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.