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Are Traditional Martial Arts Still Relevant In MMA?


    The emergence of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and the drastic rise in MMA’s popularity has caused a lack of traditional martial arts practitioners to compete in mainstream fight tournaments. Mixed martial arts mainly compromise of three disciplines: Muay Thai, Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – but where’s the Kung Fu, Karate and Taekwondo? Are these combat sports inferior to their MMA counterparts? It’s supposed to be a mixture of disciplines after all.


    Contrary to popular belief traditional martial arts are still held in high regard among many of the greats. In fact, if we were to take a look at two of the most respected fighters in history, Georges St Pierre and Anderson Silva, we’d see that both of them found their grounding in traditional martial arts long before their foray into MMA. Georges St Pierre is a 3rd degree black belt in Kyokushin Karate, whilst Anderson Silva has practised virtually every martial art under the sun!


    Traditional martial arts are proving to be more effective as time goes by. As the sport of MMA is evolving we are starting to see a new generation of young fighters, many of which don’t have a grounding in traditional disciplines. It’s becoming a more common occurrence to see a knockout at the hand of a traditional martial artist – not even Randy Couture’s chin could survive a Shotokan Karate crane kick from Lyoto Machida in UFC 129. The reason being, the new wave of practitioners are simply not prepared for such techniques, which makes me wonder if we’re going to see a steady shift in disciplines over the next few years. Maybe the current MMA standards aren’t quite as polished as people may think, and maybe the return of the Japanese and Chinese disciplines that birthed the sport in the first place is just upon the horizon.


    One of the most common criticisms of the training regimes of traditional martial arts is the lack of focus on full contact sparring. Many MMA fighters claim that this is where training in combat sports like Taekwondo and Karate is flawed. It’s true, there may not be as much emphasis on the full contact aspect of fighting; however, other aspects of preparation are accounted for that aren’t present in MMA training routines, such as the kata in Karate.


    One distinct feature of traditional martial arts that can’t be denied is the complete control a fighter has over their body. Many MMA fighters are brawlers and in combat situations their technique is flawed to make amends for the actions of their opponent. A lot of MMA fighters claim that in a real fight situation technique gets thrown out the window and a fighter must do whatever they can to “go the distance.” But doesn’t this defy the point of training in a particular style? Isn’t this where the beauty and excitement of MMA came from in the first place? Let’s not forget the original idea behind the Ultimate Fighting Championship – to find the most effective martial art in a real fight situation. Although there are a strict set of rules in most traditional martial arts tournaments, it’s more likely to see a traditional martial artist execute a particular move with perfect style and grace than an MMA fighter. One of the main reasons behind this is due to the lack of emphasis on full contact fighting, and the fact that technique is such an important aspect of training. To grade in many traditional martial arts fighters must learn patterns. These patterns teach muscle memory and technique, which is a crucial element of self defence and is simply a different philosophy of training.


    K1 fighters tend to have the best stand-up “technique” out of any promotion (note the emphasis on the word technique!) Here we see an abundance of martial artists from all types of backgrounds, often performing tornado kicks, hook kicks and other aerial techniques that are rarely performed in the UFC. When Anderson Silva (current UFC middleweight champion) was fighting in the Pride promotion we saw him get submitted by Ryo Chonan after being taken down by a flying scissor-lock. This was a huge surprise to the world of mixed martial arts, as most practitioners thought that the execution of these types of traditional martial arts moves was near enough impossible, especially against a veteran fighter like Anderson Silva. Ryo Chonan has a history in Kyokushin Kaikan Karate. He has spent years developing his craft, practising specific moves to perfection. Sure, he’s flawed in other aspects of the sport and doesn’t have the most impressive record, however he was able to spot a flaw in Anderson Silva’s fighting style and use the techniques of Karate to his advantage.


    Let’s take a look at some of the UFC’s current rising stars. John Makdessi is a Canadian mixed martial artist with an impressive record, and all of his recent wins in the UFC have been accredited to his particular style, which is a hybrid of Karate and Taekwondo. He has built up a name for himself by performing, and effectively pulling off a vast selection of impressive kicks and traditional techniques. And there’s also Youtube sensation Anthony Pettis, who has managed to successfully execute techniques from Capoeira, which is a Brazilian form of martial art/dance. Pettis also stunned crowds in WEC 53 when he leaped off the cage and kicked Benson Henderson in the face, delivering what has gone down in history as “the showtime kick.” Could these rising young stars begin to shape the new era of MMA?


    Mixed martial arts is a spectator sport and successful techniques from traditional styles seem to get far more attention and appreciation than many MMA techniques. So maybe that’s where the future lies. However, at least traditional martial arts have proved one thing – regardless of how many practitioners there are in commercial competition, they’re certainly here to stay.


    I’m a blogger, jiu-jitsu practitioner, and a coffee enthusiast. I happily share my experiences along my martial arts journey while trying to inspire other’s to start theirs. You can catch me over at BJJ Informer.