“Reality” and “The Ring”
Sensei’s Corner – June 2007
Recently there has been a surge in popularity of “Mixed Martial Arts”(MMA) competitions. It is interesting to see many modern martial arts and self-defense studios transitioning to a curriculum that consists largely of the techniques used in MMA. As the marketing and promotion of these sporting events would suggest, many individuals consider the fights as being close to reality. That is, many believe that the way fights happen in the octagon or ring is very similar to street or bar fights and that if someone is a tough fighter in competition, they must also be good in “real” fights. Although I am a huge fan of MMA, I strongly disagree with the assertion that fights in the ring are anything close to reality fighting.
To identify the most damaging and most effective street techniques one only needs to look at the list of tactics that are against the rules in MMA competition. A list is provided below (29 specific tactics are considered fouls by the Nevada State Athletic Commission)1. This list of rules demonstrates the gap between competition MMA and “real” fighting. Not only do MMA athletes not practice applying any of these tactics, but their defensive strategies assume that their opponent will not attempt them either. Both of these facts mean that an MMA fighter is training themselves to follow a set of tactics and rules that a “real” opponent would ignore.
In my early years of Judo training I experienced on more than one occasion an instructor who showed me a “sport” technique. These were techniques that only worked because the opponent had to violate a rule to counter it. Either he got a deduction for rule breaking or you got a point for the technique. One such tactic was to use the out-of-bounds line as a way to corner the opponent in such a way that he could not side-step your throw attempt without crossing the limit. Stepping out of bounds repeatedly was a foul. As you can imagine, these techniques and tactics intended as means to winning a game are far less effective (often worthless) in defeating a “real” opponent.
Likewise, even individuals who train in non-sporting, traditional martial arts often fall into the same limited thinking. It is not always obvious in kata or in kumite drills how to “fight dirty” in their application. How many instructors have shown you how to pull hair, bite, or grab and pull the opponent’s ear? If you have never considered or practiced executing such tactics, you are severely limiting your preparedness for a “real” attack. For hints on how to become a truly formidable target – someone that no criminal would attack twice – learn how to effectively execute some of the techniques listed below.
We must always remember that a real fight can never be recreated artificially. There is simply no way to recreate the intention, circumstances, and consequences of being attacked and defending yourself unless you truly have no regard for your safety or the safety of your training partners. You can, however, train your mind and body to be capable of executing the techniques you choose. Your mental and physical response will match the level and type of training you do regularly. Sparring and sporting competition may complement some of your training by developing coordination, endurance, and timing. But it will never fully prepare you to do what may be necessary to disable a determined attacker.
What happens in the ring is fun to watch and is often a great display of well-executed techniques. Please understand, I have the highest regard for those elite athletes who are capable of going 20+ minutes in full contact sparring and still have the wherewithal to execute a choke, arm bar, or accurate striking combination. However, we must resist the urge to call it “no holds barred” or “reality fighting” because, in truth, there are rules and artificial constraints. For those who only want the rush of adrenaline and physical challenge of combat sports, I fully acknowledge that MMA is a great pursuit. However, for those who are serious about developing self-defense capabilities, you must train yourself without the boundaries of rules and techniques designed to win points.
1The Nevada State Athletic Commission currently lists the following as fouls:
- Butting with the head.
- Eye gouging of any kind.
- Hair pulling.
- Fish hooking.
- Groin attacks of any kind.
- Putting a finger into any orifice or into any cut or laceration on an opponent. (see Gouging)
- Small joint manipulation.
- Striking to the spine or the back of the head. (see Rabbit punch)
- Striking downward using the point of the elbow. (see Elbow (strike))
- Throat strikes of any kind, including, without limitation, grabbing the trachea.
- Clawing, pinching or twisting the flesh.
- Grabbing the clavicle.
- Kicking the head of a grounded opponent.
- Kneeing the head of a grounded opponent.
- Stomping a grounded opponent.
- Kicking to the kidney with the heel.
- Spiking an opponent to the canvas on his head or neck. (see piledriver)
- Throwing an opponent out of the ring or fenced area.
- Holding the shorts or gloves of an opponent.
- Spitting at an opponent.
- Engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct that causes an injury to an opponent.
- Holding the ropes or the fence.
- Using abusive language in the ring or fenced area.
- Attacking an opponent on or during the break.
- Attacking an opponent who is under the care of the referee.
- Attacking an opponent after the bell (horn) has sounded the end of a round.
- Flagrantly disregarding the instructions of the referee.
- Timidity, including, without limitation, avoiding contact with an opponent, intentionally or consistently dropping the mouthpiece or faking an injury.
- Interference by the corner.
- Throwing in the towel during competition.
- Using a Foreign object in the ring to your advantage
– Sensei Don Seiler