Unlike many others in the MMA world it wasn’t the Tap out t-shirts and scary tattoos that first attracted me to the sport. It was the realistic way of testing martial arts and fighting skills against a resisting opponent. I wasn’t convinced that the techniques used in my Karate point sparring would work in real life when confronted with a big angry, aggressive opponent. Especially if he isn’t familiar with the rules and formalities of traditional martial arts and just wants to smash your head in.
If only there was some way of testing your techniques realistically without going to jail or hospital. Luckily after I’d been doing Karate for about 3 months I saw a report on late night TV about the new sport of UFC which was just starting in the USA (this was the build-up to UFC 3). It looked excessively violent and gruesome at the start but it seemed like a good way of finding out what would work in a real fight.
Up until this point it was commonly believed that some styles were just combat sports and others were real martial arts and therefore better for self-defence. From observing MMA events it became apparent that almost all the successful fighters came from a combat sports background (wrestling, kickboxing, Judo etc.).
The styles of martial arts that focused exclusively on self-defence and deadly killing skills had many explanations for their lack of success in the MMA arena and these reasons may also explain the effectiveness of combat sports.
- ‘In the street you may be attacked by more than one person’ - If you have done any boxing or wrestling you will know how difficult it can be against someone of similar size & experience. Some martial arts train specifically to fight multiple opponent‘s but having sparred with some of these guys I think that might be a bit ambitious. The important thing is to make sure you can effectively fight one person first before you try to take on ten or twenty opponents.
- ‘Ground fighting is suicidal in a real fight’ – It is important to have some grappling and ground fighting experience as it is pretty much unavoidable in a real fight. Some styles avoid grappling because the idea is to avoid going to the ground. That is a good strategy for a street fight but in many cases you won’t be able to avoid it. For example, maybe someone hits you in a surprise attack and the next thing you know they are on top in mount position. It’s better to know what to do and be familiar with that position. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
- ‘Our system uses a lot of Hair pulling, biting & groin shots’ – Everyone already knows how to do all this without any martial arts training. These are some of the first things everyone learns as a child & they can easily be recalled in a violent confrontation. The other problem with these techniques is that you can’t practice them realistically. Whereas it’s safe & easy to do some rounds of boxing or grappling a few times a week, it’s difficult to find training partners for some biting practice. Also, it’s easier to add eye pokes & groin shots to your arsenal if you are already a good boxer or grappler than it is to add high level striking & grappling if all you know is eye pokes and groin shots.
- ‘Our techniques are too deadly for competition or Sparring’ the techniques and styles could be very effective and deadly in theory. The problem is that the students have never really practiced them against a resisting opponent so it’s unlikely that they will be able to use them under pressure in a life threatening scenario. Although the basic techniques of boxing and wrestling may not be as lethal, at least it is possible to practice them against resistance in sparring.
So what are the benefits that might make training in MMA or combat sports more suitable for self-defence?
- Conditioning - Good physical fitness is vitally important to survive a self-defence scenario. Even without great fighting skills if you have good strength and fitness you can greatly increase your chances in a real fight. MMA & competitive combat sports demand a higher level of fitness and conditioning than many other styles which place more emphasis on learning overly complicated techniques.
- Focus on high percentage techniques – MMA athletes, Boxers & wrestlers spend hours working on basic techniques – jabs, crosses, takedowns, chokes and arm bars – all of which are simple but effective & easy to use in sparring or competition. When the time it comes to actually use the technique in a life threatening scenario the athlete has done hundreds or thousands repetitions against resisting opponents.
- Fun - Training in MMA or other sports such as boxing, muay Thai, BJJ or Judo is fun because it’s not solely focused on self-defence and there are opportunities to compete if you wish. Training specifically for self-defence can lead to a life of paranoia, always expecting someone to jump out of the shadows and attack.
The key to making your MMA or combat sports training suitable for self-defence and avoiding unrealistic techniques is to ask – would I want to use this move or this strategy if my life depended on it?