TMA/MMA, the difference

Remember the old days of MMA, when it was essentially a real life jean claude van damme movie: styles pitted against one another in a kumite-esque bloodsport with limited rules? Karate vs Kung Fu, Aikido vs boxing. UFC 1 alone had fighters from Kenpo, Savate, and even Sumo.  Ah…life was good. Then the Gracies came along, wiped the floor with pretty much everyone they fought, and standardized mixed martial arts on the whole. Eventually, the sport boiled down to a few main staples: Muay Thai, Brazilian Jujitsu, Catch Wrestling. 

The MMA that most people talk about is composed of this handful of disciplines which emphasize practicality in the cage. Recently, though, something weird is happening, at least the way I see it. 

MMA seems to be slowly returning to its roots, dissolving, once again, into a diversity of disciplines, many of which are considered “traditional.” 

With Machida identifying primarily as a Karateka, and Rousey using a nearly pure form of Judo to dominate her opponents, fans and fighters both are beginning to rethink what works for the cage. 

Maybe the most surprising display of traditional martial arts being used in the octogon took place at UFC 193–the very same event during which Rousey suffered her first loss. It happened when Robert Whittaker, a practitioner of both Karate and Hapkido, faced Uriah Hall, a student of Kyokushinkai. Throughout the fight, we saw the usual maneuvers we’ve come to expect in UFC: double leg take downs, Thai round kicks, jabs, crosses, hooks. Along with these, however, were techniques we’ve come to dissociate from MMA entirely–spinning back fists, scissor kicks, and even hopping-spinning-whirlwind kicks (seriously, check the fight out online…it was nuts). It’s as if the fighters’ cornermen retired form their careers as hollywood stunt choreographers and opened up a couple of MMA gyms. 

More and more, fighters are bringing traditional disciplines to the cage, which begs a familiar question: what /is/ the difference between MMA and traditional martial arts (”TMA”)? Myself and others have held one answer for awhile now, that answer being >>training methodology<<. Think about it. What makes an art practical? How do martial artists become great fighters? The answer comes down to training. No art can be practical if it’s not trained honestly in a live setting (resisting, non-compliant partners are key). The reason that Muay Thai and BJJ produce such dominant fighters is because both systems train for reality. Pracitioners trade real shots, offer real resistance, and do so consistently. This is different from many (though not all) TMA schools, in which students drill technique, but never spar. 

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with content of these “TMAs”; their principles and techniques may actually be sound. What they’re truly lacking in, however, is proper training method. This is a fact I’ve held to be true for a long time now, and these recent displays of traditional martial arts in MMA are proof positive. They show that if a traditional martial art is trained at the same scope as MMA, with conditioning, reflex development, and practical application taking priority, it can be practical. Now that the MMA training methodology has been standardized and adopted universally, fighters can start experimenting, applying the MMA method to the TMA principle. The fact that Machida and Rousey, Whittaker and Hall, can use these arts effectively in the cage isn’t surprising when you consider that they train them with the utmost intensity nearly everyday. 

Now, I’m not being romantic here by claiming that any art can excel in MMA, and I’m not making the cliche argument that it’s the artist and not the art; I know that some arts just won’t work in MMA. 

All I’m saying is, we as a community haven’t figured it all out yet. As the years go on, I expect that we’ll see arts being used in MMA which we could have never fathomed. The sport is at an incredibly dynamic point right now, and it’s evolving right in front of us. Arts, whether for the street or for the cage, survive by evolving this way, by adapting to /now/. I’m interested to see where this sport goes, and where the arts in general go. 

Some of The Greatest Sports Photos of All Time

Jacques Plante - Canadiens at Rangers, Dec. 18, 1957

Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante surveys the ice without a mask during a game between the Canadiens and the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Plante was the first NHL goalie to wear a goaltender mask on an everyday basis, a practice he started during the 1959-60 season.

Muhammad Ali and Cleveland Williams - Nov. 14, 1966

Ali knocks out Cleveland ‘Big Cat’ Williams in three rounds at the Houston Astrodome to defend his heavyweight title in November 1966. The bout drew a record indoor crowd of 35,460.

Dennis Rodman - Pacers at Bulls, March 7, 1997

Chicago Bulls power forward Dennis Rodman goes horizontal for a loose ball during a game against the Pacers at the United Center in Chicago, Ill. Rodman won his sixth rebounding title during the 1996-97 season averaging 16.1 total rebounds a game.

Greg Olson - World Series Game 1, Oct. 19, 1991

Atlanta Braves catcher Greg Olson goes head over heels after tagging Minnesota left fielder Dan Gladden out at home during Game 1 of the 1991 World Series. The Twins would win Game 1, 5-2, and go on to win the Series in seven games

Pittsburgh Pirates Fans - 1960 World Series, Oct. 13, 1960

University of Pittsburgh students cheer as they look down on Forbes Field from the top of their campus’s Cathedral of Learning as the Pirates are winning their first World Series in 35 years against the Yankees. In Game 7, Bill Mazeroski hit the first walk-off home run in World Series history, a shot over the left-field fence that gave the Pirates a 10-9 win.

Mike Tyson and Evander - Holyfield Heavyweight Bout, June 28, 1997

Mike Tyson bites the ear of Evander Holyfield during their 1997 heavyweight fight. Tyson’s boxing license was temporarily revoked for the incident and he was fined $3 million

Julien Leparoux and Sanibel Storm - Keeneland Race Course, April 28, 2006

Jockey Julien Leparoux tries to hold on to the bridle as he is catapulted off Sanibel Storm, which hit the rail during the stretch run. The jockey and horse were both uninjured.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos - Summer Olympics, Oct. 16, 1968

American sprinters Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) raise their black-gloved fists on the Olympic medal podium in Mexico City to signify Black Power. Smith, the gold medalist in the 200-meter race, and Carlos, the bronze medalist, were kicked out of the Games for their overtly political statement.

Carmen Basilio and Tony DeMarco - Nov. 30, 1955

Carmen Basilio (right) celebrates with his cornermen after knocking out Tony DeMarco (left) in the 12th round for the world welterweight title.

Ervin Kovacs - Paralympic Games, Sept. 21, 2004

Hungary swimmer Ervin Kovacs starts the 200-meter freestyle SM5 at the Paralympic Games. Kovacs took the silver medal in the race, finishing behind only China’s Junquan He.

Pete Rose - Reds vs. Cubs, August 1975

Cincinnati’s Pete Rose dives into third base in a game with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Baseball’s all-time hits leader, Rose was 4-for-9 and drew eight walks during the series with Chicago.

Joe Namath - Bills at Jets, Dec. 8, 1974

New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath listens on the sidelines during a messy New York Jets-Buffalo Bills Game. The Jets would win 20-10 behind Namath’s 131 yards and two passing touchdowns.

Maxwell Fornah and Victor Musa - Sierra Leone, April 6, 2006

The members of the Single Leg Amputee Sports Club of Sierra Leone chase for the ball in Freetown. A brutal civil war left more than 6,000 amputees in Sierra Leone.

Bobby Orr - Stanley Cup finals Game 4, May 10, 1970

Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr celebrates his Cup-winning goal during overtime of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals against the St. Louis Blues. Orr would win MVP honors, and the victory was Boston’s first Cup in 29 years

Bob Beamon - Summer Olympics, Oct. 18, 1968

U.S. track and field athlete Bob Beamon flies through the air during his world record long jump of 8.9 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Beamon’s jump, which inspired a new adjective for spectacular feats ('Beamonesque’), stood as the world record for 23 years.

Bobby Martin - Belmont High at Colonel White High, Sept. 24, 2005

Three-foot, 112-pound Bobby Martin played on punt and kickoff coverage and was the backup varsity noseguard for Dayton’s Colonel White High. Born without legs, he can’t wear prosthetics because he has no thighs to affix them to.

Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston - May 25, 1965

In their heavyweight title rematch Ali defeated Liston by knockout in the first round. Ali would hold the heavyweight title until 1967, when he was stripped of it for refusing to be drafted into the Army.

Brandi Chastain - Women’s World Cup, July 10, 1999

U.S. women’s soccer player Brandi Chastain exults after kicking the World Cup-winning penalty kick in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final.

Michael Jordan - All-Star Weekend, Feb. 6, 1988

Air Jordan takes off from the free throw line and soars to a perfect score of 50 to defeat Dominique Wilkins in the finals of the Slam Dunk Contest. It was the second straight title for the Bulls star, and the '88 contest is widely considered the best ever because of the duel between Jordan and Wilkins.

Referee Jack Vaughn - Eagles at Bears, Dec. 31, 1988

Referee Jack Vaughn tries to follow a field goal attempt from Eagles placekicker Luis Zendejas during the Fog Bowl, a 1988 NFC divisional playoff game between the Eagles and the Bears in Chicago, Ill. A heavy sheet of fog rolled over Soldier Field during the second quarter, cutting visibility to around 10-20 yards for the remainder of the game.

Casey Sanders and Julius Peppers - Chapel Hill, N.C., March 4, 2001

Casey Sanders of Duke (20) tries to stop North Carolina’s Julius Peppers at the Dean E. Smith Center. No. 2 Duke defeated No. 4 North Carolina 95-81.