Friday, 9 March 2012

What is MMA ?

With the current Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) boom happening in South Africa, new people are being exposed to the sport on a daily basis. But what is this phenomenon called Mixed Martial Arts? How did it begin and how is it evolving in South Africa?

This history of Martial Arts
Martial arts, in various shapes and forms, have been a part of many cultures for centuries. Synonymous with the countries of Eastern Asia, but equally prominent in the Western world , these arts were traditionally developed as deadly combat systems. Over a period of many decades, these martial art systems were defined, studied, practised and revised with one goal, to make the most complete and efficient system of either self defence or attack. Though similar in their ultimate objectives, each art had unique elements, ideals and teachings.

Famous Traditional Eastern Martial Art Systems

Martial Art
Country of Origin
Kung Fu
Muay Thai

Famous Traditional Western Martial Art Systems

Martial Art
Country of Origin
United  Kingdom

As travelling became easier, these arts would spread across the globe. The more popular martial arts were nurtured and evolved, others faded away. Many too were taken to main stream audiences, and evolved into sports. This ease of access to different martial art systems brought with it new challenges as the industry became more competitive. Which system should one learn? Obviously the best system, but which martial art system was the best? There were too many factors and it ultimately came down to personal preference.

The Birth of Mixed Martial Arts
This answer was just not good enough for some people, and many took up the challenge of settling the debate once and for all. There were various approaches to doing this, which ran very much concurrently. The first approach was that of education. Martial Arts students began to cross pollinate and study each other’s arts. This sharing of knowledge ultimately lead to a mutual respect, where students identified that there was merit to each art.

One such practitioner was Bruce Lee, a Kung Fu legend who began to mix all forms of martial arts together into his own art, called Jeet Kune Do (JKD). This Hybrid martial arts system was ironically a break from the old mentality of systems. Bruce Lee simply “absorbed what was useful” from other arts and threw the rest away. This was essentially the beginning of the Mixed Martial Arts revolution.

The second approach was a lot simpler - let fighters from different systems fight, the winner would obviously be the best. Many backyard fights were conducted in the name of science, and results recorded, but they varied so much that no real resolution was achieved. Things however changed in nineties with the birth of the UFC. UFC 1 was a eight man single elimination tournament consisting of top fighters in various styles from across the world. The event was broadcast on PPV and was a huge success. Royce Gracie, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) practitioner won the tournament and put the spotlight onto his families martial art system. While this event somewhat achieved its goal of determining the best martial art, it did much more – it showed both strengths and weaknesses in almost every fighting style.

After UFC 1, fighters immediately began to learn other arts, in order to have a complete game. As the UFC began to evolve into the mainstream fighting brand that it is today, so too did the fighters, using a similar mantra to that of JKD’s “absorb what is useful”, begin to evolve into complete Mixed Martial Artists.

What is Mixed Martial Arts?
Today’s top MMA fighters are trained in a variety of traditional martial arts, mainly Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Coupled with this, they all train in a new sport called Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) which compiles them all together. MMA students are taught to deal with all possible situations likely to occur in a one on one regulated fight. This encompasses striking with all limbs, take-downs, wrestling and submissions.

MMA athletes are able to test their complete skills against a willing opponent in a controlled environment. For safety reasons, athletes traditionally fight within a cage and wear 4-6oz gloves. For a complete set of MMA rules click here

Globally the sport of MMA has exploded, and it is currently amongst the fastest growing sports in the world.

Mixed Martial Arts in South Africa
South Africa has some very strong roots in traditional martial arts like Karate, Kung Fu, Boxing, Wrestling and Judo. This gave us a great head start in creating great MMA athletes. From this foundation, South Africa has managed to accelerate the development of our Mixed Martial Arts  community. The sport however is still very young and this leaves a lot of room for growth. The continued success of MMA in South Africa will rely heavily on its ability to further penetrate the South African market and become a main stream sport. 

While there are various amateur and professional promotions hosting MMA events in South Africa, the major promotion is the EFC, which has taken the sport to new heights in Africa. Moving forward, the EFC will play a major role in further taking the sport of MMA to the unaware masses. This will be aided by the various feeder promotions, the coaches, instructors and fighters who live and love the sport and the current fans who have already made so much possible.


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