long standing history in the martial arts and are an exceptionally skilled family of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners. But it didn’t take long for profit and popularity to turn MMA into something no longer resembling its original form.
These days, the UFC is a pay-per-view event that is much anticipated by many. I believe the latest event was UFC 235, with the first UFC having been in 1993 so do the math. There have been reality shows involving UFC, much like American Idol or something similar, except they develop MMA fighters. There are fight nights every couple of weeks and is now believed to secure several hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue every year. If you watch a current UFC fight card, this is what you’ll see: people in shorts with padded finger strike gloves, beating each other until one is knocked out or submits. No more traditional martial arts attire or specific styles. Mixed martial arts has fallen a long way from where it originally came from. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good MMA fight card as much as the next person. In fact, during her reign as Woman’s Bantamweight Champion, I was a total Ronda Roussey fan! I believe my frustration stems from the fact that people still refer to this stuff as a martial art. MMA seems more akin to boxing with a kick (see what i did there?) than martial arts.
To those who practice MMA, let me say this: I admire what you do! Your fights are rigorous, obviously exhausting and you guys are in the sort of shape I don’t believe I have EVER been in. The faith-based side of me that is open to all schools of thought and beliefs totally accepts the challenge and development that goes into training an athlete to participate in this sport. But that is specifically what MMA is: a sport. Martial arts is not.
I invite open discussion, so feel free to leave a comment or contact me if you wish to discuss this topic further. No matter what your practice, stay true and keep fighting the good fight.