Deportes de Combate

Is MMA a true martial art? – Bloody Elbow


Authors note: The articles in this series are a component of an upcoming book that explores the functionality of MMA as a combat art. For inquiries about supporting the publishing efforts or booking a seminar presentation, please contact [email protected].

MMA as a base for self-defense, combat and security work

This series of articles on Bloody Elbow aims to facilitate a discussion about the contemporary role of MMA as a “Martial Art” for self-defense, combat training, and security professionals. It also seeks to compare MMA with traditional martial arts and popular self-defense methods.

The ultimate goal is to demonstrate that although MMA is mostly considered a combat sport instead of a Martial Art in the traditional sense, it is, in reality, the ultimate form of unarmed combat and a real martial art. The intention is not to diminish the value of self-defense based arts, but rather to facilitate mutual learning between the two domains.

Additionally, the series will provide insights on the evolution of traditional martial artists and ways to enhance their effectiveness in facing modern challenges, as well as to assist MMA coaches in adapting their training to meet self-defense needs.

The author’s perspective is focused on promoting the practical application of mixed martial arts techniques in real-world scenarios, acknowledging the value of traditional martial arts and combat self-defense arts, while emphasizing techniques with a proven record of successful application in sports competition as effective for self-defense.

Before we begin the comparative analysis of techniques and strategies for combat and self-defense, and assess the effectiveness of MMA in these contexts, it is crucial to present an overview of different combat systems.

This will not constitute a comprehensive encyclopedic list of various systems and methods, but rather a brief introduction to different types. Finally, we will provide a brief introduction to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA-specific techniques. In the second part, we will commence the examination of some reality-based combat scenarios from an MMA perspective.

Traditional martial arts for one-on-one, unarmed combat

Aikido lessons | Pond5 Images, IMAGO

The term “martial art” is derived from the Latin term meaning “arts of Mars,” the Roman god of war, and it refers to combat systems and traditions of combat and self-defense.

Traditional martial arts encompass a codified system of combat practiced for various purposes such as self-defense, military and law enforcement applications, physical, mental, and spiritual development, and the preservation of the art’s traditions. Some martial arts include both armed and unarmed combat and are sometimes practiced as a sport.

Many so-called traditional martial arts were invented in Europe and the U.S. post-World War 2 and do not really originate from a lineage of instructors throughout the centuries.

Traditional martial arts, such as Karate, Kung Fu, and Taekwondo often emphasize discipline, traditional techniques, respect, and spiritual growth. They typically involve forms, katas, and self-defense techniques including weapon disarms and weapon techniques.

However, their techniques and strategies often assume a certain type of assailant or combat scenario, which may not always align with real-world situations. Additionally, these arts have been significantly modified over time, especially those that have incorporated sport competition into their training curriculum.

In contemporary practice, some iterations of traditional martial arts such as Tai Chi and Aikido prioritize aspects like mental relaxation, proper breathing, and spiritual harmony over combat application. This approach emphasizes the cultivation of vital energy and the fluidity of movement. While some practitioners still train in these arts for combat, the focus is largely on the holistic and spiritual elements of martial arts training.

Striking and Grappling Based Traditional Martial Arts

Men s -100kg 2024 Judo Grand Slam Paris in France - 04 Feb 2024 Nurlykhan Sharkhan (blue) of Kazakhstan and Daniel Eich (white) of Switzerland compete during the Men s -100kg 2024 Judo Grand Slam Paris. The Accor Arena, in Paris, hosted the Paris Grand Slam from the 2nd to the 4th of February, an event on the world circuit of the International Judo Federation (IFJ). On Sunday, the last day of the competition, athletes in the Men -90kg, -100kg, +100kg and Women -78kg, +78kg categories competed. Paris France xSOPAxImagesx ParisGrandSlam2024Day3_TP_026
Judo competition | Telmo Pinto / SOPA Images, IMAGO

In the realm of unarmed traditional martial arts, there exists a distinction between striking-based traditional martial arts such as Karate, and standing grappling arts, which employ joint locks and throws to subdue opponents either standing or on the ground, as seen in Jiu Jitsu and Aikido variations.

Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are both grappling arts that encompass traditional and modern elements. Judo, a predominantly Olympic sport, retains traditional aspects focusing more on throws, while the Gracie style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu focuses on ground fighting for self-defense and security professionals.

We will discuss Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in more detail below.

Weapon-based martial arts

Weapon-based martial arts involve a variety of combat techniques using traditional weapons like staffs, sticks, and swords. While most modern martial arts focus on unarmed combat, many traditional weapon- based martial arts are still practiced in niche communities globally.

Self- Defense combat systems

Self-defense combat systems are contemporary methods designed for practical self-defense and combat situations.They prioritize practical simulated training, including striking, use of classic and sometimes unconventional submission holds, and simplified ground fighting. These systems focus on surprise attacks, such as eye-gouges, head butts, and attacks to the neck or groin, as well as disarming opponents.

These systems often focus on repetitive practice to form reflexive responses. Some systems may integrate controlled unarmed or armed sparring with protective gear, while others may not emphasize sparring practice. Examples of such systems are Krav Maga, Kapap, and Systema.

From a grappler’s perspective, it is important to note that the effectiveness of some of these systems in escaping submission holds is unrealistic. However, instructors of these systems often have training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, recognizing the value of ground fighting in self-defense. Despite their limitations, these systems can offer strategies and techniques beneficial to individuals versed in MMA training.

Mixed Martial Arts

Don Frye vs Amaury Bitetti in their MMA fight at UFC 9, 1996
Don Frye vs Amaury Bitetti UFC IX, 1996 | UPI Photo, IMAGO

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a full-contact combat sport that integrates techniques from various combat sports, including striking, grappling, and ground fighting. Its modern origins can be traced back to the early 20th century, with interstylistic contests in Japan and East Asia, as well as the phenomenon of vale tudo in Brazil, known for unrestricted fights between various styles.

It seems that the term “mixed martial arts” was first documented in a review of UFC 1 by television critic Howard Rosenberg in 1993.

In the early stages, MMA events were promoted as a competition to find the most effective martial art, with relatively few rules and even no weight classes. Over time, individual fighters incorporated multiple martial arts into their style, leading to the adoption of additional rules and use of gloves to increase safety and comply with regulations.

The sport has since gained increased popularity, with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) being the most prominent organization promoting MMA today. The first UFC event was held in Denver, Colorado, on November 12, 1993, and the UFC brand is often used interchangeably with the term”MMA.”

The technical evolution of MMA

UFC 293 SYDNEY, Israel Adesanya of Nigeria (right) and Sean Strickland of the USA during the Middleweight Title bout of UFC 293 at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Sunday, September 10, 2023.
UFC 293 SYDNEY, Israel Adesanya vs Sean Strickland | DAN HIMBRECHTS / AAP, IMAGO

Combat sports experts often assert that MMA is simply a blend of specific arts like boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, and BJJ. However, this is not entirely accurate.

MMA has developed unique techniques, combinations, and strategies through competition that are not found in other combat sports. While it draws from traditional martial arts and specialized combat sports, it has also given rise to its own set of specialized techniques and tactics, known as “MMA specific” techniques.

These include using the Greco-Roman single necktie control to land punches, ground and pound attacks, and employing strikes and takedowns when opponents have their back against the cage. MMA specific strategies involve using strikes to set up takedowns or submissions, using takedown threats to land strikes, and pressuring opponents against the cage to wear them out. The development of these techniques highlights the evolution of the sport and the distinct strategies that have emerged through its competitive landscape.

The reason these techniques were developed is not just because they are not permitted under other sports’ rules. MMA is a melting pot where techniques and strategies are pitted against each other, leading to the creation of new approaches and adjustments. This ongoing competition between ideas and methods has contributed to the evolution of “MMA specific” techniques, shaping the sport into a unique and dynamic combat sport.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Gracie Jiu Jitsu
Fotoarena, IMAGO

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a martial art and combat sport that prioritizes grappling, ground fighting, and submission holds. It originated in Brazil in the early 20th century, developed by the Gracie family after Carlos Gracie was introduced to a hybrid of traditional Japanese Jujitsu and Kodokan judo by a traveling Japanese judoka, Mitsuyo Maeda.

The Gracie family later developed their own self-defense system, known as Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. This system played a significant role in establishing the effectiveness of ground fighting in real combat situations worldwide. As a result, the art was eventually named Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to encompass practitioners who were not part of the Gracie family.

The primary focus of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is to bring an opponent to the ground, establish a dominant position, and employ various techniques to compel them into submission through joint locks or chokeholds.

BJJ is renowned for its effectiveness in countering threats from unarmed assailants, including those proficient in striking martial arts, while minimizing harm to the aggressor. This grappling-based martial art emphasizes control over an opponent through techniques that prioritize leverage and skill over sheer strength.

The incorporation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into Mixed Martial Arts has significantly enhanced its effectiveness in self-defense. The MMA version of BJJ ground fighting, which includes strikes and wrestling, has proven to be highly efficient in real-life confrontations.

Additionally, the use of gi chokes and garment control can be applied in street altercations, especially when the assailant is wearing clothing that allows for a secure grip, such as a jacket, hoodie, or a shirt with a collar suitable for the choke. The effectiveness of employing gi chokes in self-defense on the street depends on the quality of the attacker’s attire, enabling a secure grip for the technique.

This marks the conclusion of part one. We will not conduct an analysis of other combat sports, such as boxing, kickboxing, or wrestling, whose techniques are included in MMA. Instead, we will focus one evaluating the advantages of employing these techniques in real-life confrontations in the subsequent segment of this series. We will assess the strengths of the aforementioned martial arts, including those of MMA, in both self-defense and combat scenarios.

We will also explore how to refine MMA for self-defense purposes and analyze why MMA serves as a true and highly effective foundational training that can enhance the efficacy of all arts and systems. Please feel free to share your comments below. The author values all feedback and encourages open discussion as it is essential for personal and professional development.


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About the author

Kostas Fantaousakis
Kostas Fantaousakis

Kostas Fantaousakis is a researcher of fighting concepts, tactics, and techniques, and a state-certified MMA, grappling, and wrestling coach in Greece. He teaches his unique Speedforce MMA mittwork system© which combines strikes, takedowns, knees, and elbows applied in the Continuous Feedback© mittwork system of the Mayweather family. Kostas is a black belt in BJJ under MMA veteran and BJJ world champion Wander Braga (the teacher of Gabriel Napao Gonzaga).

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Miguel Romero

Sumergido en el río de palabras y pasión, soy Miguel Romero, un Virtuoso de la Escritura Digital que transforma letras en melodías de conocimiento. Mi paso por la Universidad Pablo de Olavide sintonizó mi pluma con la sinfonía del aprendizaje. Como un maestro de las letras, mis escritos se deslizan desde las pistas atléticas hasta los encordados de los deportes de combate, desde las aulas de educación hasta los ecosistemas del medio ambiente y desde los senderos del turismo hasta las maravillas del viaje. Cada palabra es una nota que resuena con autenticidad, tejida con el hilo de la transparencia. Únete a mí en este viaje donde las páginas se convierten en escenarios de emoción, donde la velocidad de los deportes se fusiona con la pasión de la lucha, donde el saber florece en el entorno educativo y donde la naturaleza nos llama a explorar, empaparnos y preservar.

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