Riz's Martial Arts Training

IconMore Chi ? ...Train harder!

The Difference Between MMA & Self Defence

Not so long ago, terms such as 'Karate' or 'Kung Fu' were synonymous with self defence. Indeed a black belt was revered as a master of what appeared to be mystical arts showcasing inhuman feats of strength, aggression, and agility - maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but the belief that black belts could defend themselves to almost superhuman levels was fairly widespread.

The MMA scene reduced these superhumans to mere mortals wearing funny white pyjamas...some of these masters became laughing stocks for the world to see. People became hugely sceptical of the vast majority of Traditional Martial Arts (especially any 'Internal' Arts), which was only natural given the situation and frankly, a lack of public understanding regarding martial arts, sport combat, and self defence scenarios.

Though, I'm sure this issue must have by now been addressed in-depth by a plethora of knowledgeable martial artists more articulate than me, I'm going to explain the topic from my understanding. MMA fighters are immensely talented individuals; the sport is easily one of the most demanding of those commonly practiced in the world today. However, MMA (really, I mean Combat Sport in general) is not self defence training - MMA is a rule set.

The Basics

Let's start by examining the differences between ring fighting and a simple brawl. In my opinion the key difference is 'emotional content' (as phrased by Bruce Lee). While aggression and getting fired up is common in MMA, they are not akin to the anger and the intent as presented in a self defence situation. A MMA fight is not personal (in most cases!), self defence is nothing but personal - allow me to clarify at this point, a fight is not self defence; a fight (even just a drunken street fight) requires both (or more) parties to, at least subconsciously, agree to the confrontation. 

Self defence revolves around survival - it is the necessary response to an attack of malicious intent. The victim (for lack of a more apt termis not in the mental mindset to fight. As such, self defence isn't about winning, it's about not losing (...your life).

(Of course, I fully concur that what starts as self defence can easily develop into a fight, and that fight can then continue into an attack on the original attacker once the 'fight' is over. But I think the point at hand is clear...)

The devastating effects of a 'sucker punch' are well-known. World class fighters have been knocked unconscious by an unexpected punch before or after their fight - in many of these occasions, the so-called 'knockout punch' would hardly have phased the fighter during the course of the fight (probably because of the adrenaline dump powering him on) - a clear warning isn't always available in street encounters. This leads to the next factor, matchmaking.

All Combat Sports involve some form of preceding matchmaking. Matches are usually made according to weights and comparative abilities. For example, you would be matched against someone of around the same weight (5-10 lbs either way) and of a relatively comparable skill level in order to ensure the safety of fighters as well as in hopes of securing an exciting match. i.e. If I became an MMA competitor, I wouldn't have to ever worry about fighting Fedor unless he or I respectively lost or gained substantial weight (and I by some miracle was deemed to be worthy of the Fedor's fists).

Destiny/Luck (or lack thereof;) is what determines your opponent in a self defence situation (and to some extent in a 'standard' street fight/brawl) - you could be fighting a 'moronic meathead' (standard training dummy) or you could be positioned against a trained fighter on amphetamines.

Combat Sports prepare you to focus exclusively on your opponent and ignore any distractions occurring outside of the ring/octagon/mats etc -not a very helpful skill should any passerby/witness choose to join in the attack (scarily, this is a relatively common occurrance!). You are prepared to react only when you know an attack is coming; your guard is already up. Street situations do not allow for this luxury, which is why most traditional martial arts dedicate years to slowly cultivating a state of relaxed alertness, referred to as Zanshin ("remaining mind") in Japanese arts. Jean-Claude Van Damme famously positioned himself for a barrage of insults following his Franglais assertion, Je suis AWARE.

Of course, Zanshin isn't quite a Spidey Sense - it is simply a healthy awareness of one's surroundings developed through training different forms of kumite ("sparring") and other such exercises. It is not a trait exclusive to Japanese martial arts practitioners by any means; most seasoned bouncers and security personnel develop zanshin unconsciously whilst on-the-job.

Self defence (or street fights in general) do not involve any kind of regulations - the gloves are off (pardon the pun) and anything is legal. Biting, pinching, eye-gouging, hair pulling and striking to the groin are examples that scratch the surface of the attack possibilities present in a street fight than do not coincide with MMA training. I'm not suggesting that MMA fighters are unable to perform these techniques, I'm saying that such techniques may be less instinctive to an MMA fighter than to say, a Krav Maga expert (...that said, Krav Maga in my opinion, is one of those few styles that can easily result in the victim being given a longer prison sentence than the assailant). 

Furthermore, there is no determined time limit to the fight. While most fights are believed to last between 90 and 180 seconds (longer when groups are involved), most self defence situations are resolved (for good or bad) within a minute. 

Remember: A situation can end following a simple slip of the feet; there is no canvas ring/octagon - one could hit his head on the curb. Many deaths have occurred from falls in street fights.

Let's talk about equipment - most safety equipment used in combat sports is for the sake of both fighters. Wearing gloves reduce the risk of breaking your knuckles or hand-bone (in case the punch lands on your opponent's elbow or square on his forehead); gloves also provide support to the wrists which are known to buckle under impact or falls. When on the receiving end, gloves reduce the risk of being cut or breaking any facial bones; while increasing the chance of being knocked out - in fact, this was one of the primary reasons to introduce heavier gloves into boxing. Prior to this, many of the blows that now usually result in knockouts would more likely result in broken teeth, cheekbones, noses...but no knockout. 

There is also a factor of the equipment not used in MMA - knives, guns, bats, bottles, chairs etc. Regardless of one's training, a weapon in the attacker's possession always complicates matters - relatively speaking, very few people (even those trained in weapon-based styles) would feel comfortable when the pointy end is facing them. Whilst many martial artists may have some experience training against weapons (or at the least, understand how the rules of a fight change completely when weapons are involved), pure Combat Sport fighters have no experience in such occurrences (unless they've looked into it personally). 

Groundfighting in Self Defence

Groundfighting (while necessary to know...to an extent) is its own jar of sour pickles when it comes to self defence. For a start, on the ground you're vulnerable to damage from anything that's on the ground - if you're in a bar or club, this could involve broken bottles; or if you're on the roadside, this could be sharp rocks or sand getting kicked in your face. 

Tackling multiple assailants whilst standing is an impressive feat - even if you're not able to beat them, you may be able to bump and shove them before making a dash (...you could always take a page out of Musashi's book and try fighting them in a doorway or narrow alley...though this is tenuous at best) - Doing it whilst on your back is a near impossibility (unless your assailants are completely and utterly incompetent...no, I mean more hapless than those guys from the Home Alone movies - what? it's Christmas, it's on TV all the time) - even Rickson Gracie made the clear point that if you roll with two guys that are determined to beat you, one way or another you're going to lose (I should point out here though, that he also stated that if you use BJJ correctly, in most self defences situations - you'll remain standing whilst your assailant is 'rolling'). Groundfighting is great on the mats, but realise that it is learnt only as a necessary precaution in self defence. 

And I say the following out of pure speculation (but it makes some sense to me): If it is a female that has been attacked in what could be a potential rape situation, pulling the attacker into closed guard may only arouse him more - certainly, the arousal may be short-lived if the defender breaks his arm a moment later but, I imagine that short period of arousal against the woman's body may leave some emotional scarring that simply kicking your attacker in the balls and running away would not. ...Just speculation....This of course won't be true in many cases....

The Disclaimer

This is the part where I tell you that I have absolutely nothing but respect and admiration for Mixed Martial Arts and its practitioners. I'm not saying in any way that MMA isn't effective in self defence - in many ways, MMA practitioners are much more prepared for self defence situations than many so-called TMA artists. MMA practitioners tend to have higher levels of fitness and better body conditioning as well as being accustomed to the full contact nature of street encounters (though randori or jissen are often talked about, relatively few TMA schools really devote sufficient time to their training - though I hasten to add, this doesn't necessarily refer to no time limit, no-holds-barred-to-the-death-style training...but rather to training techniques in a variety of situations against a moderately resisting opponent who is able to counter and/or break attempts at attack). 

I'm not interested in arguing which is better - that's really just a matter of personal opinion as to which discipline better fulfils your personal goals (the assumption of a linear comparison is not really well thought out anyways). Personally, I see relatively little difference between MMA and TMA - to me, MMA isn't really a style of martial arts but rather the utilisation of different aspects of TMAs to function under a rule set (I'm not too fond of these new guys who have no background in any one style/particular strength but are just 'okay' at everything...). 

The major difference I find is that TMA's are not for fighting - they are primarily for self defence. As such, they both have extraordinarily different learning curves (that is, MMA can be learnt faster but will not help you as much when you get older; TMAs are much slower to learn but can still be very effectively utilised when you've passed your physical prime). 

Fighting is an integral aspect to both disciplines, but for TMAs, it is something that follows self defence - it does not define 'self defence'. And that's really the message I'm trying to get across in this very long post. While Combat Sports can be very effective for self defence, their practices are not an example of self defence; there are other effective options available given that they are trained correctly. 


Post a Comment 2 comments:

Ikigai said...


Thanks very much for stopping by my blog. This is my first stop into yours, but I look forward to following your posts.

Matt "Ikigai"

December 30, 2008 at 6:06 AM

Loren P said...

It is really hard to write things these days without offending someone. Good job on that disclaimer. I feel that needs to be a mandatory thing for people on Facebook. Great post and awesome info!

Loren P | London Fight Factory

November 8, 2016 at 12:21 PM

Post a Comment