Sunday, September 02, 2007

That's Entertainment!


For the most part, the martial arts are divided into striking and grappling categories. Both of these major systems have been interwoven into the relatively new paradigm of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). MMA contests often go quickly to the ground, and in this fashion players "tap out" to signal they've had enough, or they're simply rendered unconscious courtesy of a strangulating choke-hold and it's game over. But without launching into a debate about whether MMA are really martial arts, combat sports or whatever, I'd like to address their entertainment value. MMA are being touted as the next big thing in sports and have already become more popular than professional boxing. This is big news, since prizefighting has long held a solid position in worldwide culture, especially in the West. What it all comes down to is this: Would you rather see a standup fight, or a submission-style MMA match? Somehow an armbar, no matter how effective it is, doesn't quite measure up to the visual dazzle of somebody dropping an opponent with a crushing right cross or reverse punch delivered to the jaw.

Does anyone remember the John Wayne classic The Quiet Man? The Duke partakes in the most famous - and perhaps the longest - fistfight in cinematic history against Victor McLaglen's character. The last time I saw a real-life grappling match of similar epic proportions was when Royce Gracie defeated Dan Severn in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC 4, 1994). Gracie, outweighed by eighty pounds and on his back for almost the entire bout, still managed to pull it out with a miraculous triangle choke-hold with his legs applied to the neck of the gigantic Severn. Truth be told, up until the very end, the history-making match was a snoozefest. While judo, jiu-jitsu et al, are considered to be "combat effective" arts, their matches are comparatively boring to watch.

During most of his career, Chuck Norris has had the Midas touch - until recently. His World Combat League (WCL), a team-based kickboxing federation, has received only modest cable TV ratings. While UFC pay-per-view events and the like are generating millions, Norris' WCL is barely able to pay the bills. Advisors to Norris are telling him that the heyday of standup martial arts are long over and that he should be glad for the small amount of viewership that he's getting.

So what we may have here is a generation gap in fighting culture. Old school adherents like to stand on their feet and knock out their foes while the new wave proponents are becoming skilled strikers and ground technicians. There does exist certain styles that utilize joint locks in a standup fashion that are highly effective that are discussed in this post by Dojo Rat, but I digress. At any rate, the martial arts continue to evolve along with the public perception of what is most interesting and entertaining about them.

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12 Comments:

Blogger Dan Paden said...

It's hard for me to watch anything: boxing, wrestling, judo, MMA.

MMA, though, suffers the additional problem of annoying the mess out of me, in that all I see from those quarters is a bunch of chutzpah and cheek, as though MMA were the closest thing in the world to real fighting, and yet, when I've watched it, I've found myself constantly saying, "In a real fight, he would've been bitten/had a finger snapped/been kicked in the crotch/had an elbow dropped on his spine/gotten an eye gouged/had his knee kicked while all his weight was on that leg/been fish-hooked, etc."

The whole match being predicated on rules prohibiting that sort of thing wouldn't bother me if people didn't act like MMA competition had proven the ineffectiveness of older, more established systems, when it's done nothing of the kind. The best of those systems are built to cope with that sort of "dirty fighting," and it shapes their curriculum.

As my instructor says, when you can hit a guy repeatedly and he doesn't go down, something's wrong somewhere. Under the circumstances, it's not just boring to watch the rapid progress to "ground and pound," it's positively aggravating as the dickens.

Just my two cents.

7:04 AM  
Blogger frotoe said...

LOVED the Quiet Man. That fight scene was classic.

7:13 AM  
Blogger supergroup7 said...

"While judo, jiu-jitsu et al, are considered to be "combat effective" arts, their matches are comparatively boring to watch."

I am so grateful that you said this statement. I have been watching some MMA fights, and for the beginning part of the fights I have interest eyes, but as soon as I see one of the opponents manage to break through the guard, and slam the other on the ground, there is a sinking "oh well.. now I can't see much of what's happening.. I'll have to wait until someone taps out, or manages to get free, and gets up for something interesting to happen again."

I can understand that those who grapple in the majority of their training can appreciate the subtle little exchanges of pressure, and directions of the arms/legs. For me, however, I'd like to watch something that does not involve long extended moments of one person holding the other person down on the floor and trying to get a pin, or choke.

7:27 AM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Dan:

The whole match being predicated on rules prohibiting that sort of thing wouldn't bother me if people didn't act like MMA competition had proven the ineffectiveness of older, more established systems, when it's done nothing of the kind.

Here's how I see it: Most traditional martial artists can't fight. That's a serious indictment, but it's the brutal truth. It's not because the techniques or the curriculum being taught are necessarily ineffective, but rather in the training methods. Traditional martial artists simply aren't conditioned or trained to cope with the psychological shock and trauma of a real fight.

I'm in favor of competitive fighting because it forces the aspirant to embrace spontaneity, something you just can't get from rehearsed set drills in a dojo. Obviously, some rules are a must for a sportive match, but realize that most MMA players either have an extensive background in a traditional style, or train concurrently in one (or more), and know all of the nuances of no-rules martial applications anyway.

As my instructor says, when you can hit a guy repeatedly and he doesn't go down, something's wrong somewhere.

Competitive fighters are used to getting hit hard and often. It's part of their conditioning. In a street encounter we're taught the whole thing should be over in about three seconds if we use the right combination. Speaking from experience, it doesn't always go down that way though. Knowing how to do something and actually doing it are not at all the same thing. With that said, I believe some type of sparring or spontaneous drill work is a must for any stylist to circumvent that dilemma.
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Frotoe:

LOVED the Quiet Man. That fight scene was classic.

It was just on the other day. They were running a John Wayne movie marathon. He made almost 200 in his career. Amazing.
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Mireille:

I can understand that those who grapple in the majority of their training can appreciate the subtle little exchanges of pressure, and directions of the arms/legs. For me, however, I'd like to watch something that does not involve long extended moments of one person holding the other person down on the floor and trying to get a pin, or choke.

Right, that was the crux of my article. I suppose knowing the subtleties of a grappling art would make it more interesting though. The action is just very different.

12:35 AM  
Blogger [Mat] said...

Those matches are of interest. Still ruled, but far more brutal than any karate kumite action I've seen.

When I stumble upon a mma match, I can't help but watch. It's just that brutal. Kumite pales in comparaison. When I first entered karate, I expected that kind of fighting. What a deception it was...

Funny, my sister in law just dated a mma fighter - ranked 4th in canada until an injury.

We had a talk about karate fighters going in mma. He said that they had good kicks, but were taken down easily. You could see he was it top physical shape as he hadn't been training in 6 months and still had biceps that could match my quads. (ok, a bit of an exageration).

Still, the level of fitness required of these guy is much higher than what you see in regular dojo. Those guys are tough and then some. I did "roll" a bit with the guy for fun.

Guess what - real punches - real kicks - real pain. Woah, that was different. And oh : I can hit pretty hard with a punch or kick. To my surprise they were taken in even at full strengh. A thing I could not replicate myself. The blows I received were very painful.

Might not be an art, but it certainly is effective.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Well, I think the grappling is very entertaining... but I guess that's a given. :) I think that, as with most things, the more we understand something, the more we can appreciate the nuance.

Grappling actually has two primary components in MMA. There's the nuance of BJJ or catch wrestling coupled with the ground and pound component first employed by wrestlers. Both are a vital part of any MMA bout.

I can completely understand how someone could think that grappling is boring to watch, but I also know people who think that art museums are boring. As with most things, the more of an investment we make in learning the subtleties involved, the more we can appreciate seeing them applied. Nick Diaz's gogoplata against Takanori Gomi was awesome to watch. The way he set it up was poetry to me.

"Traditional martial artists simply aren't conditioned or trained to cope with the psychological shock and trauma of a real fight."

This is exactly my own opinion. Watching the last episode of Human Weapon on Krav Maga, I enjoyed how the hosts were "stabbed" multiple times in the beginning of the episode. But, because of the WAY Jason is accustomed to training, he was able to learn so much, so fast. His mindset and conditioning were already there. What one of the instructors said really struck a chord for me (paraphrased from memory), "He's got good skills and techniques. Now he just needs to learn the right techniques." Because he already knew how to function in chaos, take a hit and move under pressure he was able to learn and apply the specific techniques in a relatively short period of time. I was very impressed, but not entirely surprised.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Charles James said...

This is the craze for this decade in Martial Arts. I have a hard time putting UFC and MMA under that title yet it is what the public is fed so I guess it is something we all have to deal with.

One politician called it "Modern Cockfighting!"

I equate it to the day time talk show scheme where the guests throw chairs. I remember the Marines all gathering at that time every day to see what would happen next.

Tantamount to gawking at an accident on the Highway.

Oh well, I will admit it takes guts to get in there and get the crap beat out of you while taking the chance you may receive a life altering/threating injury.

Go figure.

3:24 PM  
Blogger John Vesia said...

Mat:

Still, the level of fitness required of these guys are much higher than what you see in regular dojo.

That's one of the bigger differences. And the ones that you do see extra fit in the dojo probably get that way on the side, not as a by-product of the kind of martial arts training you see today.
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Steve:

Watching the last episode of Human Weapon on Krav Maga, I enjoyed how the hosts were "stabbed" multiple times in the beginning of the episode.

I really liked that Krav Maga episode. The style entails weapons, disarms, and especially multiple assailants. All of the drill-work was spontaneous, too. You can't get much more realistic than that.
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Charles:

Oh well, I will admit it takes guts to get in there and get the crap beat out of you while taking the chance you may receive a life altering/threating injury.

I don't have the stats handy, but from what I understand, MMA is actually safer than boxing (and possibly some other sports). Not only have there been numerous deaths in boxing, but also disabilities such as dementia and Parkinson's have resulted due to receiving thousands of shots to the head over a period of years. A 10-round boxing match is 30 minutes of fighting - far longer than the average MMA bout. Still, MMA is fairly new, so the jury is still out as far as I'm concerned. Time will tell.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Charles James said...

John said:MMA is actually safer than boxing (and possibly some other sports). Not only have there been numerous deaths in boxing, but also disabilities such as dementia and Parkinson's have resulted due to receiving thousands of shots to the head over a period of years.

Yes and as you say the jury is still out. This stuff is new and when you add in the fact that they get kicked in the head I feel you can expect greater damage in shorter period of time.

If this fad suddenly loses the public interest where it gets less tv time it may fall by the wayside and then it is mute.

Yet, I expect since it is depicting a good deal more violence and promoting bloodlust that it will remain on tv for a long time.

After all, I expected reality tv to die out and yet it is growing.

Go figure.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Eddie 哥哥 said...

MMA should be re-badged with the word 'Fighting sports' or 'Mixed fighting' along with all the other entertainment UFC, Pride fighting shows.
Personally I think if we took the word martial arts and then compared that definition the modern day fighting entertainment the we would see that its not really martial nor art, its just fighting.
I would say that any combative situation that has any type of restrictions binding a persons fighting ability or techniques especially if its martial arts then it will no longer be a martial art.
No real martial art will ever work properly when there are rules that binds the practitioners technique from their purpose.

The real concern with these sports is that they would wrongly impose an imagery to people of what is meant to be martial arts.

But that's the typical media for us, they can influence the world to believe whatever they want.

Whats more disturbing is that there will be spectators and fanatics who will probably try to talk about these tournaments like sports only worser because they will mix it all up and claim that they know a lot of about martial arts too without any experience or training.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Eddie 哥哥 said...

John,

I read your comment about MMA, Some of these fights are entertaining to watch and you are right about somethings in regards to traditional technques not working. Traditional taught techniques do work but only to a certain extent, the forms we learn may or may not work in a real life situation as it depends on the situation, timing, application etc A practitioner's understanding and proficiency of their techniques is reliant on this. Its how we develop ourselves from these basic techniques is what really determines whether they will work or not.
However what we learn in the Dojo are just the basic forms, even when we reach 3rd Dan, our level would still be considered to be very basic and watered down.
We can;t deny that many of the battlefield technqiues in martial arts were lost many many years ago and when we have today is what was recoverable.

Dan padenis right as well about another aspects, rules do bind martial arts.

But then again its entertainment and people don't want to kill each other.

Combative sports should be right term I think :)

11:42 PM  
Blogger Silverstar said...

Personally, I've grown kinda tired of MMA. Seems like every television producer is trying to bank on the success of UFC with their own version of fighting. I agree with Eddie also because it can give people the wrong idea about martial arts. Not everyone trains for competition. Plus, I've seen guys strut into the dojo who've watched MMA and hence now think they are 'masters' of Ju Jutsu, which is obviously laughable.

7:58 AM  

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