Is Mixed Martial Arts an art unto itself or the just sum of its parts? I have long gone with the former, but the issue is more complex than that. Martial arts specialise in different areas of a conflict. Although it is true that there are many examples of comprehensive systems of combat, all these arts will orientate towards one area. MMA doesn’t. In fact, it goes through trends. For a long time the Vale Tudo influence made MMA a ground-fighting sport. Extra rules, designed to promote matches more to the liking of a lay audience had an impact on this reducing this area. However, we shouldn’t discount the fact that wrestlers helped develop a solid base from which MMA’s hallmarks of sprawl ‘n brawl and ground ‘n pound have emerged. In the past decade or so it has become a stand-up game, often resembling a “dirty” version of kickboxing, but there have been more than enough exceptions to show this isn’t a permanent fixture.
MMA can be roughly divided into its three ranges – stand-up, clinch and ground. All of these ranges rely on certain base arts. Stand-up is largely dominated by Muay Thai and Western Boxing, but there is notable influence from Dutch Kickboxing and some other styles of kickboxing and even semi-contact combat sports. Clinch is pretty much owned by Freestyle and Greco-Roman Wrestling, but Muay Thai lends a distinctive element. Ground-fighting is nearly all Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but there has taken on a board a fair amount of the previously mentioned wrestling styles as well as the rarely trained Catch Wrestling. Other arts have contributed to these ranges, but at least rudimentary knowledge of these arts underlines the vast majority of professional MMA competitors.
Each of the ranges changes to some degree when put in an MMA context. Stand-up, which is affected the least by the other ranges, still has to adapt its stance for kicks and takedowns. A western boxer’s typical stance is just asking to be kicked or ankle-picked. The shallower Muay Thai stance is open to a strong shoot. Not only kicks, but punches can be trapped and grabbed for effectively when an opponent wears MMA gloves rather than the boxing gloves. The clinch range, many ways, can determine a fight. A good grappler can crowd a striker and then not let go of him. Equally, he can defend strongly against someone who wants to take the fight to the ground, either by not allowing this to happen or allowing it to happen on his own terms. However, a clincher who can strike effectively whilst being clinched and whilst clinching is a dangerous adversary. The ground game is often dictated by a strong submission fighter, but the wrestler has great experience in keeping off his back, and maintaining a strong structure. The entire dynamic changes once again when strikes are introduced. If you think no-gi is a faster and a more urgent game than gi, then try it with the strikes added!
So the ranges need to be trained within their respective disciplines and then brought together. The real art of MMA is working on effectively transitioning and overlapping. Fight getting fixated or self-centred with your game-learn. Learn to adapt to situations and to get your opponent to play to your strengths. So, yes, MMA is more than the sum of its parts and it is its own art. However, although it can be trained holistically I advise all students to learn those parts individually first before combining them. Recently this particular client has been focusing on how to bring it all together.
Tonight, after our usual mobility and callisthenic warm-up, we worked through some freestyle drilling. This began with one-for-one striking moving onto neck-wrestling, under-hook pummelling and takedown entries, gradually building up to grip fighting, flow-rolling and then all with added strikes. Beginning at 30% level of intensity where everything was compliant we went up to around 55% intensity, which is what I call light sparring. This type of progressive work is excellent for developing elements such as more flow and transitioning between ranges, as well as building confidence to try certain combinations and techniques. It requires a lot of trust with a partner who has the same objective as you.
We then looked at feigning, which is the proposed theme for the next few lessons. Tonight we concentrated only on the stand-up range. Here worked on an unusual Muay Thai combination that adapts well to MMA. The fighter feigns with a rear leg round kick, which he changes to a teep and then follows up with a superman punch. It requires a fair amount of coordination off one side of the body.
Photography by Charlotte Von Bulow Quirk taken in 2013. Featuring Tony Hughes and Jamie Clubb. Photoshoot taken for “Mordred’s Victory” and the upcoming books”When Parents Aren’t Around” and “Bullshitsu”.