Why I love Mixed Martial Arts - by Humberto Perea
One of the reasons I love MMA over all other martial arts is because it truly is the skeptic’s martial art. MMA is the experiment that showed and continues to show which martial art truly works. The short answer is that none of them truly worked, we had to mix elements of all of them to form a comprehensive system that produces well-rounded fighters. Gone is the mentality that a particular martial art is a sacred thing forged through time to be presented as a perfect system brought to us by sacred people. Instead, it is clear that non-traditional arts (like wrestling) had to be mixed with more traditional ones (like Karate). The mentality of staying with one style had to be replaced with the Bruce Lee mentality of ‘just take what works.’ MMA is not a singular style, but rather, the evolution of all these fighting systems combined.
The isolation and insularity of martial arts happened, I believe, because of something that is very human - nostalgia. There was, and still is, a mentality that these ancient humans possessed some sort of sacred knowledge and we should look to them to teach us the “truest and most traditional style.” Humans tend to believe that the past was somehow better, despite having wildly inaccurate interpretations of how things actually were at that time. Samurais, for example, were a military elitist class in a highly segregated caste society. The Samurai code, or Bushido, was a nebulous group of rules that samurais would rarely ever follow, it was meant to protect the privileges of this military class over the general populace. Yet in the 1920-30’s, Japan used this myth of a “samurai code” as propaganda to bolster the peoples’ belief in the strength of Japan’s military. This snowballed into the atrocities Japan inflicted during the Sino-Japanese War & World War II. Yet even after Japan’s defeat, Japanese cinema and stories still fed the myth of this code and the idea of the Samurai we still see today (you can read about all this in Oleg Benesch’s “Inventing the Way of the Samurai”). You can say the same about cowboys and the Old West. We picture gunslingers, pioneers and battles with Indians, mostly what we remember from movies. But, if you watch Ken Burns’ documentary “The West”, it paints a far different picture and reminds us that the image we have is from a traveling circus show that was later brought to the cinema.
This also happened with martial arts. Arguments over who had the best style lead to isolation and an atmosphere of blind loyalty. It stopped being about practicality, and instead mostly focused on what the instructors felt were important and enjoyed. When our films showed fights, they copied these ideas and cinema fed us the myth of the unstoppable karate master, which karate instructors everywhere also played into. Nothing against these martial arts, I think anyone can practice what they want (even MMA is just as impractical if a gun is introduced in a fight). It was only through experimenting that this isolation was broken and MMA came to be. Some of the top MMA fighters today are still experimenting. They often go to different gyms, learn different styles and moves, compete against different opponents, and it helps them grow. On a recent trip to California, I trained in a couple of different gyms, and multiple people asked me about moves I did, and I asked the same from them. I showed them some pressure passes; they showed me some leg locks. In this, we all grew.
I now look for instructors who share the ideal of experimentation with new techniques. I look for instructors who don’t force me to bow or call them sir, and instead ask their students for friendship and equal partnership to help both grow in their chosen sport. I give them respect because they treat me like an equal and respect me. I believe this is martial arts in its truest form - when we are open to new and different ideas from different people who have all had different experiences. Traditional martial arts always pushed out new ideas, rather than embrace them, and MMA came along to show us that rejecting something new could get you choked, thrown, punched, etc. in new and exciting ways isolated, traditional martial artists just weren’t prepared for.
If you take anything from this, I hope it is that you seek an instructor who respects you and doesn’t think they are better than you just because they have trained longer. There is a difference between blindly following an authority figure and true respect, and we should not confuse the two. Martial Arts is a wondrous thing, but do not believe it so great that it can make someone else greater than you. We should not be held hostage to the Dogma of Nostalgia.