The new combative epidemic

MMA, or Mixed Martial Arts, has finally come of age. It has been germinating for quite some time, but is now approaching a ‘tipping point’ that will see it reach a wider audience than kickboxing ever did.

I clearly remember being criticized some thirty years ago for my attempts to blend the various aspects of the martial arts that seemed most functional to me. I was deemed a ‘radical’ back then; even when I began training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in the late 80’s, most martial artists couldn’t see the relevance of my choices. It wasn’t until the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) had been underway for a couple of years, that the wider martial arts community began to grudgingly accept that perhaps there was merit in the choices I had made. And now, of course, my ideas and methods are being hailed as the ‘obvious’ choice. This should come as no surprise. In fact, it was said - some two and a half thousand years ago - that all great truths come to be via a three-stage process: Firstly, the thing is loudly ridiculed; then it is hotly debated; and finally, it is accepted as self-evident.

MMA is infecting the population at a rapid rate. This has both good and bad consequences for those involved in the martial arts industry.
On the bad side: the problem is that anyone can hang up their shingle as an MMA instructor. As there is no recognized ranking system, anyone can set up shop and an uneducated public can fall victim to not only misrepresentation but to downright dangerous and uninformed training practises. There is also the danger of successful martial arts operators, in their desire to ‘keep up with current trends’, importing sub-standard and shoddy so-called MMA instructors into their schools; this can (and almost certainly will) have a disastrous effect on their businesses. This ‘reflexive’ or knee-jerk ‘early adoption’ of MMA training can be a dangerous undertaking for a variety of reasons; not the least of which being the fact that the MMA ‘face’ of the school could be sending a different message to the public than the message conveyed by the current (and successful) martial arts message. Hence – Rule # 1: Never have two disparate cultures running in one school. One School – One Culture.
On the good side: for anyone taking up martial arts training to develop ‘real’ skills, ‘real’ confidence and get ‘really’ fit – the MMA approach is very hard to beat. MMA stands at the very top of the martial ars evolutionary ladder. At the professional end of the newly evolving MMA spectrum, it should be based on a correctly balanced and fully integrated blend of boxing/kickboxing, wrestling (takedowns) and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (groundwork) – but believe me when I say, WE ARE NOT THERE YET. These are early days – and most attempts at MMA instruction are a far cry from where we need to be.

Where most people are at right now with MMA practice is exactly the same place that the early pioneers of kickboxing were at in the 70’s; ie: when they were at long range, they threw a few kicks and when things got tight, they turned into boxers. They were pretty average (bad) at both, and there was no true ‘integration’. They were ‘stacking’ back then; just doing their best at jamming two arts together that didn’t seem to have anything in common with each other. Over the decades that followed, the ‘kicking’ and striking’ aspects were gradually woven together and true integration began to take place. The mature and refined art of kickboxing that we have nowadays, bears little resemblance to the it’s earlier ancestor back in the 60’s and 70’s. MMA is, right now, going through that self-same birthing process. Some people are ahead of the game, those few who have been involved in it’s conception and evolution for several decades now – but most are playing catch-up and so mostly it is a pretty patchy affair. True integration is the key. Hence – Rule # 2: The approach should not be a patched-together one. Full-integration is the way.

For those who are old enough, think back thirty years; kickboxing was the domain of the ‘fighter’, the one-out-of-1000 who wanted to get into the ring and fight. And the current MMA landscape is reflecting much the same picture. MMA training should be highly effective, yes; but it should be taught using safe and progressive training models that allow anyone to participate. This is not only good for business, but with 150 people on the mat practicing MMA (as opposed to 10 fighter-types), we are far more likely to produce a rich and highly diverse talent-pool, from which more ‘good fighters’ can emerge naturally. Big numbers produce big talent. Rule # 3: Do not put the focus on the fighters. MMA for the public, for the professional, for the mainstream; that’s the key.

The MMA class of tomorrow will be an exciting place to visit. As best-practice slowly takes hold, more and more of the general public will come to see MMA as vehicle for self improvement, personal empowerment and seriously potent method of self defence. We live in a world where information exchange takes place at a faster rate than at any other time in history; we are more informed than ever before and the students that come seeking martial arts training are no different. The general public will begin entering the martial arts landscape, expecting better and faster results than ever before; they will enter that landscape with a better and more complete understanding of what ‘best practice’ means and they will be less and less tolerant of ‘under-delivery’. The challenge of the next five years or so will be to offer technical and highly effective MMA training to an ever-broadening demographic in a safe and fun-filled environment. Are you up for it?

- John B Will 2008


DJC said…
Hi John,

Great blog on the birth of MMA. having been around a while now and running my own school for a few years as you know. what in your opinion would be the best timing to do a name change say from joes martial arts to joes mma. and would there be much benefit to doing this as long as this is what you are teaching.

all the best
Darren Cartwright
JBW said…
I wouldn't be jumping onto a name-change until you were teaching off an MMA syllabus. Be comfortable and confident with the delivery of said syllabus before doing name and logo changes. Put the cart before the horse.

Anonymous said…
Thanks John, what an enlightened big picture view of where we are, and where we should be! Now if only the institutions teaching MMA could be deliberately shaped to value "pedigree" and integrated teaching. Who could implement that kind of widespread change other than the big brands in fighting - UFC or particular brand name fighter/stars?

At least in my experience, MMA fans who start training are generally aware of their styles lineage to particular famous people... but those famous people are a mixed bag of great fighters, great athletes, and great teachers. The latter is the only one that a new student really needs! (in combination with a great curriculum).

-John, NWJJA, Seattle
Anonymous said…

I was wondering what you thought of Judo as a takedown martial art. I used to be critical of it for its over-reliance on the Gi, but I think Karo Parisyan really opened my eyes to how effective No-Gi could be (admittedly, given substantial work).

So I was curious as to whether you thought Judo could ever be effectively taught as a serious alternative (or synergy) to wrestling?

JBW said…
Thanks Seattle John - hope to see you during my visit this July.
Stuart - as far as Judo gos - I think it's a great martial art - but I think as far as dove-tailing the takedown/clinching aspect into the stand-up work - wrestling style takedowns and ti-ups are more compatible. No disrespect to the many great Judoka out there.
Mike said…
Great thoughts as usual. In particular I'm excited about the possibilities of a progressive approach to make MMA accessible to everyone. I think there's huge potential here in terms of offering empowerment to people that are really thirsting for it and cannot currently fit in at a standard "MMA Gym". Exciting times.
Anonymous said…
Hello John and thanks for another though provoking post.

With the increased numbers heading to MMA schools, what do you see as the key points for maintaining a positive class culture?

Slade Norris
JBW said…
Thanks Mike - thanks Slade.
As fra as maintaining good mat culture - I have written about this in previous blogs. With regard to doing so for an MMA class in particular, I feel that one of the most basic things to do is to make sure all the students are wearing a uniform. Have them start the class with a line-up, if that's how your other classes start. Yes sir, yes mamma - if that's what you expect in other classes. Develop and encourage an atmosphere of win-win, teamwork, etc - all these things are important. But the main point is that if you have a succesful culture operating in your existing school - then don't make a new one. REPEAT!

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