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.