What is MMA? Simply put MMA is shorthand for Mixed Martial Arts. But what does that mean really?
Is this a new concept that developed after 1993 when Royce Gracie dominated the UFC with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and the martial arts world adapted this into their perspective styles. Is it when Helio Gracie developed Gracie Jiu Jitsu which was taught to the Gracie family from Mitsuo Maeda. Perhaps it was when Maeda trained under a top student of the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano. Looking even further maybe it was when Kano learned Japanese Ju Jutsu which was the primary throwing and grappling portion of an even earlier art called Aiki Jutsu. Where do we then say this system or that system is a mixed martial art or not.
Looking into almost every style of martial arts across the world we see the same patterns of outside influences.
Looking into the Karate styles for example we see that Okinawans learned fighting technique from the Chinese which most believe was the influence of White Crane Kung Fu styles. The Okinawan techniques were then refined and made to work for them as individuals and became proudly an Okinawan traditional martial art over time. Later the Samurai came to Okinawa to take control and Okinawans had the opportunity to not only use the art but also inadvertently show it to mainland Japan. The Samurai who had to fight against them were impressed by the skills they encountered. So we now see where Samurai fighting arts are incorporating Okinawan Karate into their system because they found it was useful. Many other styles like Shotokan and Kyokushin Karate later formed from this influence.
Also to note we also see the creation of styles like Aikido which was founded by Morihei Ueshiba who studied in the same Aiki Jutsu arts as Jigoro Kano. Yet they both created two very different systems of martial arts. In contrast styles like Taekwondo also developed from Shotokan Karate but today looks completely different.
Chinese Kung fu is no different or better in the same regards. Looking at my own style of Choy Lay Fut Kung the name itself is honoring the three different teachers that the founder learned from. The system was founded in 1836 by Chan Heung who studied under three different teachers. Each teacher taught him a certain aspect of Kung Fu which he was able to mix together in a cohesive way to make a complete fighting system that worked well for him. But even so as history went on some of his students, most notably Tarm Sarm, created unique lineages of Choy Lay Fut that had a different look and focus all together from what the original system may have been.
When we really look at what it means when we call something a mixed martial art what we need to actually realize is that it is simply an evolution of a style or system that is being influence or tested as time goes on. The sole purpose for martial arts at their core is to protect and defend yourself. So naturally if you have been doing something for many years and all of a sudden somebody comes and dominates you in a challenge match with something you have never seen before, you would want to learn what they have and incorporate it in your system in a way that makes sense.
When I see MMA in the media and I hear people say they study MMA it’s good to observe and understand what it is that they are doing. They are not reinventing the wheel of martial arts. They are simply taking styles and techniques that have been evolving for many years and making them useful for the application they are using them for. In most cases “MMA” as a “Style” is used in the sport context so they need their techniques to be geared towards that environment. But say 700 years ago in mainland Japan, what your MMA needed to be good at was using a sword to quickly cut a man down and survive during a challenge or real combat situation. The notion of doing anything other than studying the sword or archery was complete nonsense. This also applied to a lot of empty hand combat as well considering you always carried a sword.
MMA or Mixed Martial Arts have always been with us and will always be with us. We need to embrace it as a natural part of the life cycle of the martial arts. We need to remember that we must flow with the notion of MMA and not against it.