“Traditional MMA”

22 Nov

Earlier this week I was teaching some wrestling and clinching at my school, New York San Da. The clinch, especially when you remove the rule restrictions of particular formats like Muay Thai or wrestling, is to me the most fascinating and complex aspect of all martial arts. There is so much to learn; hand fighting, pummeling, escapes, entries, unbalances, striking, takedown, throws, etc.


I had a student in that class with a extensive background in collegiate and free style wrestling. Much of what we were doing was familiar and I’ve learned to use the terminology of Western wrestling; underhoooks, overhooks, level change, penetration, cross face, ankle pick, knee pick, shuck, whizzer, etc etc


I also had a student in there with background in traditional Chinese martial arts, including the so-called “internal martial arts” (oh, please, don’t get me started with that term! That’s another blog!)…. Unfortunately, in far too many Chinese martial arts schools today the students are NOT exposed to the kind of partner “alive” practice we were working that day. So I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t recognize all the techniques immediately.


HOWEVER, I was pretty quickly able to make them feel a little more comfortable and relate better because I was able to explain the techniques through the concepts / theories that such so called “internal arts” throw about all the time. I have stated many times, the so called “internal arts” are best understood when you consider them as wrestling. And if that shocks you, YOU NEED TO LOOK AT THE PUSH HANDS COMPETITIONS SO POPULAR IN ASIA!

Here’s my good friend Jan Lucanus competing in the 3rd world push hands tournament in Taiwan

While that format of push hands has made some American based Taiji people gasp, it’s still a pretty restrictive format designed to demonstrate only CERTAIN Taiji skills. It is not an open wrestling style.


At New York San Da we are interested in complete training and combat training, so most of our drilling doesn’t restrict most tactics. We have used the wrestling pummeling format and the Muay Thai “plam” or clinching format as both frames and inspiration for our “alive” practices but freely integrating all sorts of techniques. But you don’t just see wrestling and Muay Thai techniques, you see Shuai Jiao and Kung Fu techniques as well. Being more “MMA” hasn’t killed our kung fu, it has made it all the more alive.


Most traditional people despise MMA, but the reality is that as a paradigm it lets us remove the useless crap many of our traditions acquired over generations, once again find the things that work and develop them. And you’d be surprised how diverse a bag of tricks that is.

Standing joint locks as taught in traditional Japanese Jujutsu, Korean Hapkido and Chinese Chin-NA was NEVER work in the stiff, dead, out of context way they are presented in typical class room drills. They aren’t even that ‘high percentage”. But they have a place. You catch them from time to time, and in an “alive” format you learn to use them as set ups.

Train alive, forget the origins, don’t get mired in the so called “traditional”.



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