5 Martial Arts that are underutilised in MMA
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), as the name suggests, is an all-inclusive form of combat sports competition; involving the usage of different striking and grappling martial arts.
Towards the end of the 20th century, as the wave of globalisation began, various martial artists from different parts of the world started travelling more liberally to foreign lands; in order to spread the message of their form of combat and establish its superiority over others.
With the advent of several martial arts movies, made popular by Hollywood, curiosity arose as to which martial art is supreme. Now, the first documented use of the term ‘Mixed Martial Arts’ can be traced back to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 1, by television critic, Howard Rosenberg, in 1993.
In the year 1980, CV Productions, Inc., created the first regulated MMA league in the United States of America. The promotion held tournaments in Pennsylvania, however, in 1983, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill, prohibiting the sport.
MMA first broke through in a fairly big manner, when the Gracie family brought Vale Tudo-styled martial arts competition to the US. Vale Tudo is a full contact combat sport, developed around the 1920s in Brazil.
Vale Tudo permits the usage of any martial art style in order to defeat one’s opponent. However, the version of Vale Tudo that the Gracie family began promoting in the US had several additional rules in order to ensure the safety of the combatants.
Several other safety measures and rules were, eventually, added to MMA, as a result of which, we have our wonderful sport of MMA; a global phenomenon in 2017.
MMA includes the usage of several notable martial arts such as boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, Tae Kwon Do, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), wrestling, judo, etc. These martial arts have several sub-categories within themselves.
Besides, several of these individual martial arts, namely boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, etc are extremely popular as individual sports, themselves; apart from their usage in MMA. Now, although MMA includes all martial arts, so to speak, there are a few notable exceptions.
Although martial arts styles such as Aikido, Krav Maga and Capoeira have a legitimate background, they are not used much by MMA fighters in professional or amateur MMA competition. Now, there is a laundry list of reasons behind this criminal underutilisation of these seemingly useful flashy martial arts.
Some of the aforementioned, flashy but underutilised martial arts are listed below:
Wushu comprises ‘Wu’ that means ‘martial’ or ‘military’ and ‘Shu’ that means ‘art’. Wushu is an exhibition as well as full-contact sport. It is derived from the traditional Chinese martial arts. Wushu involves the usage of both, striking as well as grappling.
Wushu, as a sport, is divided into two main categories- ‘Taolu’ (forms) and ‘Sanda’ (sparring). Taolu involves the exhibition of various martial arts manoeuvres, with the main focus on form. These manoeuvres include punches, kicks, elbows, knees, sweeps, jumps and throws.
The display of various external manoeuvres lasts around one minute, whereas, the display of internal manoeuvres, focusing on one’s ‘Chi’ or ‘spiritual energy’, lasts up to 5 minutes. This brings us to the full-contact part of Wushu, known as ‘Sanda’ or ‘Sanshou’.
Sanda is a fighting method and sport that uses techniques derived from traditional Chinese boxing, Chinese wrestling methods such as Shuai Jiao, and other Chinese grappling methods such as Chin Na. Although Sanda may appear to be like kickboxing or Muay Thai, it involves several grappling manoeuvres in addition to stand-up fighting techniques.
Sanda fights are held alongside Taolu and other form-centered Wushu exhibitions. Sanda is a legitimate art that has practical applications in self-defence scenarios.
Now, as far as the application of Wushu in MMA is concerned, several Asian Wushu practitioners have utilised Wushu as their martial arts base, whilst competing in Japanese MMA promotions. A small number of Wushu practitioners have also competed at the regional level in small MMA promotions, in the US.
Besides the sport of MMA, Wushu practitioners have also applied their art in K-1 kickboxing competition. However, due to the limited usage of grappling in kickboxing competition, Sanda fighters don’t get the opportunity to exhibit their complete skill-set in K-1.
As far as MMA is concerned, no notable Wushu practitioners have made it to the big leagues in MMA. Even the now-defunct PRIDE FC, and former PRIDE FC President Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s new Japanese MMA (JMMA) promotion, RIZIN Fight Federation, do not have any notable Wushu-based fighters.
In fact, in MMA competition, most Wushu practitioners who transition from Sanda to MMA, prefer learning more mainstream martial arts such as boxing, Muay Thai and wrestling in order to compete in MMA.
Now, there are a few critical reasons as to why Wushu hasn’t broken through as the next hot trend in MMA gyms. An important reason behind this is the flashiness behind several Wushu Taolu techniques. Taolu is the exhibition part of Wushu, however, Taolu forms the base around which Wushu fighters base their Sanda (full-contact sparring).
The Taolu methods that young Wushu practitioners imbibe into their fighting style would serve to increase the flashiness of their moves in an MMA cage. However, an important point to be noted is that Taolu exhibitions last for about 20 seconds to 1 minute, while MMA fights last about three five-minute rounds in regular bouts and five five-minute rounds for main events and title fights.
Now, in order to keep up the usage of the flashy Wushu techniques, one must maintain a hectic pace throughout the course of the 15 or 25-minute MMA fight. And this feat, in turn, requires super-human abilities because unlike Taolu exhibitions; your opponent isn’t simply going to stand in front of you.
The flashy techniques may look impressive but drain a combatant’s cardio, plus the opponent can see a 900 degree flying attack coming from the Wushu fighter and either evade the telegraphed attack and move away or evade the attack and land a counter-attack.
Now, coming to the grappling applications of Wushu in MMA, Wushu practitioners deserve credit for some slick throw and sweep techniques. However, an important requirement for these throws is that the Wushu fighter must be able to successfully close the distance on his MMA opponent.
Furthermore, executing a Wushu-style sweep on an MMA fighter with a life-long wrestling background would prove to be a mammoth task for the Wushu fighter. The reason behind this is the strong base that wrestling training provides a combatant, plus, the low centre of gravity that most decent wrestlers possess.
This, in turn, makes it difficult for a Wushu fighter to take down a wrestler. Furthermore, when it comes to submission wrestling in MMA, the different forms of Jiu Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) in particular, trumps the submission techniques taught in Wushu.
The submission offence and defence trained by a BJJ prodigy involves joint locks and chokes, among other techniques. However, in Wushu sparring (Sanda), the joint locks and chokes are usually restricted, in order to avoid injury to the sparring partners.
Nevertheless, Wushu is a legitimate martial art form and needs to be respected. That said, the incorporation of the non-flashy techniques of Wushu in MMA is a definite possibility. Being well-schooled in distance management, Wushu students can use this as an advantage to develop themselves as complete MMA fighters.
Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art. In layman’s terms, ‘Ki’ implies spirit/spiritual force and ‘Do’ implies the art of executing a given job. Put together, ‘Aikido’ implies the ‘Way of combining forces’. Aikido involves the usage of both striking as well as grappling.
However, it is mainly a defensive martial art. The whole point of Aikido is to defend against an attacker, whilst ensuring the safety of yourself as well as the attacker. This, in turn, has been a big drawback of Aikido, especially in a real-life physical confrontation and self-defense scenario.
Aikido’s primary focus is the neutralisation of the situation. Instead of initiating the attack, an Aikido practitioner will wait for his opponent’s move and time his opponent’s attack in order to counter. Aikido requires its practitioners to use the force generated by the opponent’s attack, and direct that very force in a given direction in order to place the opponent in a neutral position.
Aikido involves several joint lock techniques, drags, strikes to critical places and pinning one’s opponent on the ground, to neutralise threats. Now, Aikido has several striking techniques as well. However, these striking techniques are derived from various other striking arts such as karate, boxing, etc.
As a result of this, Aikido striking techniques are considered to be rudimentary and lack the finesse of the traditional striking arts. Aikido does involve techniques where the practitioner can initiate a grappling or striking attack on his opponent.
However, these techniques are limited to versions of a traditional punch or karate chop, with the emphasis on maintaining focus on one’s ‘Ki’ (life force/spiritual force).
As far as Aikido practitioners in MMA are concerned, there aren’t many, so to speak. Barring a guest appearance from Hollywood actor Steven Seagal as an MMA fan, there aren’t other notable Aikido practitioners to be spotted in the MMA community.
Aikido is one of the most widely criticised martial arts in today’s world. The main reason for this criticism of Aikido is that it lacks an actual full-combat experience.
Now, let us place an Aikido practitioner inside an MMA cage and study the clash of styles.
Since no Aikido practitioners have made it to the big leagues in MMA as of yet, let’s assume that a decent Aikido artist steps inside the cage. The key word here is assume. Every MMA fight starts on the feet, and since Aikido practitioners rely on their opponent initiating the attack, the MMA fighter has the first chance to strike.
Another important fallacy of Aikido is the lack of spatial movement in the Aikido training sessions. Now, mind you, Aikido practitioners have good pivoting skills and are trained to turn in different directions, in order to fend off multiple attackers. However, MMA involves a whole lot of lateral movement, and this movement comes from one opponent only.
Not multiple opponents. In an Aikido training scenario, the ‘tori’ (practitioner) is supposed to execute techniques on the ‘uke’ (opponent). Now, both the tori and uke have their designated movements and steps, like a dance session.
However, in an MMA fight, the Aikido practitioner cannot expect his opponent to inform him about his movement and entry patterns, beforehand. This, in turn, gives the MMA fighter a significant advantage in the striking battle.
Now, let’s assume that, somehow, the Aikido fighter gets the MMA opponent to the ground. In that case, the Aikido practitioner can lock on a submission attempt on his MMA opponent. This, right here, is a scenario where the Aikido practitioner has a legitimate chance of winning the MMA fight.
However, most MMA fighters being well-schooled in BJJ, know the art of defending joint locks. Furthermore, Aikido techniques such as the usage of karate chops to an attacker’s neck and punches to an attacker’s chest are banned in MMA.
Besides, even if the Aikido practitioner manages to land the aforementioned karate chop or punch, they would be telegraphed due to the lack of live-sparring experience of Aikido practitioners. If there’s one lesson from Aikido that a martial artist can utilise in an MMA fight, it is the mental training aspect of Aikido.
This mental training involves focusing on keeping oneself calm in a dangerous situation, relaxing one’s body while falling to the ground, among several other training drills that are focused on strengthening one’s mind.
#3 Jeet Kune Do
Jeet Kune Do was founded in Seattle Washington, USA in 1964. Jeet Kune Do, or JKD as it is known as today, was originally called Jun Fan Gung Fu. The term ‘Jun Fan Gung Fu’ was derived from Bruce Lee’s Chinese name Lee Jun-Fan.
JKD is a modern Kung Fu style that was developed by Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto. It is essential to note that Lee had always stated that JKD is not a traditional martial art style. He deemed JKD to be the usage of whatever martial art techniques one has learnt over one’s life.
Unlike traditional Kung Fu styles, where martial arts outside of the Kung Fu styles were considered inferior, JKD involves the usage of any and every method of the art of fighting. Lee emphasised on realism in fighting and severely condoned the rigidity of traditional martial arts.
According to Lee, the traditional martial arts styles that lay excessive focus on one’s stance were like ‘dry water swimming’. He stated that a martial artist should be able to dodge and counter his opponent’s attacks, from any angle and any stance.
There are a few essential points that make JKD stand apart from most traditional martial art forms. Some of them are as follows-
The Straight Lead punch was anointed by Lee as the most essential and dynamic strike in JKD. The lead hand in JKD is supposed to be held in an extended jabbing position, and its usage must be focused on speed more than power.
The thing about the straight lead in JKD, as opposed to boxing or Muay Thai, is that the Lee encouraged the punch to be thrown from any angle, regardless of the stance. Secondly, Lee’s main focus was always on keeping the strike simple and non-telegraphed.
JKD focuses on explosiveness and emphasises sudden, non-telegraphed movements. Any kind of twitching, curling or loading up is discouraged in JKD. The emphasis is on throwing a strike from whatever position you are in, in relation to your opponent.
Lee’s philosophy ‘Be like water’ is further emphasised in JKD. JKD encourages its practitioners to be fluid, dynamic and free-minded. Lee always stated that fighting is dynamic and changes from moment to moment.
JKD discourages rigidity and technical restrictions, whilst encouraging open-mindedness, along with the usage of fighting techniques from whatever martial art one loves. The emphasis is on tagging the opponent with a strike that reaches him in the least amount of time, with the maximum amount of force.
JKD encourages one to use techniques that are simple and teaches its students to use simple moves in a fight. JKD teaches its students to use straightforward manoeuvres more than flashy techniques. Another important teaching of JKD is ‘Interception’.
In order to hit you, an opponent has to reach you. In the process of reaching you to attack you, the opponent gives you an opportunity to intercept him and counter. JKD states that merely blocking an attack isn’t enough. Instead, a JKD practitioner is encouraged to evade and counter his opponent.
Furthermore, JKD emphasises parrying rather than blocking. If avoiding a strike isn’t a viable option, JKD teaches its students to parry the opponent’s strikes and counter the opponent with a lead punch or lead kick.
This brings us to yet another important point in JKD; kicks. JKD focuses on low kicks and leg kicks, targeted at the opponent’s shins, knees, thighs and calves. The reason behind this is the JKD principle of throwing strikes that travel to your opponent in the least amount of time.
However, like all of the JKD principles, nothing is set in stone; JKD allows its students to use whatever strike works best, provided that the opportunity presents itself. JKD also involves the usage of trapping one’s opponents and grappling. Grappling techniques in JKD involve the usage of several Jiu Jitsu submission techniques.
JKD sounds like a great option for an aspiring MMA fighter. So the question that arises is, why aren’t MMA fighters training extensively in JKD like they do in boxing, BJJ, etc?
The answer behind this lies in the theory of JKD propagated by Lee. Lee had stated that JKD is not a traditional Kung Fu style, therefore, readily borrows effective techniques from various other martial arts such as boxing, Jiu Jitsu, etc.
One can safely assume that several basic techniques in JKD are borrowed from other martial arts such as Wing Chun, karate and traditional Kung Fu, among others.
Secondly, although the basic premise of JKD is excellent (the theory that one must only use the strikes that reach the target in the minimum amount of time), JKD shares this belief with virtually every other martial art.
Add to this the fact that JKD borrows footwork and movement from traditional Kung Fu styles, and most JKD students realise that JKD is basically just a cocktail of all ancient Kung Fu styles. Therefore, one can learn traditional Kung Fu and learn footwork and fighting stance rather than simply rely on one’s reflexes.
JKD has the pre-requisition of having excellent, cat-like reflexes. This is something that is not necessarily possessed by every JKD practitioner. This, in turn, serves to further reduce the effectiveness of JKD inside an MMA cage.
If an MMA fighter stands with a JKD practitioner, they have a chance at catching the JKD fighter off-balance due to the absence of a proper stance in JKD. And on the mat, MMA fighters being proficient in BJJ, can overcome the basic holds and pins of a JKD fighter.
Nevertheless, the principles of JKD are built on a strong foundation. Even though JKD itself doesn’t have much practical usage in an MMA cage, the aforementioned principles of JKD can definitely be imbibed by MMA fighters in order to provide a strong killer instinct inside the cage. JKD is an all-inclusive martial art.
The term ‘Capoeira’ is derived from the Tupi words ka’a (jungle) and e puer (it was). A capoeira practitioner is referred to as ‘Capoeirista’. Capoeira was developed in the colonial era in Brazil by fugitive African slaves.
Capoeira combines the elements of dance, acrobatics and music. The main focus of capoeira is rhythm. The ‘Ginga’ is the most important movement in Capoeira. Ginga means to rock back and forth, in order to swing. The two main objectives of the Ginga movement are- being in a state of constant motion and tricking one’s opponent by faking attacks.
Capoeira has two main divisions and one newly formed style- ‘Capoeira Angola’, ‘Capoeira Regional’ and the newly formed ‘Capoeira Contemporanea’. Modern Capoeira practitioners mainly focus on acrobatics and highly mobile body movements, with the main focus on flashiness.
However, as an art of fighting, Capoeira has its uses, owing to the sheer amount of agility that capoeira drills afford its practitioners.
Now, let us assume a scenario where a capoeira fighter faces an MMA fighter. First the stand-up battle, then the grappling. Capoeira involves a lot of Ginga movement, which is extremely energy-draining. The constant swinging tires out the fighter.
A big example of a former capoeira practitioner fading into the later rounds of his fights is Conor McGregor. McGregor has a boxing background. However, he has also trained in the art of Capoeira like a few other MMA fighters such as Anderson Silva and Thiago Santos.
However, when it comes to the actual usage of Capoeira moves inside the MMA cage, none of the aforementioned practitioners exhibits much of their Capoeira manoeuvres. Instead, they rely more on traditional boxing and Muay Thai techniques. Now, coming back to McGregor, McGregor used a few capoeira kicks in his UFC 196 loss to Nate Diaz.
He tagged Diaz early in the boxing exchanges. However, once McGregor switched up from boxing to Capoeira inside the cage, his cardio was severely drained in a matter of a couple of minutes. An MMA fight lasts for just a couple of minutes.
Plus unlike a Capoeira exhibition match, the fighters do not merely aim to chain an entire dance sequence to simply land one strike. In MMA, energy conservation is extremely important. That said, in the UFC 202 rematch between Diaz and McGregor, McGregor went back to his boxing roots and outpointed Diaz.
He avoided the usage of capoeira kicks. Instead of spinning capoeira kicks, McGregor used the straightforward Muay Thai roundhouse kick to chop down Diaz’s legs. One can safely assume that in the stand-up battle between an MMA fighter and a Capoeirista, all other variables being fairly similar, the cardio advantage goes to the MMA fighter.
Besides, flying, spinning Capoeira moves put the Capoeira fighter at the risk of being countered. Capoeira spinning attacks besides being energy-consuming also open up one’s defence to several powerful counters, that range from a simple boxing 1-2 to a roundhouse head kick.
This brings us to the grappling aspect of Capoeira. Capoeira includes several explosive takedown manoeuvres. However, the ground game aspect of Capoeira is exceeded by the technical evolution of BJJ. In case the fight between the Capoeirista and MMA fighter goes to the ground, the MMA fighter’s strong BJJ base gives him the advantage on the mat.
An MMA fighter’s submission attempts off of his back are far more varied than that of a capoeirista.
An important point to be considered, regarding the application of capoeira in MMA, is that capoeira is not capable of being implemented by every martial arts practitioner. Capoeira has the pre-requisite of being extremely athletic and highly mobile.
On the other hand, BJJ, karate, etc help their practitioners develop skills, even if they aren’t particularly great athletes. Therefore, although MMA fighters such as McGregor and Silva may practice Capoeira outside MMA, its utilisation inside the cage is quite limited.
#1 Krav Maga
‘Krav Maga’ implies ‘contact combat’ in Hebrew. ‘Krav’ implies combat, and ‘Maga’ implies contact. Krav Maga was, initially developed as a self-defense system for Jewish refugees against anti-Semites.
Later on, this self-defense system was refined and modified, in order to be used by the police and armed forces in Israel. Krav Maga is extensively used by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Krav Maga includes the usage of techniques from boxing, wrestling, judo, aikido, etc.
In Krav Maga, the primary focus is ending the fight as quickly as possible. Primary targets for Krav Maga strikes include the eyes, nose, throat, face, solar plexus, neck, groin, feet, fingers, liver and kidneys. The main aim is to deliver a brutal and debilitating strike to one’s opponent and incapacitate him instantly.
Several Krav Maga manoeuvres are banned in professional combat sports competition such as MMA, professional boxing, etc; owing to the potentially fatal results of Krav Maga manoeuvres.
Now, let’s assume a Krav Maga practitioner steps into the cage against an MMA professional. First of all, with most Krav Maga moves being banned, the MMA fighter holds the edge, both in the stand-up as well as the ground game.
Furthermore, with most Krav Maga striking and grappling techniques being borrowed from boxing, wrestling and other traditional martial arts, the MMA fighter holds the edge on the feet as well as on the ground.
Nevertheless, one thing that differentiates Krav Maga from the four other martial arts highlighted in this list, is that Krav Maga can be fatal. Now, any form of fighting has the potential of causing bodily harm or death. However, most martial arts emphasise on simply neutralising one’s opponent, whilst ensuring minimum bodily harm to the said opponent.
On the other hand, Krav Maga doesn’t operate on this philosophy. Most of the basic Krav Maga manoeuvres are aimed at debilitating one’s opponent and causing the opponent grievous bodily harm to the point of serious injury or beyond. Krav Maga is considered by many martial artists around the world as an effective but dishonourable style of fighting.
Many Krav Maga manoeuvres such as groin shots and eye rakes are considered to be cowardly acts and a disrespectful method of fighting.
That said, Krav Maga is an effective art of fighting. Although many Krav Maga manoeuvres are banned in MMA competition, the basic premise of Krav Maga (ending fights as quickly as possible) is effective.
The killer instinct of the Krav Maga practitioners would serve them well inside an MMA cage, if they also develop basic proficiency at traditional martial arts such as boxing, BJJ, etc.
Regardless of their lack of utilisation in the sport of MMA, the fighting arts of Wushu, Aikido, Jeet Kune Do, Capoeira and Krav Maga are after all; martial arts. They deserve every bit of respect that is given to the more traditional martial arts such as boxing, BJJ, etc.
As of today, they may be underutilised in MMA, but look out for more fighters from these aforementioned arts transitioning to the sport of MMA. That said, if a Krav Maga practitioner or JKD stylist ends up capturing UFC gold inside the Octagon. Don’t be surprised!
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