MMA vs Traditional Martial Arts

The Crux of the Matter

Think Logically

The thread that connects all people is their wish to live and be happy. The genius of traditional martial arts is that through mental discipline, one practices and can achieve both goals equally. Therefore, this article mainly focuses on self-defense.

Self-defense, or protecting oneself from threats: let's think logically...

What are the most serious risks to safety?
  1. (94.24%) Illness
  2. (3.14%) Accidents
  3. (1.70%) Suicide
  4. (0.92%) Assault
How you train matters: what is the risk of extreme exercise to health?

MMA focuses most energy on the lowest risk (assault) to the possible detriment of health, the greatest risk.

Traditional Martial Arts works equally across all risks to safety. Action to reduce one risk works on all risks.

Drilling Down

In risk management, protecting against short term risk must be balanced against increasing long term costs. What happens when protecting against short term risks lowers long term costs? Founder of judo explains...

Prioritizing safety from greatest risk to smallest

Unlike MMA, traditional martial arts have evolved over 1,000+ years based upon individuals with profound understanding of the underlying principles. As a result, the system is far more comprehensive in avoiding detriment to one’s health while actively promoting positive health trends. There was a broad recognition of the importance of health so the warrior class could contribute constructively to society.

  • Avoid Injury: Research supports that professional athletes expect a shorter lifespan, so care is taken to avoid exercise that is too intense, particularly with age, and any injury a participant has should heal so as to provide the most functionality long run. This prevents degradation of health as well as ability to defend oneself.
  • Recover from Injury: Additionally, traditional martial arts target healing processes such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, relaxation during exercise, and nonviolent intent during training to facilitate the body to healing itself. These practices may be absent in MMA.
  • Long-term Wellness: Unlike MMA, as the body ages the traditional martial arts target lifestyle decisions to optimize health throughout aging in ways modern science is now beginning to recognize. Exposure to cold as a swim on New Year's Eve, training outdoors and in the sun, fasting, and fresh/unprocessed foods are now included in anti-aging regimens for cellular healing from scientists such as David Sinclair. Intermittent exercise focused on both strength and cardio as well as exercise on an empty stomach are all recognized as well. All of these are part of traditional martial arts training.

Through generations of training, advanced martial artists have identified the importance of a profound sense of relaxation, especially during emergencies, as offering the best solution to a surprise attack. Traditional martial arts focus on this approach, which differs from some MMA schools. Here the focus is on the evolution of a surprise emergency:

  • Avoid Accident: The best way to survive an accident is not to have one. Traditional martial arts teach humility, so the practitioner can properly identify their strengths and weaknesses and avoid circumstances that are not likely to end well.
  • Awareness to Perceive: Next, an underlying awareness is crucial to respond quickly. Relaxation allows a continuous awareness, including opening peripheral vision, without burning out. Training for an intense competitive bout with only one opponent focuses on short bursts of attention to a small, localized area. The definition of an emergency is something unexpected, so it is unlikely to arise at a time and location where one is targeting their attention. This is not ideal to catch an emergency early on.
  • Perceive to Understand: After maintaining awareness, perceiving the nature of the problem quickly to formulate a response also requires relaxation. Fear, dislike of the situation, or tension leading to over-reaction all "gum up" the process of recognizing what is going on. They are therefore antithetical to surviving in a difficult situation.
  • Understand to Respond: Relaxation then allows a reflexive response, or a response not distracted by unnecessary cognitive thinking. The MMA instruction that teaches to accept that one must learn to live with an “adrenaline dump” in an emergency. This adrenal response is nothing but a fearful distraction from taking a corrective action. Believing you cannot, and therefore training to not respond well by avoiding the adrenal response, is selling yourself short. Survival requires confidence. In traditional martial arts, we are taught to be confident and aim high for our goals. Missing a high goal is less of a problem than missing a low one.

Suicide is recognized as a greater risk to safety than an assault. But rather than focus on suicide itself, this topic will be generalized to conflict management and finding more peace in social interactions: Social interactions are often impaired by the development of conflicts with poor resolution skills. Traditional martial arts, through a profound understanding of principles, have developed a potent system to undermine these sources of conflicts, leading to a more harmonious environment and improved relationships. The arising of existential questions inherent in the practice enables this process to unfold, and teachers have been trained over the generations to perpetuate this process.

  • Undermine the Root: The problem originates with strong views and desires. We believe we are part of a group that is threatened, or we believe some object will bring great happiness. Our life is viewed as more important than anyone else’s. Traditional martial arts training evokes existential questions which directly undermine these views/desires and sense of self-importance. Who is it that lives - who dies - in a battle? We notice that nothing is as permanent as we think...
  • Conflicts Dissolve: Normally, we would take certain actions based upon these views/desires. Others take actions based upon theirs, and from these winds arise a steady flow of conflicts. Training pulls the rug out from underneath these views, thus opening the possibility of responding to others without direct conflict.
  • Relationships Improve: With a steady stream of conflicts, interpersonal relations become impaired. But as training reduces self-importance and even the self-importance of our training methods themselves, the ego has no ground upon which to support conflicts and peaceful resolutions can be found by such methods as compromise and leading by example. Ultimately, people learn to respect each other and social interactions improve. As they say, if you do not like your world, change yourself, and the change in yourself will cascade into your world.

"Martial arts are 90% mental" – Mark Larson Sensei. Traditional martial arts teach that effective self defense requires both training in physical technique, and understanding principles. Without these profound principles, the ability to defend oneself is purely reliant upon luck, and not skill. One may win a bout training in technique alone, but if presented with an opponent trained in technique who also understands principles, there is no chance of genuinely defeating them.

  • Principle: The profound principles are founded upon a deep sense of relaxation, even in an emergency (see accidents tab for other benefits). Relaxation brings better perception, better grounding and ability to move, followed by more confidence. Confidence brings more relaxation, and the cycle continues on. The improved perception is the first line of self-defense – recognizing where violence will begin and avoiding the situation.
  • Technique: Physical training eliminates the need to stop and think about a reaction to an attack, creating faster response times. Interacting with principle, one simply feels they are sharing their own sense of peace with the attacker (see conflict resolution tab for other benefits). The practitioner's relaxation allows the negative energy of the attacker to flow directly back to them without receiving any upon themselves. Recognizing that attempting to harm another is only harming oneself, the attacker can learn to change their spirit.
  • Pitfalls:
    • The Argument: The argument promoted in MMA is their intense method of stress testing is the closest to a real violent assault, and anyone must conform to their rules and test themselves in competition to prove the value of their system.
    • Problem of Injury: When balancing the short-term risks of assault against the long-term costs for protecting oneself, the cost of the intense stress testing are a likely series of injuries that degrade one's health and ability to defend oneself long-term. Traditional martial arts takes the opposite tactic, where short term exercise for self-protection leads to enhanced ability to protect oneself long run (see health tab for other benefits).
    • Problem of Unrealism: A second logical fallacy is that MMA competition is not realistic in any way. Then, following someone else's rules and training methods automatically places that practitioner at a disadvantage. Imagine a professional soccer champion in a college baseball game. An MMA practitioner who has to defend themselves against multiple armed attackers would not last seconds in Aikido training.
    • Problem of Practicality: Excessive force (common with an adrenaline rush taught as impossible to avoid in some MMA gyms) in an actual conflict can lead to legal challenges of excessive use of force as well as backlash from the the attacker and their friends/family. The benefit of improving perception allows normally one to avoid violent situations. Here the over-reaction brings more violence in one's sphere instead.