Mixing it up with mixed martial arts.
September 19, 2008 2:56 AM   Subscribe

Why do MMA fighters restrict their skills to a limited set of four or five martial arts, rather than branch out and include lesser-known arts from around the world?

In the salad days of mixed martial arts, it was not unusual to witness UFC matches between considerably "unlike" opponents--a sumo master pitted against a judoka, for example. But the sport introduced weight classes and tightened its rules, and today, most MMA-ers specialize in Muay Thai, kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and a smattering of judo and wrestling skills.

I know the easy reason for this: These arts are uniquely suited to the fast, chaotic pace of fights in the octagon. But even so, I wonder. Would not a fighter well-versed in a lesser-known art, such as certain exotic schools of kung fu, bring an advantage to the ring by surprising an opponent? (In my mind, I'm picturing an adept at, say, Southern Snake kung fu defeating his opponent with a flurry of unique blocks, punches and kicks.)

Currently, in MMA, are there any fighters who up their A-game by polishing skills from lesser martial arts? Are there any arts or skills that, in your mind, have been overlooked?
posted by Gordion Knott to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I know what you mean. I miss the old UFC, when different styles fought each other and there were no time limits. I think as the sport progressed, challengers of the top contenders need to train in their opponents skills to learn defensive techniques. When Gracie was champ all the challengers started training in Jiu-Jitsu so they wouldn't get their ass kicked. It's all about adapting to the hostile environment.
posted by bleucube at 3:47 AM on September 19, 2008


I know Erik Paulson includes attribute drills from FMA in his training. Not that you'll see Josh Barnett attempting outside guntings in his fights, but knife tapping certainly improves hand speed/ coordintion.

Cung Le uses San Shou.
posted by the cuban at 4:12 AM on September 19, 2008


Some things work better than others. Its called evolution.
posted by ewkpates at 4:51 AM on September 19, 2008


Going with what ewkpates said, I'd venture to say that the modern MMA circuit is one of the first times in history that so many different martial arts styles from around the world are in regular competition. Over a few years, it's going to become pretty apparent which are winners and which aren't. If anything, I think you'll eventually see a new form develop which takes the best from each style while leaving the weaknesses out.

Most martial arts, especially in the Eastern traditions, are significantly about self-discipline and control of one's body as they are about actual fighting, so there wasn't much incentive to change or adapt. Now that there are people actually using these things against each other on a regular basis, those practitioners are going to adapt right quick because they're less interested in the non-martial benefits of martial arts.
posted by valkyryn at 5:41 AM on September 19, 2008


I think you've answered your own question: You don't see these other martial arts in MMA because the other martial arts just don't work against a fighter trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai (for hilarious videos of style vs. style matchups, see bullshido.com). However, like bleucube, I also miss the days of no time limits. Blame Dana White's evil marketing genius.
posted by Shoggoth at 5:47 AM on September 19, 2008 [3 favorites]


Agreed with the above posters. There are a lot of martial arts that are close to worthless for actual fighting. I took Tae Kwon Do for several years and it paled in comparison to my later experience with Muay Thai.
posted by electroboy at 6:18 AM on September 19, 2008


In a way, this is sort of like asking why more boxers don't study tae kwon do. They don't do it because it's against the rules of the sport. Professional MMA is not a no-holds-barred Thunderdome. It's a sport with rules and given those rules, the Muay Thai/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu combination best emphasize what's allowed.

I studied both Muay Thai and kung fu in Colorado before I moved to BC. In general, Muay Thai was a lot more straightforward and focused. I personally found this a bit dry and ended up focusing on kung fu.

I found to be more effective, but much of what we learned simply isn't allowed in MMA (e.g. eye gouges, throat strikes, joint breaks, etc). An aspiring MMA competitor wouldn't want to spend time practicing a style when only half of their training would actually be useful. To maximize their time and expertise, it just makes more sense to focus on styles that work best given the rules of the sport.
posted by Nelsormensch at 6:34 AM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most martial arts, especially in the Eastern traditions, are significantly about self-discipline and control of one's body as they are about actual fighting,

Could it also be possible that the toolboxes of some martial arts were adapted to fighting with armour +or weapons?

Also, old-time martial arts practicioners hardened their fists by punching stone and hot coals. If you have a calcified bone knuckleduster on your fist it might change the way you approach a fight.
posted by Not Supplied at 6:44 AM on September 19, 2008


Some of the videos on the Bullshido site are hilarious — the poor capoeira guys seem to do particularly poorly.

It's a sport with rules and given those rules, the Muay Thai/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu combination best emphasize what's allowed.

This is key, I think. If you watch MMA fights, you will see endless examples of them leaving their groins, throats, and eyes totally unprotected, because those are off-limits to attack. They also don't pull knives out of their shorts, grab nearby sticks to use as clubs, or bring their friends to help out. They are working within extremely restrictive rules, and the techniques you see evolving are working to maximize effectiveness within those rules. Change those parameters, and the technique would need to evolve, too.

In my mind, I'm picturing an adept at, say, Southern Snake kung fu defeating his opponent with a flurry of unique blocks, punches and kicks.

Again and again and again, one sees this in the kinds of videos posted on Bullshido and elsewhere: some guy comes in with a flurry of unique blocks, punches, and kicks, and gets taken out by one well-placed kick, punch, or grapple. The scripted strike/response rhythm of most martial arts fares really poorly in a real, unscripted situation.

But then, a lot of what you see working in a MMA ring would fare equally poorly in a nasty bar brawl, where your opponent brings his friends and they grab bar stools and broken bottles.
posted by Forktine at 7:06 AM on September 19, 2008


My first gut reaction was to say 'because what they do WORKS' - but then again I'm not exactly a huge follower of MMA. However, when one remembers the goal of the contest - to make the guy not get up or to make him tap out - AND in as little time as possible - there are only a handful of styles that seem to be effective. Add to that the fairly specific rules and you have a bunch of fighters all emulating each other or whoever's perceived to be the best.

In any particular situation your fighting style is most effective when it matches the situation. Sumo is great if you just want to push someone around, for example (Yes, I KNOW there's much more to it than that... just go with me for right now)... Drunken bar fights that usually involve broken beer bottles usually requires a more defensive posture, waiting for your opponent to make a mistake. And so it goes.
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:17 AM on September 19, 2008


"I found to be more effective, but much of what we learned simply isn't allowed in MMA (e.g. eye gouges, throat strikes, joint breaks, etc)."

Joint breaks are not only legal in MMA, they're an important part of the discipline. Throat strikes are legal in Pride and used to be legal in the UFC - they really don't haven't made that much of a difference.

Eye gouges would be an effective technique if they were allowed. I suspect that they wouldn't result in a massive change of body dynamics. If eye gouges were allowed, fighters would probably just use eye gouges and pokes from within a wrestling/jujutsu/boxing structure.

Most of the time, martial artists who say "my art would kick ass against those MMA guys if not for the rules" are full of it. The main exception would be those arts which rely primarily on weapons. Practitioners of Arnis, Kenjutsu, Sayoc Kali, etc, would obviously have a huge advantage if they could bring their weapons into the Octagon.


"Currently, in MMA, are there any fighters who up their A-game by polishing skills from lesser martial arts? Are there any arts or skills that, in your mind, have been overlooked?"

Judo used to be one of the neglected arts in MMA, until a handful of fighters (Karo Parysian, Fedor Emelianenko, etc) figured out how to adapt to the no-gi environment. I suspect that over time, elements of some other martial arts will work their way into the MMA vocabulary as they prove their worth.
posted by tdismukes at 9:21 AM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Previously. (Self link, old comment.)

Pretty much all the above comments seem spot on. MMA competitions provide an environment for skills to evolve. It's easy to trace the evolution of the sport: A bunch of pony tailed Counte Dante proteges <>
That being said, there are only so many effective techniques that the human body is capable of. Did that cross hip throw come from Judo? From greco roman wrestling? From old english bare knuckle boxing? It's the same move what ever you want to call it. The principles of a good punch and a good take down are pretty universal. Understand body movement, use your hips, be mindful of balance. It's all those silly flourishes like drunken style or monkey style that can be edited out so that only the useful techniques are kept.

Up until contemporary MMA, martial arts were like a big game of telephone, where the message was misconstrued over generations. In the early 90s, when a lot of people started really testing what they had been taught, the found that the message had been seriously mangled. Traditional martial arts are really little mini religions more than anything else. Few of the beliefs are ever tested (because they are largely falsifiable), the founder is held in reverence, there's a lot of mysticism, people from the different sects bicker all the time, there's lot of backpedaling and reframing when ever any of their tenets are seriously challenged.

If you ever have the opportunity to watch two kung fu guys do some contact sparring see how quickly their techniques turn into really sloppy kickboxing. It's easy to deceive yourself during point matches or assisted Aikido practice, but elaborate techniques are much harder to pull off when your opponent is actually resisting or hitting back.
posted by Telf at 10:04 AM on September 19, 2008


I'm not a big MMA follower, but an interview Dana White gave on Opie and Anthony brought up the fact that most of the stars of today are focused in one or two disciplines. He speculates that the next generation of MMA fighters will be much more broadly trained and that the fighting will go to another level.
posted by shinynewnick at 10:20 AM on September 19, 2008


Most of these comments are already spot on, but I'd add that they don't train in martial arts like Praying Mantis kung fu because those martial arts are not trained with live, full contact resistance. Mixed martial arts matches and real fights are dynamic, and it's hard to apply a technique you've only used in pre-scripted form-like situations. Sure, your eagle claw looks neat, but it's the height of conceit to assume you'll be able to apply it to someone that doesn't want you to if you've never done it before. Eye gouges can be really effective, but are you going to be able to do it if you can't even reliably punch someone in the face?

Sadly, the martial arts that train using fully resisting partners are few. As far as I know, it's just boxing, Muay Thai, Kyokushin karate, sanshou (or sanda), judo, sambo, wrestling, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which have all made appearances in the cage.

As an aside:

But then, a lot of what you see working in a MMA ring would fare equally poorly in a nasty bar brawl, where your opponent brings his friends and they grab bar stools and broken bottles.

There's no martial art that's effective against against that. Get your own bar stools or run. That said, Bas Rutten has some entertaining tips about these situations.
posted by ignignokt at 10:38 AM on September 19, 2008


"Sadly, the martial arts that train using fully resisting partners are few. As far as I know, it's just boxing, Muay Thai, Kyokushin karate, sanshou (or sanda), judo, sambo, wrestling, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which have all made appearances in the cage."

There are a few more than that, but most fail the MMA test for one reason or another.

Savate is an effective art which is trained full contact, but most of the techniques which would distinguish it from a more generic kickboxing style depend on the practitioner wearing shoes (which are currently illegal in MMA competition).

Sumo is trained with full resistance, but sumo practitioners have not done well in MMA since they have no answer to strikes or groundwork.

Olympic-style tae kwon do includes hard-contact sparring, but their rules are so restrictive that they have no experience in dealing with punches to the head, kicks to the legs, knees. elbows, any kind of clinching or grappling, etc. I have seen the occasional fighter successfully use a tae kwon do style kick, but only as a surprise move. Generally fighters find kicks from muay thai to be more reliable.

The Dog Brothers train full contact with all kinds of techniques, but for some reason the UFC won't let them bring their sticks into the cage. :)

Shodokan aikido includes freestyle randori and shiai like judo. Theoretically, you might see a shodokan practitioner showing his technique in MMA competition someday. I think you'd need to find someone who had a high-level of skill in shodokan and also was at least competent in the other foundations of MMA (boxing/muay thai/wrestling/BJJ). Given that shodokan is not one of the most widespread styles out there, we might have to wait a while to see if this ever happens.
posted by tdismukes at 11:10 AM on September 19, 2008


@tdismukes Sorry, to clarify, I meant UFC banned moves. I assume the OP was asking about MMA as practiced as a sport in UFC and the like, rather than Muay Thai/BJJ styles in general.

Another thing to consider in regards to sport MMA is the fighters are gloved, which might impair the ability to deliver precise hand strikes. I imagine this is part of why the Muay Thai's emphasis on elbow and knee strikes has gained such prominence (in addition to be good in a grapple). Obviously this makes a lot of sense since a since punch to the temple can kill someone.

Traditional martial arts were about killing, or at least severely disabling, someone trying to hurt you. Modern MMA (at least sport MMA) is not, it's about winning under the rules of the sport. I realize there's a lot of Rex Kwan Do ninjas out there and most "dojos" in both the west and the east offer little more than Billy Blanks. The few eastern martial arts school out that they keep to their roots might be good for self defense, but not optimal for sport competitions. The ones that haven't, well, they're not good for either.

I think I got really lucky with the kung fu school I found in CO, since they were quite serious about real practice. We did full contact padded sparring regularly, once you could demonstrate you knew enough not to hurt yourself. Since I moved, I haven't been able to find an eastern martial arts school that isn't just Rex Kwan Do nonsense.

In short, totally agree with ignignokt and tdismukes and the other folks about. But if WWIII comes and we end up with unarmed gladiator fights to the death, I wouldn't automatically put the MMA guy above someone seriously trained in an eastern martial art ;)
posted by Nelsormensch at 11:39 AM on September 19, 2008


"@tdismukes Sorry, to clarify, I meant UFC banned moves. I assume the OP was asking about MMA as practiced as a sport in UFC and the like, rather than Muay Thai/BJJ styles in general."

That's what I thought you meant. My comments still apply. Joint breaks are an essential part of MMA, although usually fighters tap out before the joints get broken. (Emphasis on usually) Throat strikes are legal in the Pride Fighting Championship, which is the UFC's biggest competitor. I acknowledged the point on eye gouges, although I have yet to encounter a school where eye gouges make up "half of their training".

One banned technique you didn't mention is groin strikes. Groin strikes were legal in early MMA competition, but since the competitors were generally wearing cups it didn't make much difference. Of course, for real world self-defense groin strikes are still useful, since most assailants on the street won't be wearing a cup.

"Another thing to consider in regards to sport MMA is the fighters are gloved, which might impair the ability to deliver precise hand strikes"

Actually, it's pretty much the opposite. The gloves used in MMA are small enough that they don't present any difficulty to landing precise strikes, but they provide enough padding so that strikers can land multiple full-power punches to the head without breaking their hands. Back when MMA fighters fought bare-knuckle, they had to be much more conservative about punching to the head with the closed fist.
posted by tdismukes at 12:10 PM on September 19, 2008


"I think I got really lucky with the kung fu school I found in CO, since they were quite serious about real practice. We did full contact padded sparring regularly, once you could demonstrate you knew enough not to hurt yourself."

That's cool. Some kung fu schools do this, but it's definitely not the majority.

I'm curious - under the rules for full-contact sparring at your old school, what (if any) techniques were allowed which are not allowed in MMA competition? What (if any) techniques did you find effective in full-contact sparring which would be legal in MMA competition but that you haven't seen widely used in MMA? Did you ever do any full-contact sparring with practitioners of muay thai/ boxing / kyokushinkai/ BJJ /wrestling?
posted by tdismukes at 12:23 PM on September 19, 2008


But if WWIII comes and we end up with unarmed gladiator fights to the death, I wouldn't automatically put the MMA guy above someone seriously trained in an eastern martial art ;)

Aren't Muay Thai, Kyokyshin and Judo eastern arts?
posted by the cuban at 3:39 PM on September 19, 2008


"Aren't Muay Thai, Kyokyshin and Judo eastern arts?"

They are. Furthermore, BJJ is just a specialized offshoot of judo.
posted by tdismukes at 3:43 PM on September 19, 2008


Nelsormensch - would you mind telling me what school you are referring to in Colorado? My email is in my profile if you don't want to post it here. Thanks.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:14 PM on September 19, 2008


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