It’s been more than twenty years since the first UFC event and the birth of modern Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and yet every day on the internet you can still find so-called traditional martial arts people not only criticizing it but also clearly not knowing very much about it. If you are going to be vocal and obnoxious about your opinion, at least educate yourself. And, honestly, I will confess here that I really don’t understand those who hate MMA.
For those who identify themselves as so-called “traditional” Chinese martial artists, I suggest you reacquaint yourself with some of the most common traditions currently practiced. Long fist, Praying Mantis, Hung Ga, Choy Lay Fut, Eagle Claw, Jow Ga, Hung Fut, etc ALL without reservation identify themselves as arts which combined many different methods to create their current configuration. If we are going to talk about “mixed martial arts” then we have to accept that Chinese martial arts have NEVER been afraid to or opposed to mixing methods.
If we scratched the surface and dig a little deeper, we will also find that such cross pollination and incorporation was not limited to just Chinese martial arts. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries both Western boxing and Japanese Judo influenced and was incorporated into many Chinese martial arts traditions. For nationalistic and political reasons this is not as openly discussed, but there is still plenty of evidence out there to support this.
However, when it comes to discussing Chinese martial arts and “mixed martial arts” the most important thing we must address is the “Si Ji Fa” (四擊法) or the Four Martial Arts Skills. This is a central theory in Chinese martial arts, that four skills are essential and fully integrated into the Chinese martial arts. These four skills are Ti (踢) Kicking, Da (打) Striking, Shuai (摔) Grappling and Throwing, and Na (拿) Seizing and Controlling. Perhaps the most important hallmark of real Chinese martial arts is the INTEGRATION of these four skills. To me, sure does sound like “mixed martial arts” is hardly a new concept, it is rather ALWAYS been a Chinese martial arts concept.
Where a lot of these discussions / arguments get stuck is the issue of “ground fighting.” Modern mixed martial arts, with the rise of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, includes ground grappling of a sort rarely seen in Chinese martial arts. We hear a variety of things in regards to this; that Chinese culture viewed rolling around on the ground as beneath them, that as a battlefield method it was impractical, that “deadly dim mak” and such precluded ground grappling, etc. Some of these explanations have method, others are complete fabrications. However, in the long run they are all irrelevent.
The “Si Ji Fa” (四擊法) demonstrates that real Chinese martial arts has a wide variety of standing grappling, including not just standing locks but throws and takedowns. The logical extension of this is, what if YOU are the one who is thrown or taken down? We don’t need to leave Chinese martial arts to see practical examples of this; in Lei Tai and Sanshou/San Da matches two trained students fight, both wanting to throw, neither wanting to be thrown. Yet, inevitably, people are thrown. TO paraphrase a famous piece of literature, “even if you are not interested in fighting on the ground, ground fighting might be interested in you.”
Aside from ground grappling, nothing in modern MMA is absent or radically different than the contents of traditional Chinese martial arts. I never understand how someone who identifies themselves with those arts can be so opposed to MMA?