10 Jan 2011
MMA - Mixed Martial Arts Friend or Foe of the Asian Martial Arts?
Grandmaster Jody Perry Ph.D./M.A., Soke
Today we are seeing many martial arts systems turning to a new mind-set and approach to teaching their individual systems and styles. Many martial art systems are seeing that there is a great benefit to studying more than one system when looking to develop the fully rounded warrior/athlete. Since the first demonstration of the Gracie Jujitsu system, in the first octagon, in the first Mixed Martial Arts competition, the question of cross-training mixed martial arts has been on the forefront of the minds of all Martial artists: “Should I or shouldn’t I?”
Before the Gracie Jiujitsu system was introduced to the world, in most martial arts system the idea of cross-training was considered forbidden. To train in more than one style or system was an unspeakable no-no.
However, when the Gracie family showcased their technique, the whole world had their eyes opened to the reality that because 95 percent of all fights end up on the ground, and actually within the first 45 seconds of the fight, it is essential to possess ground skills as well as stand-up fighting skills.
Trying to prove that this theory was not true, many different single system martial artists stepped into the octagon of the Ultimate Fighting Challenge to display their techniques and defend the honor of their respective systems. Unfortunately for many, they found that not only did their lack of grappling and ground skills prove to be detrimental to their fight game, but also that some of the stand-up techniques that they possessed were inadequate for real-time fighting.
With that said, I think it is important to remember that many schools of martial arts had a well rounded skill set incorporated in their totality --- striking schools had throws, chokes etc. at least in their early history. The same is true of wrestling; the Greeks had pankration and other forms of fighting rolled into one. A modern example of a style changing with time is Aikido. Old style Aikido had strikes and kicks but over time they have been phased out (for whatever reason).
“Whatever works, works - so use it” might be a good motto for martial arts.
“Many single style martial artists, wrestlers, boxers, and grapplers also found that
cage fighting does not a Mixed Martial Artist make.”
For many years now, anyone and everyone who can afford a cage can conduct competitions that resemble the “Ultimate Fighting Championships,” “Gladiator Challenge” etc., – same game different title. Many if not all of these organizations call their competitors “Mixed Martial Artists” – but they are not. It is true the athletes are great fighters, and some are martial artists, but few are truly students of more than one or two martial art systems or styles. The majority of the competitors in today’s Cage competitions usually have; 1) studied with a Brazilian Jujitsu instructor somewhere; 2) practiced Kickboxing for a while; 3) taken a few boxing instructions from a friend of a friend that was a Golden Gloves Champion and; 4) worked out with a friend that was a wrestler and loves to roll. Most of all, they love to fight and inflict pain and injury to their opponent.
When the UFC competitions first started, there were many competitors from many different martial art styles and systems that stepped into the Cage to defend the honor of their particular art or system. The competitions were between martial artists of different arts as opposed to competitors that might have been cross-training or practicing more than one art at a time. We have to remember that in the early 1990’s most of the martial art schools did not allow their students to study any art other than their own. It was not only not permitted, it was considered dishonorable and offensive. I believe it is safe to say that in the early days of the UFC there were not an abundance of martial artists or athletes practicing more than one art at a time.
The title of “Mixed Martial Artist” in the martial arts world means more than having the ability to mutilate someone in competitions or in a real life situation. The “art” of most martial arts is what gives the system or style its uniqueness. Self preservation and the way one can handle, blend, push, or direct the energy of an opposing force is the beauty of the art. Taking these characteristics and others from different arts and systems to best dress one’s self with all the dynamics of their capabilities is the making of a “Mixed Martial Artist.” Martial artists have deep respect for and understanding of training internally as well as forging their bodies externally. Cage fighters are respectable fighters, but mixed martial artists they are not. The UFC fighters are mostly single discipline combat fighters competing in a mixed martial arts competition. Few show any technique that resembles art let alone any basic self defense technique.
In my opinion 40% of the competitors don’t know the meaning of “self defense.” Or maybe they believe they are so “bad-ass” they don’t need to protect themselves. Another 40% don’t care if they get pounded, and don’t care about their faces being rearranged each time they step into the Octagon. They love the old school theory “No guts, no glory, crush, kill, destroy.” Then of course there are those few that make up the other 20% that demonstrate actual skill, strategy and technique. Because most martial artists think of their safety as their first defense, then the attack or task at hand, in my opinion to call a cage fighter a Mixed Martial Artist is an insult to all who practice martial arts. But that is just my opinion. I know that most cage fighters and promoters don’t know, understand, or care whether they are insulting the martial arts world or not. To them it is all about money, not art or self defense.
“Mixing martial arts systems is not a new phenomenon”
One of the most historic times in the martial arts world was when Bruce Lee battled to bring Wing-Chun to America. He met with a tremendous amount of resistance from the Grandmasters in the Martial Arts world. However, Bruce Lee did not bend to their demands, instead he ventured out of the box and developed Jeet Kun Do, a system that combined a number of arts together and proved to be successful even to this day.
A couple of other examples of mixed martial arts are an art originating from Hawaii, Kajukenbo and the martial art originating from Russia, Sambo. Kajukenbo was created between 1947 and 1949 in Hawaii. It evolved out of a group calling themselves the "Black Belt Society", which consisted of black belts from various martial arts backgrounds who met to train and learn from one another. There are five men credited as co-creators of Kajukenbo, and it is from their respective arts that Kajukenbo draws its name. Kajukenbo (Ka) from Karate, (ju) from judo, (ken) from Kenpo Karate; and (bo) from Chinese boxing. The contributing Founders of Kajukenbo are: Peter Young Yil Choo a Tang Soo Do practioner; Frank Ordonez a Se Keino Ryu stylist; Joe Holck a Kodenkan Danzan Ryu stylist; Adriano Emperado a Kosho Ryu practioner; and Clarence Chang a Chu'an Fa Kung-Fu specialist.
Sambo is a martial arts style and self defense system that originated in the former Soviet Union during the early 1900's. Sambo was meant to be a blending of all of the different martial arts styles available to come up with the most efficient one ever created. A few of the systems/styles incorporated in Sambo are Judo, Jujitsu, wrestling and Aikido. One of the founders of Sambo was Vasili Oshchepkov, the Karate and Judo trainer for Russia's elite Red Army.
In my personal experience as a wrestler turned martial artist, I also sought to blend the best of the arts available to develop a system that would work for me and give me the edge I needed to secure a berth on an Olympic team. Combining forty-three years on the mat competing, coaching or teaching, with over twenty years of studying thirty different martial arts systems, my research evolved into a full blown mixed martial arts system. The system I developed incorporates drills and techniques from Wing Chun and Escrima that allow the student to move more efficiently on their feet; drills and techniques from the dynamics of Aikido that enhance the students’ throwing ability and their ability to evade and redirect their opponents; technique from jujitsu that makes the student a master at hand fighting, hand traps and grip releases; drills and techniques from my twelve years of Greco-Roman wrestling at the National and World Team level; and a regimen of exercises developed to assist in weight training, strength building, core stabilization, balance and explosive power. Recognition of my system by the martial arts world has resulted in my being inducted into the “Hall of Fame” eleven times by nine different martial arts associations.
“Are the Founding Fathers turning over in their graves?”
In conclusion, I believe it is safe to say that MMA competitions gave the traditional systems a reason to venture out of the box and explore other systems. MMA made more people aware of Asian martial arts. MMA made more fighters interested in cross-training and it increased the popularity and appeal of Asian martial arts. With that said I believe the advent of MMA is a friend to the Asian Martial arts.
To our Founding Fathers, our ancestors I would say, gentlemen - although we mixed martial artists seek to venture out of the traditional “box” we have not lost our respect, loyalty or honor. We know where we came from. We know on whose shoulders we stand. You are not forgotten.