Not in the slightest.

While the emergence of MMA certainly did breed this wanna-be tough guy subculture of sorts, it has also done a lot of good for the world of martial arts. In addition, as much as I love the the traditional arts, it’s hard to deny that many of them fell victim to poor training, devolved into watered down versions of what they once were, and became subject of mockery that wasn’t entirely unfounded. Please allow me to support my claims by breaking down each claim in the above image.

First, I have to dispute the implied dichotomy of MMA and Martial Arts. I understand that the intended message may be mixed martial arts versus traditional martial arts, but the way it’s portrayed also seems to imply that MMA is not the same as martial arts because they are mixed. First of all there is no written rule that says a style or system of fighting or self-defense must have a code of honor, a set or morals, a particular philosophy, or traditions and rituals to follow in order to be classified as a martial art. The word “martial” means war-like or pertaining to war, which fighting and self-defense obviously do, and “art” is subjective personal expression. To say that a particular fighting system is not a martial art because it doesn’t require the practitioner to follow specific guidelines is like saying abstract paintings aren’t art because they don’t make sense to us when we look at it.

Now, I also understand that one of the reasons MMA isn’t viewed as martial arts is because many people associate the martial arts with self-control and moral behavior and feel that the apparent brutality of MMA contradicts this. In response I’d like to cite this video of a group of “martial artists” mercilessly beating a man to near death, taking his sash as a trophy, and documenting not only the fight itself, but the fact that they smeared his blood all over the place. This obviously isn’t the common conduct of many martial arts schools, but it does show that even those that practice the traditional arts can express ruthlessness and unethical behavior.

Just because someone practices MMA doesn’t make them any less of a martial artist. They are dedicating themselves to the discipline of fighting and training to be able to express themselves in combat. This is truly all it takes and to claim otherwise is purely opinion.

Now onto the more specific points the picture makes:


While the idea of cagefighting can put a bad taste in many peoples’ mouths due to the association with underground brawls and WWE style spectacles, full contact fighting in a cage isn’t inherently any more violent that boxing, kickboxing, of other full contact martial arts competitions. To be perfectly honest it isn’t even really much of a cage! There’s no roof keeping the participants from escaping if they really felt it necessary, the floor is thickly padded, and even the chain-link fencing is coated to reduce friction. It’s more playpen than cage and it offers a unique obstacle in the form of the walls while not obscuring the audience’s view or risking the participants falling out like they would in a traditional boxing ring.


This is the tactic of taking your opponent to the ground, thus limiting their mobility, and subduing them through striking. As the sport if mixed fighting styles, it’s important that they don’t have rules favoring one system or another, so they must allow the grappling arts as much liberty as they do the striking arts. As a result, you get ground and pound.

Many people don’t like this aspect of the sport because they think it’s cowardly, unsportsman-like, or just too violent to hit someone while they’re on the ground. This, however, isn’t boxing. This is the sport of fighting, and while many rules and restrictions have been implemented to protect the fighters, it still must conform to many of the realities of combat. One such reality is that the fight isn’t truly over when the fight goes to the ground. A soldier certainly doesn’t stop fighting (or being shot at) when they fall to the ground. Aside from a cultural value of not hitting someone when they’re “down”, which isn’t shared universally, what real reason is there to not allow for striking on the ground? In a self-defense situation your assailant wouldn’t stop attacking just because you fell, and this needs to remain in MMA in order to see which self-defense techniques hold up in this very common scenario.

Something else to consider is the fact that these aren’t helpless victims being mercilessly overpowered. Virtually all MMA fighters are trained to defend themselves when they are grounded and many fighters are actually better on the ground. It’s also worth mentioning that striking someone after you have put them on the ground is an extremely common practice in the traditional arts (cut to 3:40 here to see an example in karate).

Barbaric Bloody, Brutal

Yes, fights can be bloody and brutal, but these, again, are realities of fighting. If you train in a traditional martial art, your techniques do not hold an special qualities that make them less painful or damaging when they are applied as they were designed to. I don’t feel that the original karateka pulled their punches at the last second while defending against the oppressive samurai, and the same can be said of all of the people who developed the martial arts as a means to defend themselves. They were brutal and they got bloody because that is war.

As for being barbaric, that term is a bit subjective. Many people consider boxing to be barbaric, but others view it as a gentleman’s sport. Can we really call a sport that begins and ends with signs of respect (ex. glove touch, hugs), has several rules restricting certain techniques so that the participants won’t be severely injured or killed, takes more medical precautions than any other organized sport, and has only had a total of three deaths in it’s entire existence barbaric? For comparison’s sake, consider the number of fatalities that have occurred in American Football.

Virtue/Masters of Body, Mind, and Spirit

In regards to the list of virtues associated with the traditional martial arts, while it’s true that many schools have codes and values that they require their students to follow and emulate, this doesn’t mean that each student does. There’s also the fact that philosophies change not only between the different styles, but between the different schools of the same style! And just because there’s no written code that MMA fighters must follow, that doesn’t mean that they don’t practice these traits. Yes, when MMA first came on the scene there was plenty of WWE-esque trash talk and “bad boy” antics, and these haven’t completely died out. However, these types of things occur in all types of sports. We don’t discredit all participants of a sport just because a few attention seekers act up in order to build their hype.

Another important note to keep in mind is that the martial arts are HEAVILY romanticized by both practitioners and non-practitioners alike. With so much talk of “the way of the warrior” and “the path of the martial artist” and such coming from movies, TV, and even the martial arts schools themselves, it’s easy to forget that all martial arts, at their core, are the educational medium for how to more effectively fight people. Attach whatever morals or ideas about how a martial artist should behave you want, at the end of the day the martial arts were designed to do exactly what MMA fighters are using them for, fighting.

I attribute the idea of all martial artist being masters of their bodies, minds, and spirits to romanticized views as well. What about the martial arts that don’t incorporate spiritual practices? Is it not possible for someone to develop their mind and have spiritual revelations through fighting as well? In truth, the martial arts alone will not make you a master of your mind and spirit. That sort of thing takes great effort on behalf of the individual. But again, why is any of this necessary to be considered part of the martial arts?

On one final note, I want to point out the major necessity that MMA has in the world of martial arts: a much needed reality check.

Because of the emergence of MMA, we were able to see that many arts were lacking crucial elements in order to effective in a real fight. BJJ in particular woke us all up the disturbing realization that all of our training was for nothing once we were on the ground. An even greater wake up call, I feel, was that you are going to fight the way you train, and many of us were not going to fair well. So many martial arts schools got caught up in the traditions and rituals, philosophies and codes, belts and certifications, that they lost sight of what they were supposed to be training people to do.

A black belt use to take several years of dedicated training and perfecting of one’s self to achieve, now you can get it in about two years at the age of eight. Many people don’t take the title “black belt” seriously anymore due to MMA, and it’s not hard to see why. The martial arts needed MMA. Thanks to it, we now have the ability to put our training to the test and see what we’re made of. We were able to shatter the illusion that one style was better than another, when in reality all that mattered was that we made our knowledge work for us. The traditions and philosophies absolutely have their place and need to stay, but we also need the harsh reality of MMA to keep a balance.

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