On Mixing Martial Arts

I’m a big fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.   I can’t help myself.  I love watching those guys destroy each other.  The top fighters exhibit explosive athleticism and devastating technique.  There’s a big difference between training to fight in a cage and doing martial arts as a hobby.  But, there’s a lot we should have in common, too.

The most important thing is mindset.  If you learn all the best techniques out there but don’t have the will to fight, nothing else matters.  The aggressive attitude of cage fighters often seems ego-driven and arrogant…and it is.  But, when the time comes to defend yourself or your loved ones, you will have to “turn off” your conscience.  It’s either you, or the other guy, that’s going to get hurt.  Make sure it’s the other guy.

The importance of physical conditioning cannot be overemphasized.  When fighters know all the same techniques, strength, agility, and endurance make the difference.  It’s like football.  Nobody thinks any other team has better blocking or tackling technique.  They just have better athletes.  Besides, it should be obvious that we use our bodies to perform every move.  The better condition we’re in, the better our karate will be.

Many people credit Bruce Lee with initiating the mixed-martial-arts revolution.  His Jeet Kune Do was an amalgamation of techniques from different styles organized around the concept of the “stop hit” from Western fencing.  Also, he believed in live sparring as the true test of a technique’s effectiveness.  But, he was not the first.

Mixing martial arts is nothing new.  Throughout history, people who actually fought have always wanted to learn anything that would help them survive.  For instance, caravan guards of nineteenth-century China often combined Xing Yi’s powerful linear striking methods with the circular throws and evasive footwork of Ba Gua.

I would argue that an effective self-defense method could be created by combining only the primary techniques of a few different styles:

Boxing – Nobody punches better than boxers.  That’s all they do.  The straight-lead, or jab, is a great way to gauge distance and create a reaction in your opponent.  I like the method described in Jack Dempsey’s book, Championship Fighting.  According to him, the “stepping straight-jolt” is the most important punch.

Muay Thai – The signature technique of Thai boxing is a round kick with the shin.  It’s absolutely devastating, but I don’t like it.  I could probably do some damage, but my shins aren’t conditioned to handle the impact.  However, I can throw knee strikes, while controlling the opponent’s head in the clinch, without hurting myself.  That’s good stuff.

Freestyle Wrestling – The single and double-leg take downs are simple and effective.  Either one is a good way to put an opponent on the ground in a hurry.  Plus, the ability to change levels and penetrate quickly are invaluable skills for closing the distance.

Greco-Roman Wrestling – Because holds below the waist are illegal, Greco-Roman wrestlers are the best at clinch fighting.  Learning to pummel for under-hook control might be enough to fight off an untrained person.  If you can duck under or arm drag to a rear clinch, that’s even better.

Judo – In general, I don’t like turning my back to the opponent, and techniques need to be learned without a gi.  But, Judo’s basic hip and shoulder throws are hard to beat.  Learning to back step well is a good skill to have.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – The Gracie revolution demonstrated to everyone the importance of grappling methods.  Even though the art has it’s roots in the ne waza of Judo, BJJ evolved on it’s own into a subtle and profound art.  The most distinguishing characteristic is extensive use of the guard position and an ability to fight on your back.  Submissions are not as easy as they look.  I’m most concerned with just controlling an opponent and trying to sweep or stand up.

The attitude of the Okinawan originators of karate would have been to use whatever worked for them.  There was a predisposition to believe that anything Chinese was better, and the Fujien province was most accessible to them.  They did the best they could with the knowledge they had.  Shouldn’t we do the same?

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11 responses to “On Mixing Martial Arts

  1. Good perspective Steve. The more I hear the phrase “Mixed Martial Arts” the more ironic it seems. At some point, all martial arts were/are mixes of other arts. Whenever people get all googly eyed about some founder creating art X or Z it might be mentioned that he/she “took what was best” from a variety of different arts. That’s a pretty big paradox- the founder was great, but no one else can take the same initiatives in their training. But in TMA circles, it is usually regarded as heretical if one begins to blur the boundaries of their particular style/art a bit, and begin incorporating things from other schools, or even replace an outmoded view with one that makes more sense. What’s interesting to me about the MMA approach is that it sees no problem in borrowing and blending to address gaps in the skill set of a fighter. As a result, fighting “arts” are giving ground to fighting “skills.” From the TMA perspective, there still seems of be something of a dichotomy between “fighting skills” and “fighting arts.” MMA has demystified the idea of technique pretty effectively; a strike or a kick has become something that can be learned outside of a specific art, rather than the previous idea that it would take strict devotion and years to master any technique in a TMA. Anyhow, I’m proud to call you a fellow heretic!

    • Hey Randy,
      I wish you lived closer. We could really stir up some trouble….

      It’s like you read my mind. I forgot to mention it in the original post, but the fact that founders of the various “styles” of martial arts just taught their favorite techniques is kinda the point I was going for…and it seems like there were only a few techniques that formed the core of each style.

      Bob was just talking about this idea as it relates to kata, the other day. Basically, there’s a few techniques that can be interpreted as performed in a slightly different manner, depending on the circumstances. You get control of an arm, or head, and strike utilizing a coupling of forces. Or, catch a leg and take the opponent down in a variety of ways. Karate just isn’t as complicated as they wanted us to believe. But fighting, on the other hand, is REALLY HARD.

      Most of Xing Yi’s Twelve Animal Forms are variations of Pi Quan – the downward palm strike. Clearly, that was the knockout blow favored by the founder. It’s a lot like Chuck Liddell’s big overhand right, only performed with an open hand. That’s another great technique I forgot to list. I like Aikido’s Ikkyo controlling technique, too. Like Bob says, sometimes it’s good to have less harmful options.

  2. Xingyi and Baguazhang were pretty much always taught together after a certain point- and Xingyi at one time was taught as hand to hand combatives to the Chinese military in WWII (transposing the weapons forms to bayonet and western saber).

    Also other styles that are key in MMA today:

    SAMBO (also spelled Sombo) – A Soviet amalgam of wrestling styles found in the Soviet Union and Judo, the current and most common version of it was the brainchild of Anatoly Kharlampiev, who built upon the works of Oschepkov and Spiridonov to create the sport sambo seen today. It’s rules are a mix between freestyle wrestling and judo, and it has unique throwing methods that show influence of native wrestling styles from Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and other nationalities. It also is well known for its leg locking techniques. During the 1960s and 1970s the Russians entered Olympic judo by retraining sambo players to play under judo rules, and they achieved success. Nowadays in judo the unorthodox “Russian Judo” style of playing judo has influenced many judoka today in competition.

    CATCHWRESTLING- This is the parent art of American folk wrestling, focusing on submissions and on positional domination of the opponent. It was the sport of American presidents. Later on this grappling style spread to Japan with the help of Karl Gotch, who in turn trained Fujiwara and other catch/pro wrestlers. Fujiwara in turn taught many pro wrestlers and fighters in Japan, who created the earliest MMA events such as Pancrase and also an earlier “worked” version known as UWF Bushido. Some people who are definitely catch wrestling influenced are Ken Shamrock, Masakatsu Funaki, Sakuraba, Genki Sudo, Caol Uno, Minowa, and many, many others.

    one big, big issue with the “MMA” approach-

    -it is too ring oriented. It does not address multiple opponents, legal issues, defense against weapons, improvised weapons, de-escalation, understanding psychology and the modus operandi of criminals, situational awareness, and other necessary things which are a must in combat in the streets. (and in this regard, check out http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com for more).

    To correct this matter- the reality based training methods came into existence- while the techniques of the MMA fighters and many of the reality based practitioners are virtually the same- the emphasis is quite different and training reflects this (in MMA matches some things are not allowed- like headbutts-except in Brazilian valetudo matches).

    (Some good examples of reality based training methods- Krav Maga, Jim Wagner’s Reality Based Personal Protection, Richard Dimitri’s Senshido, Tony Blauer’s S.P.E.A.R. System, Sammy Franco’s Contemporary Fighting Arts, Kelly McCann’s Crucible Combatives, Hock Hochheim’s CQC Combatives, Richard Ryan’s Dynamic Combat, Marc MacYoung’s Dango Jiro, and the defensive tactics systems taught in police academies all around the country).

    • Hey Adam,
      Good point about MMA being too ring oriented. Another thing I forgot to put in the original post is that fighters spend most of their time training to perform techniques according to the prescribed rules of a particular venue. (i.e. the octagon) Of course, in a real fight there are no rules. I was thinking that an effective self-defense method would include ALL the attacks that are illegal in competition.

      However, grappling methods can be practiced with a live partner almost exactly as they would be on the street. The argument goes, and I agree, that the person who is able to obtain a dominant position of control will do more damage with the illegal strikes as well. If I pin you, I can choose where I want to bite you and/or poke you in the eye with a lot more leverage.

      But, when it comes to real world self-defense, I don’t think there’s any magic formula for surviving. Bob says he’s gotten away with doing some pretty stupid things in the past. I, personally, have never been in a real fight. So, I don’t know…but I do read Richard Ryan’s column every time I pick up a Black Belt magazine. That ought to count for something. Right?!?

  3. Pingback: hellinahandbasket.net » Blog Archive » Pick and Choose

  4. That’s an interesting list of systems.
    If you were to replace the MT with Savate then you get more-or-less what was being done about a century ago for the purpose of self defence. The kicks used employed the boot and therefore avoided the shin problem you mention (IIRC the knee was employed to some degree as well).

  5. There is indeed no magic formula for self defense- but there are training methods that are proven to prepare people for the streets that are better than others.

    Before Mr. Barton-Wright with Bartitsu there was Pierre Vigny who combined savate, wrestling, jujutsu and cane and sword fencing and he was one of Barton-Wright’s teachers.

    Other pioneers of combining martial arts in modern times, some before Bruce Lee:

    Imi Lichtenfeld- founder of Krav Maga (since 1948)

    Dennis Hannover -founder of Hisardut

    Jim Arvanitis (founder of Modern “Mu Tau” Pankration)

    Wesley Brown Jr., Bernard Cosneck, John Styers, W.E. Fairbairn, Rex Applegate, Biddle, Oschepkov and Spiridonov (creators of Russian military sambo) – all hand to hand combat instructors before and during WWII

    Charles Lecour and Charles Charlemont, who combined the French foot fighting of savate and English Boxing to make La Boxe Francaise, or French boxing. Charlemont also included cane combat in the curriculum.

    Also Dubois wrote a book called “Comment se defendere” in the 1900s mixing the styles known in his day.

    Maitre Roger Lafond, who at 80+ y/o is a 3rd-4th gen (?) savateur and he teaches savate, cane, staff and sword fencing, and his blend of wrestling and jujutsu called “panache” since WWII in France

    • Just a small correction here; Pierre Vigny was undoubtedly a self defence innovator in his own right, but he learned jujutsu from his colleagues at the Bartitsu Club, not before.

  6. The simpler you keep your style the better off you’ll be. Most of us never get into enough fights to need much sophistication and our chances of getting into it with say an MMA guy are slight. KISS will serve us better

    I’d probably select Krav Maga or a similar combative, mix in a little bit of Jujitsu or Wrestling for ground work and throws then season with some compliance holds.

    I tend to agree with the idea in KM that if you are on the ground the most important thing is to GET UP before you eat concrete or asphalt but a few basic breaks and throws can come in handy.

    The compliance holds are also useful. Small Circle Jujitsu in particular teaches them as do some other forms. Simply being able to put the hurt on someone can often end a fight

    Weapons training is less important but really stick and maybe yawara are the most useful. Using a knife is a quick trip to prison in most places but I suppose learning a bit of stick and move won’t hurt . The thing is you ain’t Bowie and the other guy ain’t Bridger so knife dueling like lots of people teach is out.

    Exotic stuff like weighted combat scarves, swords, cleavers and the like I leave to your discretion. I am not big on that sort of training except maybe and don’t laugh, using rocks. They aren’t powerful but a well aimed stone or one used as fist load can save a life.

  7. great post . thanks for sharing with us .

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