Martial Arts Musings – Don’t Confuse MMA with Traditional Martial Arts

IMG_1167by GM Jeff Helaney
I admit it; I was a closet Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fan. For years I watched the Ultimate Fighting Competition and PRIDE bouts on television. I enjoyed watching the sport and marveled at the conditioning of the athletes. It was a testosterone kick for the caveman lurking inside of me.

It wasn’t until the reality shows started appearing that the sport started to lose some luster for me. While I still was impressed by the conditioning of the athletes, I became less and less impressed by the trash talking and game playing that was taking place on these shows. The immaturity of many of the fighters was extremely evident. In my mind it immediately stopped being entertaining and it started to make me a bit mad.

Yes, the fighters being highlighted on these shows are amazing athletes but they appeared as the antithesis of the traditional martial art role model. MMA may be a martial sport, but it is definitely not a martial art. Traditional martial arts are about respect: respect for yourself, respect for others, and respect for traditions. These shows were accenting behaviors more closely associated with entertainment wrestling than what someone would expect to see in a dojang, dojo or any other type of martial arts studio.

The popularity of the MMA may have boosted some interest in martial arts classes, but they have also spawned a lot of questionable mixed martial arts studios. It is not unusual at these types of MMA studios to see very even young children training for full contact matches under the instruction of unqualified individuals that don’t understand physiology or safety.

A case in point is tragic death of Dennis Kirkham. An article in “Fanhouse” by A.J. Perez said that, “Kirkham was largely self-taught, reading MMA books and studying his favorite fighters, such as Chuck Liddell.” It doesn’t appear as if Kirkham had a lot of guidance in his training, nor does it appear he anyone pushing him to get the medical treatment that might have prevented him from getting in the ring that night. The tragedy is that by all accounts he had some natural talent in this sport. It was his lack of money, training, and understanding that may have ultimately cost him his life. None of us should ever look at this tragic loss just an unexpected accident.

Before I get jumped over this article by some of my acquaintances who are involved in sport MMA, I want you to notice I qualified all my statements to this point. There are some very good instructors out there teaching MMA sport fighting who have a background in martial arts, boxing, and/or kickboxing. They understand human physiology and they care enough about their students to make sure they get medical treatment when it is needed and keep them from fighting when they don’t get it. Unfortunately, a lot of these MMA practitioners are people you will never hear of outside of a local circuit.

I have been involved in martial arts most of my life and I will never be an MMA fighter. It is just not my thing, I respect the training discipline of the fighters but there aren’t a lot of ones that I think of as great role models and that is what it is about for me. Thanks in part to the popularity of shows like the “Ultimate Fighting Challenge” I will probably continue to cringe when people confuse the two very distinct disciplines. You probably won’t catch me watching as many fights as I used to because of my aversion to the way the sport is being portrayed on television. I doubt if Dana White or other MMA promoters will mourn the loss of one fan, but I have to wonder if I am the only one who is disappointed.

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