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MMA: Diluting Martial Arts or Growing It?

UFC heavyweight contender Travis Browne and other MMA practitioners training during an open session for fans and media at the Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness on April 2, 2014 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
UFC heavyweight contender Travis Browne and other MMA practitioners training during an open session for fans and media at the Jackson's Mixed Martial Arts and Fitness on April 2, 2014 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Photo by Aaron Sweet/Getty Images

It's no secret that the rise of the UFC and similar cage fighting mixed martial arts competitions have grown in popularity over the past several years, almost eclipsing boxing and wrestling as it thrives. A few martial arts have seen a bump in students as a result, most notably jiu jitsu, as fans become inspired by the sport that they watch. However, as a whole, is MMA harming martial arts as much as it's helping?

Martial arts student Andy Mantai very succinctly voiced an opinion held by many that MMA "grows marital Arts in general, but I think it dilutes each individual art."

Fifth Degree Black Belt Greg Znajda expanded on the feeling by stating that MMA is "the new pro wrestling."

"Martial arts is not fighting at least not in the traditional sense," Znajda said. "It was considered "losing" if one had to fight. It was all about change; changing ones physicality, mentality, emotionality [sic] and spirituality to a better one. Changing the world (at least One's world) to make it better. In its loosest sense it was a moving meditation, a way to focus without thinking to enable access to ones true self. Over the years it has changed. The "I am better than you" mentality has changed the study of martial arts. MMA, especially the UFC, is destroying Martial Arts. It takes only about 6 months to a year to become a really good fighter, assuming of course size, strength, agility and the most important attribute; putting aside your compassion. I say this because of what I see, hear and have said around the public and specifically in the Dojo. Egos abound. It is worse than it has ever been. Sorry but MMA is the death of martial arts. It doesn't enhance it, it does not celebrate precision, it doesn't revel in discretion. It's brutal, selfish and destructive of spirit."

Of course, there are those who don't agree that martial arts has to be held in such a strict ideal. "As a Western Martial Artist, I have to argue with the assumption that Martial Arts means Eastern Martial Arts, and that the arts of Mars are not first and foremost, fighting arts," states Martial Artist Richard Gilbert. "Just read Dempsey's Championship Fighting, and he didn't talk much about 'finding the way', he talked about how to knock people out. He also talks about the difference between boxing and fistfighting, like many WMA folks before him."

"I think prior to the boom in the popularity of MMA, a lot fewer people were aware of martial arts," says martial artist Eric Anderson, himself a weapons enthusiast. "Now a lot more people know that martial art is something that adults currently do. In that sense it has grown martial art. It has diluted martial arts somewhat in that, if a person’s main familiarity with martial arts is through watching MMA, than what they’re familiar with as martial art is basically some kind of kickboxing plus some kind of submission grappling." Anderson also points out that MMA as a sport is different from any one form of martial arts like boxing. While he himself has no interest in competing, "I do martial arts to be a better version of myself and not to be better than someone else," he is glad that the people who do enjoy competing have this format.

Black belt Eric Fletter goes even deeper examining the question of dilution, pointing out that the Mixed Martial Art Way as encompassed by Bruce Lee's Jeet Kun Do and other 'mixed' styles was not always synonymous with 'No Holds Barred' fighting as it is currently and thus it can be frustrating for proponents of the 'Way' that those uninitiated in martial arts get a bloody cage fight as a picture when they hear the phrase 'Mixed Martial Art.' "I still feel the fact that someone not involved in the arts or combat sports can have any instant picture upon hearing the phrase outweighs that dilution," Fletter asserts. "For every one of those, there is another who finds it fascinating and begins to learn more about the different arts within the fighters backgrounds (even without the intention of studying an art themselves). The majority still don't have an opinion either way, but a much larger amount can picture it, just like people who don't care for or have anything against boxing can still picture what it is. More widespread knowledge, exposure, and interest in various arts definitely strengthens the Mixed Martial Arts journey. I mean, I knew a bit (not a lot) about martial arts back in 1993-95, but I had not heard of Kuk Sool Won, or Luta-Livre until I saw them represented in the UFC."

"I was my unit's H2H combat instructor both on Okinawa and during my two tours in Vietnam. I have taught the Kempo/Kobujitsu to Americans since 1966. I've also had the honor of having been a Golden/Silver Glove boxing instructor for most of the last quarter century," says martial artist Jim Conway, USMC. "As a Kempo/Kobujitsu practitioner, my ultimate goal was to never fight. As a Marine, my ultimate goal was to survive. As a boxer, my ultimate goal was to perfect the system. I have trained scores of MMA performers, most became quite proficient at what they did. None has yet to make it past the first 12 months or so. Their motivations are all on the outside of their spirits, rather than where they really should have been, all along."

So although the sport of MMA is undoubtedly growing interest in the sport and perhaps bringing some people into training that will benefit from all of it's aspects, it is undoubtedly also bringing in those who just want to best their fellow man in a blood sport contest.

In the end, Fletter probably has the right of it when he says, "is MMA (the sport) diluting martial arts or growing martial arts? Growing them in every way (including exposure to the bad parts)."

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