MMA Is The Newest Martial Art
When promoters first tossed men with different fighting skills into a ring to find out who was toughest, whose style of combat was best and how much money could be made from pitting the men against each other, little could they have known the cultural impact they were about to create.
At the time, the contests were admonished for being blood sports. Or as Arizona Sen. John McCain labeled it, human cockfighting. Some of the criticism was fair. Early bouts had few rules or the necessary control structure to protect fighters.
What a difference two decades make.
The small-arena freak show has exploded in popularity, and has even caused some to speculate that mixed martial arts has killed boxing. This premise is suspect, as boxing has been plagued by a dearth of uninteresting fighters, and the further splintering of weight classes and governing bodies has diluted credibility. But what cannot be argued is the effect MMA has had on the very nature of martial arts itself. While many traditionalists do not agree, the mix of styles has become a martial art unto itself. That’s impressive for a sport still in its relative infancy.
The argument against MMA as a singular method of training is that the sport combines disciplines such as wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai into the sport we see today.
Thus, traditionalist see MMA as a mix of styles, not a single discipline.
Kevin Yoshida, owner of Hawaii Martial Arts Center and a boxing and MMA official, says the diverse training prevents MMA from being included in the ranks of karate, judo and taek-wondo.
“I think it is its own sport but not its own martial art,” says Yoshida. “Most purists will designate times where they will strictly focus on wrestling, they will strictly focus on jiu-jitsu, they will do strictly striking, then they will have practices where they will gear up and practice live mixed martial arts. You can be good at standup, but if you can’t take a guy down, how do you get to the jiu-jitsu part?”
Like most teenagers, Sage Yoshida doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with his father. Sage, a soft-spoken 19-year-old whose talents could take him either to the UFC or into a nursing career, belongs to the first generation of fighters to be brought up strictly within the MMA era. Though he has a background in boxing, kickboxing and MMA, the younger Yoshida has no problem calling the mixed fighting style a martial art. In fact, it’s quite common for young practitioners to simply say they train MMA.
“I think it is safe to say it has developed its own name,” he says. ” It’s been developed over the years that people refer to the individual sport as MMA.”
BJ Penn, who has seen the development of MMA as both a world champion in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a UFC lightweight and welterweight champion, says that without question, MMA is a martial art.
“What is happening now is that everybody knows the same moves, everybody is well-rounded and everybody is well-trained, so now there are a limited amount of moves that everyone knows that work.”
This, says Penn, is what qualifies MMA as a martial art. The training has evolved quickly into a specific style where the unwanted aspects of other martial arts have been stripped away, leaving something unique.
“It’s changed at the speed of money, the speed of business,” says Penn.
Kevin says he doesn’t see the day when someone will get a black belt in MMA, but that doesn’t matter. Aikido, traditionally, doesn’t award outside indication of rank. Until you put on a hakama, you’re a white belt regardless of training time or skill development.
So, if MMA is a martial art, what do you call it? Since we’ve already argued the training has become standardized, there is little that is, in fact, mixed. MMA no longer means mixed martial arts but is, in fact, just the acronym with no meaning. It’s the TGIF of combat – that is, if the former Thank God It’s Friday required exhaustive and sometime painful training of its employees.