Martial Art of the Month: MMA

We’re pleased to bring you our latest: Martial Art of the Month; this time we’re focusing in on the combat sport of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts).

MMA has been an exciting sport for over two decades and despite its relatively recent conception it has rapidly become one of the most popular combat sports in the world, as well as one of the world’s fastest growing!

The recent successes of people like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor have attracted fresh attention from mainstream culture. Several movies have also centred on MMA including; “Warrior”, “Redbelt” and “Never Back Down”.

Here’s a video with some facts you might not have known about the sport.

Top 5 facts about MMA

Origins

The mixing of martial disciplines has existed for as long as humans have fought (which is as long as we’ve been around!) with evidence of the ancient Greeks mixing the arts of kickboxing and wrestling to form the brutal Pankration, which the Roman Empire included in the first Olympic games. Many other martial arts boast techniques of mixed natures. Techniques such as; striking, grappling, trapping, joint-attacks, chokes etc, can be found in many traditional arts such as Shaolin Kung Fu, Okinawan Karate, Silat, Muay Thai and many others.

The sport now named as “MMA” has only existed for a few decades, and was originally designed to test the usefulness of various martial arts against each other in style vs style matches, for example Wrestling vs Karate or Jiu-Jitsu vs Boxing.

The burst in popularity of martial arts in the western world around the 1970’s led to many questions about the efficacy of the various styles. Bruce Lee is often hailed as one of the first MMA practitioners as his martial arts’ cross-training fed into his own style, Jeet Kune Do (JKD) which incorporated kicking, punching, trapping and grappling and was designed to utilize the practitioner’s strengths whilst exploiting the opponent’s weaknesses.

One of the first recognised MMA fights in America was in 1963 when judo legend Gene LeBell, beat middleweight boxer Milo Savage.

LeBell went on to referee the next high profile ‘MMA’ fight in America when Muhammad Ali fought Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki.

Apart from the one-off events there was little else in terms of mixed martial matches, except a series of challenges and prize-fights in Brazil hosted by the renown Gracie family.

Grandmaster Helio Gracie started these to prove the effectiveness of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (a huge component of modern MMA) against other martial arts. The challenges continued through generations in the family, eventually leading to the two strands of MMA which grew into the current sport.

Rickson Gracie took the concept of ‘vale tudo’ (anything goes) to Japan and won the first two competitions using his impressive grappling technique, as documented in the film Choke. In America, Rickson’s brother Rorion Gracie had the idea for the first Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and entered his younger sibling (the now legendary Royce Gracie) who won using grappling submissions.

Since then the UFC has grown to become a huge organisation, hosting fights around the world and drawing in legions of fans. The UFC has dominated mainstream attention regarding MMA but other organisations, such as the Japanese organisation Pride and Bellator MMA are notably revered by fans with many champions having fought across the organisations.

It must be noted that although the UFC certainly got more people watching and talking about MMA, the idea was first conceived in America as far back as 1979 when Frank Caliguri and Bill Viola founded CV Productions, America’s original mixed martial arts organisation.

Techniques were incredibly similar to modern MMA and the competitors came from a range of backgrounds in ‘tough guy’ style battles. The company did not find mainstream success and also found legal trouble as many at the time viewed the sport as barbaric. The organisation had limited influence over the future of the sport, but certainly functioned before the UFC or any other organisation in America.

The brutal beginnings of the UFC

Techniques

MMA features an eclectic range of techniques with multiple influences. The most common or mainstream styles that fighters train in MMA now are; Muay Thai, BJJ, Boxing and Wrestling. Mixing just these arts in training, with emphasis on Muay Thai and BJJ, could be considered MMA training. Of course there is a wide degree of crossover with established forms such as judo, kickboxing, karate and taekwondo having an important but secondary influence.

One of the simplest and common ways to divide MMA techniques is by distinguishing striking and grappling. Usually, a fighter will come into MMA (sometimes with a professional background) from another style as very few styles mix striking and grappling together, most fighters fall into either category. The elite fighters however, can no longer rely on one skill set to reach the top of the game.

Royce Gracie became champion by barely throwing a punch, but fighters are now much more rounded and aware of the potentials and dangers of all techniques. An example we can see of this is Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm at UFC 193.

Rousey was an excellent and exciting champion, a former Olympic judo athlete, and because she won many fights by arm bar submission she earned the nickname ‘the arm collector’. When Rousey fought former boxing world champion Holly Holm, she was overwhelmed by Holm’s striking ability and was subsequently knocked out by a combination of punches and a stunning kick to the head delivered with on point power and accuracy.

There are many illegal techniques in MMA, these include eye gouges, strikes to the back of the head and neck, kicking a downed opponent and groin attacks (ouch!). Some criticize the illegality rules of MMA, claiming that this makes for a watered-down version of street fighting where fighters ignore dirty tactics that would otherwise finish fights much quicker. The fact is MMA is a combat sport and is more of an art form than ‘street fighting’ (which is illegal in most countries). MMA serves as a form of entertainment, barbaric and damaging techniques are not going to attract large audiences and fighters would have short, damaging careers (and possibly lives) so this would not allow MMA to develop as an art form or large spectator sport. Besides, if you fight an MMA fighter, you may be able to eye gouge or kick him in the groin but imagine, they could do it to you with much more speed, power and precision!

Fights can be won by a judge’s decision, using a points system, or by knockout, submission or a forfeit. If there is no decisive winner, a draw will be declared. Unlike other combat sports, points are awarded for varied reasons due to the sports eclectic nature. Grappling, striking, dominance and aggression are rewarded. Point deductions and disqualifications are used to penalize fighters for illegal techniques. Weight classes are now used in many organisations in order to keep fighters safe, some ‘super fights’ however do pitch fighters against each other with weight differences; these are more common in Japan than anywhere else.

Top 20 Knockouts in UFC History

Top 20 Submissions in UFC History

Practitioners You May Know

Conor “Notorious” McGregor

Irish fighter Conor McGregor has taken the MMA world by storm of late. After becoming two-weight champion with Cage Warriors, McGregor made his UFC debut and rapidly accumulated an unusual buzz around him.

After winning several fights by knockout, he became interim Featherweight champion before becoming Featherweight champion by knocking out the legendary Jose Aldo in only 13 seconds, the quickest finish in a UFC title fight. McGregor has an unorthodox, southpaw style which focuses on striking, aggression and movement; he attacks from all angles and has exceptional striking power and precision. Conor has hit mainstream media in a way that few MMA fighters have before, people talk about him, even those who had little previous interest in MMA. His cockiness, trash-talking, charismatic personality combined with his actual fighting ability has gained him unprecedented, if ‘notorious’ stardom.

Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey

Rousey was a successful judoka well before turning to MMA and won an Olympic medal in judo at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She started MMA after watching one of her judo coaches fight and she was incredibly dominant all the way through her early career and continually successful as Strikeforce and subsequently UFC champion. Ronda uses her judo skills with extreme efficiency; she often throws her opponent to the ground and shoots for her signature finish, the arm bar with which she won 9 of her 12 professional wins. She has also won notable fights with striking skills, including her title defence against Bethe Correia. Recently she lost to former boxing world champion Holly Holm, but she plans to return to the octagon to regain her title.

Ronda has made a huge contribution to women’s sport and has become a kind of poster girl for female mixed martial arts. Her fame has transcended the world of mere combat sports as she’s developing an industrious career in the movie business too.

Anderson “Spider” Silva

“Spiderman” is an incredibly successful mixed martial artist and was hailed by UFC president Dana White as ‘the greatest of all time’. He had an incredibly impressive reign as Middleweight champion and looked untouchable for many years. He is known for an elusive, counter-attacking style and delivering fantastic knockouts, his front-kick KO of Vitor Belfort is one of the UFC’s most famous finishes. Silva recently broke his leg in the octagon and took some time out, but has since returned and is set to face Michael Bisping in London on February 27th.

Fedor “The Last Emperor” Emelianenko

Fedor may not be as well-known as some of the other great champions, simply because he’s never fought in the UFC, but he’s without doubt one of the most dominant fighters the sport has ever seen.

The Russian heavyweight has 35 wins from 40 fights, including a record 29 fight winning streak. As well as an unrivalled MMA career, Fedor also boasts six Russian championships and four World championships in Combat Sambo. He is an advocate of the Russian grappling system, claiming it to be the most effective grappling system in the world, he also has superb striking skills and is known for his hammer-like left hook punch.

MMA is of course featuring far more in the movies these days and what better way to wrap up this one than with some memorable instalments? See you for the next Martial Arts of The Month where we’ll be rockin’ on down to Capoeira!

“Undisputed 3”

Ronda Rousey in “Entourage”

“Warrior”

“Never Back Down”

“Choke”

Jake started martial arts training as a child with Ishin-Ryu Karate, he enjoyed martial arts movies and was particularly intrigued by Bruce Lee. As well as a keen interest in film, which he studied at university, Jake also has a true cultural interest in all things martial arts and particularly enjoys the history of original Okinawan Karate. His training has since involved boxing and several other styles, he currently practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a big fan of MMA.

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