What is MMA?
Mixed martial arts ( MMA ) is a full contact sport which allows a wide variety of fighting styles from different martial arts to be combined and used. As a sport, competitions usually take place in a cage or octagon although boxing rings have also been used. MMA is now widely practised and has become an established sport in it’s own right with audiences rivalling those of boxing, but it’s beginnings were far less mainstream and it still remains controversial.
You have to go all the way back to Ancient Greece and the sport of Pankration to uncover the roots of modern MMA. In the ancient olympic games, about 4000 years ago, there were 3 different combat styles; Wrestling, Boxing (pugilism) and Pankration – which combined both the grappling and submissions of wrestling with the striking of boxing. Apart from eye-gouging and biting there were no rules and bouts often ended with serious injury and, upon occasion, death. The men who took part, and excelled, in pankration were held up as unbeatable heros and had statues put up in their honour. The Romans, masters of taking somebody elses culture and making it their own, brought pankration to the circuses of Rome and had bouts on the same cards as Gladiator combat. Pankraion means ‘all powers’ and was reputed to have been invented by Theseus, who used it to fight the Minotaur, and Hercules, who used it to destroy the Nemean Lion. Now ,I’m not sure if Greek Demi-Gods did in fact use a rear-naked choke to defeat mythological beasts but it was taught to the nations soldiers, including the Spartans and Alexander the Great’s warriors. In fact, there is a theory that the Eastern martial arts of Kung-fu and Karate came from India, which in turn was taught to their soldiers from the all-conquering bad-asses of Alexander’s army.
The first style in slightly more modern times that combined fighting systems from the West and the East was the brilliantly named Bartitsu, developed by a Mr Edward Barton-Wright (a real person), and immortalised by Sherlock Holmes (not real, sorry) in 1899. Bartitsu used the punching of boxing, the kicks of Savate, wrestling’s holds and Jujitsu’s submissions. Not to mention having to be proficient in utilising one’s walking stick to see off various ruffians and would-be malcontents. Love it.
In the 1920s a little Brazilian guy called Carlos Gracie started taking on all comers in Vale Tudo matches. Vale Tudo, literally ‘anything goes’, became a popular sport in Brazil and was shown on TV as ‘Heros of the Ring’. Most of the Gracie bouts were between thier Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ) system and the rival Luta Livre practitioners in Rio, but other fights happened in other parts of the country. Vale Tudo fights have become the stuff of legend as they were unbelievably brutal. No gloves, no weight categories, no rounds, no real rules to speak of – it was real ‘2 men enter, 1 man leaves’ kinda stuff.
There was a lot of mystery and, to be frank, bollocks about the martial arts, a lot of it still persists. Ninjas that can disappear, men that can take out 20 armed opponents with a single roundhouse, Kung-fu monks that defy the laws of physics, it’s all crap. There is no mystique about the martial arts, it’s all about hard, regular and long years of training. Oddly enough the one man that, in his lifetime, tried to de-mystify the martial arts is also the one that has the most amount of far-fetched fictionalised bullshit wrote and said about him. Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco 1940 and died 33 years later, he was, without doubt the most influential figure in martial arts ever and the reason I started training. He only made a few films, didn’t have any real competition fights to speak of and only taught a relatively few amount of people yet has somehow managed to transcend being merely an actor to become an icon. Like all icons and genuine mega-stars there is a lot of mythology about the man and his martial arts system/philosophy Jeet Kune Do (JKD) but at it’s heart it paved the way for MMA. In fact he is often quoted as being the Father of modern Mixed Martial Arts as JKD was all about taking things that worked in the real world and applying them into his system. He said that wrestlers and boxers had huge advantages over most kung-fu or karate guys as there techniques had to work. If they didn’t then you got pounded to pieces in your next fight. Bruce was also a advocate of strength and conditioning drills and routines, which is 1 of the main things that differentiate MMA from traditional martial arts. Do the basics, get really good at them, get fit, get strong and keep it real were all maxims he stood by and that modern MMA continue to follow.
The sport of MMA got started properly in 1993 when Rorion Gracie and Art Davie unleashed The Ultimate Fight Championship (UFC) upon an unsuspecting world. It was esentially a showcase for the Gracie BJJ system and pitched Royce Gracie against 7 other fighters representing other martial arts. All the other guys were advertised as being the toughest MF’ers to have ever walked the Earth and so when a smallish bloke in a pair of white pajamas wiped the floor with everybody it sent a shockwave around the martial arts world. That 1st UFC was designed as a one-off pay per view deal, little did they know that they had just created a brand new sport.
The MMA of today has changed a lot, although the UFC still reigns supreme. There are now lots of rules in place to protect the fighter and the sport is officially sanctioned in most places. MMA has evolved martial arts more in the past 15 years then others have managed in the past 700. No longer is having a black belt seen as the ultimate accolade, now you need to step into the Octagon to be taken seriously. I have noticed that there are no ninjas or Shaolin monks slamming triangle chokes on bad boys in the UFC. Maybe they’re not into the commercial aspects of a billion-doller Worldwide sport. Or maybe, just maybe, they would get their tiny orange robed arses handed to them.
Yours, in a pair of angry speedos,