Download the New Issue of the Internal Fighting Arts E-zine
There is No Such Thing as Easy Tai Chi

Okay I'll Say It -- MMA Gets the Adrenaline Pumping but There's Something Ugly that Lies Beneath

Mma  MMA is mesmerizing, especially for guys. It gets our testosterone pumping. There is a part of us that wants to be inside the ring, mano-a-mano, toughing it out with minimal protection, and may the best man win.

I've watched MMA matches on TV and they hook me with raw brutality. Maybe it's the fights I got into while I was growing up. I never wanted to fight, but I was often picked on by older, bigger guys, and was forced into fighting. Once the fight began I loved it. I considered it the ultimate competition, and you have no excuses if you lose.

I never lost a fight. A few were draws, but I was never beaten up. 

So MMA appeals to me on one level. On another level, I've reached the conclusion that this type of fighting is ugly, and the fighters and hard-core fans may have a problem.

Maybe I've gotten older and wiser.

There's a reality show that follows ultimate fighters around through their lives, training and travel. I watched one show and it was obvious that some of the guys on this episode had violence issues -- physically abused as children, growing up in violent families. As I watched the show, a realization set in.

If I were 20 years old again, I might train for MMA for a while but I doubt that I would last. I believe MMA attracts fighters who like to hurt people and don't mind being hurt. Perhaps they've been hurt at other times in their lives and feel as if they deserve it. Perhaps, as a lot of us do in our marriages, they're recreating what's familiar to them from their childhood. Naturally, this is a generalization and wouldn't be true for everyone, but I suspect it's widespread. I'm sure there are a lot of guys who try MMA just for the adrenaline and testosterone rush -- the same reason I entered the Toughman Contest back when I was 38 years old. I just wanted to test myself.

But there are other reasons some people want to go "ultimate." Perhaps its part of the video game culture of the past 20 years as kids have grown up hurting people on video screens. Have we desensitized ourselves to the point where we're returning to the days of the Roman Coliseum? Have we gotten to the point where we have a sociopath's lack of empathy when we see someone getting hurt?

One hilarious scene from the recent comedy "Bruno" was a scene near the end where Sacha Baron Cohen pretends to be an homophobe and gets into an MMA ring. It's a real crowd of MMA fans who aren't aware of the joke. Shots of the crowd show a lot of angry people who want to see violence. As the scene progresses and Cohen ends up making out with a guy in the cage, the crowd goes nuts and the ugliness of the people attracted to the MMA event is revealed.

My wife works at a filter manufacturer and she overheard guys in the shop talking about going to a bar downtown while they show MMA fights on the TV screens. One guy said he stopped going during those times because "you have to be very careful. You can't look anyone in the eye. They watch MMA and they just want to fight someone."

In recent years, MMA has siphoned off a lot of younger guys who would normally have entered into traditional martial arts. Go into a bookstore, check out the sports section of magazines, and you'll see a dozen MMA-type publications and only a few martial arts magazines like Black Belt, Inside Kung-Fu, Taekwondo, T'ai Chi Magazine, etc.

MMA guys laugh at regular martial arts. They believe real fighting is their domain. Those of us who have been in the martial arts for a long time know how wrong they are. Sure, there are bad martial arts schools, but in general we do learn to fight and we learn to defend ourselves. There are two main differences. I don't ever want to be in a fight. I don't want to make someone else bleed. I would do it if attacked, but I wouldn't feel good about it. If I go to a tournament I want to see skill and good sportsmanship, not competitors or spectators who suffer from a bad case of blood lust. Some of my students have had to defend themselves and they've done so very successfully. So we have nothing to apologize for when people who want to hurt others badmouth what we do.

I also like the precision and demands of the complete martial art. To become good requires determination, persistence, and physical skill. It takes many years of focus and self-discipline. I've never done anything as difficult and demanding as Chen tai chi.

Can anyone name more than one or two active boxing champions right now? If you're my age, you remember when Ali, Frasier, Holmes, Foreman, and others were competing for the heavyweight title. Some, like Ali and Holmes and Sugar Ray Leonard were artists. Boxing was the "sweet science." Sure, it was brutal at times, but underneath it all was skill and personal determination and toughness. You could win a fight on points, without hurting someone.

It's a different world. People interested in MMA aren't as interested in "sweet science" as they are in toughness.

The purpose of this post isn't to say that martial artists can kick an MMA fighter's butt. I know that isn't necessarily true (and so do you). It all depends on the person's size, strength, skill, and ability to remain cool under pressure.

I enjoy watching MMA sometimes because I'm a guy, I'm familiar with fighting, and it gets the adrenaline flowing. But there's something very ugly lurking just below the surface (and sometimes on the surface), and I think there are more positive martial arts that a lot of guys could participate in to channel their energies -- martial arts that could, in the long run, have a much more positive impact on their lives and their own self-image.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I concur. I think MMA has risen in popularity because it's WWF being done for REAL. Notice how it has practically replaced wrastling (sic). Yea it ticks me off that the MMA rags have replaced the MA magazines entirely in my whole state it seems but what irritates me more is the attitude of the practioners. Gone is "courtesy and perseverance" as the TKD oath states. And there is nothing "gentle" about their jujitsu which is more like strength wrestling with punches as oppossed to any similarities to jujutsu. Then there is the invasion of its fanboys onto MA internet forums. I don't even bother comment about anything on public MA forums anymore because of those flat out jerks. The early days of the UFC was cool because it was unique and truely multi style trying it out. Now though it has clearly evolved where the rules even favor BJJ (wrastling+punches on ground). I saw an interview with Frank Dux recently where he said he's advocating for some changes into cage fighting to minimize bloodshed particular due to hiv and other diseases which can transmit, he pointed out how now there is virtually no testing done for that and where there is it is subpar.

Charles Cripple

Very well said Ken. I agree with your reasons for not liking MMA. I don't like the personality and morals (or lack of) that it creates. I have had numerous young people come into my school looking for the MMA type training. They may try a few classes, but have no patience for the discipline of traditional training. It is disturbing that more and more people nsider MMA an actual martial art now.... Hope you are doing well up there. Happy New Year! Charles


Unless I am mistaken, I believe the UFC was created by the BJJ world, so the rules have *always* favored their art. I watched the first few but quickly lost interest. As with any (legal) tournament, it has to have rules, and therefore it's pointless to compare to any non-sport martial arts, as you have to stay within a certain domain...therefore eliminating tons of useful techniques. Also, when compared to that type of domain, the people involved may not even "understand" an art such as taiji; for instance, I had a taiji teacher who attended a BJJ class to see what all the fuss was about. I happened to know one of the students in the BJJ class, and he told me "I totally dominated [the teacher] on the ground, but I just couldn't get him to tap out"...he didn't understand that the flexibility/softness of taiji means he wasn't really "dominating" the taiji guy; he only THOUGHT he had him in bad positions.

I do agree that MMA has sort of "taken over" the MA communities, but back when karate was big in the 70s/80s, EVERYTHING was "karate," so I'm sure it'll come around. :)

Tom Cobb

I couldn't agree more. This is a great post, with lots to think about. The discipline and commitment of a lifetime of training and skill development in traditional martial arts is very rewarding and promotes health rather than tears it down. I never want to fight unless it is absolutely necessary but the I do want to win.

One other point. With the brain injury statistics coming out of boxing, football and even hockey it is truly foolish to think taking repeated blows to the head is not going to cause lasting damage. I don't care how tough you are, research is showing that repeated micro traumas to the brain cause lasting brain injuries as do repeated concussions.

wholesale cage fighter

Good post. I never thought of it that way. Thanks for this entry.


David Cabrera


I have been practiced CMC and Wu style taiji for approximately 35-years. I was blesses to learn both systems from an instructor who learned directly from William CC Chen and Edwin Yee. Prior to learning taiji, i practiced muay thai for approximately 3-years. I tell you this so you can appreciate my perspective on MMA.

Approximately 12-years ago, I fell in love with JKD Concepts, which focuses mainly on Kali-silat, muay thai, jun fan kung fu, etc. In a very real sense it could be argued that Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto were the first MMA in the U.S.

When the Gracies first began calling out all of the traditional martial artist (in 1992 before it evolved into UFC) I truly believed that my taiji skills, which are, after all designed for close quarter combat, would allow me to hold my own against those silly jiujitsu guys with the funny accents. After all, one of the maxims in taiji is that if you have a strong root you don't have to worry about the ground. Well, after getting mr ass handed to me by a bjj white belt, I decided I might be wrong and began training in bjj. I am now an instructor of JKD Concepts, and a purple belt in bjj.

Ironically, it has been my experience that high level bjj practitioners are internal martial artist, inasmuch as they are masters at sticking and following, relying on sensitivity and leverage rather than li energy, etc.

So, as both an internal practitioner and a MMA trainer I can tell you that most of us laugh at "traditional" martial artists only because they tend to live in a fantasy world despite the fact that MMA has consistently proven that much of what they teach DOES NOT WORK ON A RESISTING OPPONENT! Deep down inside they all know this. If not, how do you explain the total absence of any internal martial artist in the octagon. And please don't say "my art is so deadly," as that is a load of crap.

In my experience, IMA's can be useful for things like developing sensitivity, proper body mechanics, etc. But the truth is, in martial arts as in all things, one either adapts or perishes.


Great post. Thanks for joining in the discussion.

My main point in the original post is not addressing which style is more effective. I've trained police officers who have used internal techniques against violent offenders on the street, and one of my 15-year old students shattered the elbow of his drunken step-father who was trying to beat him up, so if anyone is laughing at us, they do so out of ignorance (and maybe roid rage). :)

I, too, would like to see some of the internal guys step into the octagon -- particularly some of the Chen family. They get into some pretty tough fights in China and they know how to throw an opponent down.

I think it would be a stretch to call a high level BJJ artist an "internal" artist because one or two concepts might be similar (sensitivity, etc.). I also think it's a mistake to say much of what we teach would not work on a resisting opponent. That might have been your experience in your tai chi training (and from what I've heard about the William CC Chen folks, and the ones I've heard about locally, I could believe they can't fight very well at all).

Perhaps someday soon, someone will put this to rest and we can persuade Chen Bing or Ren Guangyi to do a cage match. I'd pay to attend that one.


David Cabrera was spot on.

Anyway, I'll add my 0.02 cents:

Ken, you are grossly confusing mma TRAINING with mma COMPETITIONS, they are not the same.
Surely, those fighters you see on TV can have violence issues - it's the nature of their profession and it's not much different than other prizefighters in history. Being aggressive and determined (although under control) is a good thing in all sports and especially in combat ones. So this sport sometimes tends to attract those personalities. After all, they make their living by knocking out people...

Having said that, for every aggressive, disrespectful and violent contender you'll point I can show you a nice, respectful and humble fighter.

The other thing you need to understand is that most MMA practitioners will never step into the ring or octagon to fight - just like you they train for other reason than competition: be it for SD, exercising or socializing and personal growth. There's nothing INHERENTLY violent or hate-inducing in BJJ, boxing, greco roman or MT, in this regard they are the same as other, traditional, MAs.

You talk about boxing and say "Sure, it was brutal at times, but underneath it all was skill and personal determination and toughness. You could win a fight on points, without hurting someone."

Regarding skill: I don't mean to offend but from that quote you come as someone who doesn't really understand MMA. You see, MMA require as much skill as boxing if not more as it requires much more *diversity* of skills because the match allows for multi-range (standing, clinch and ground) fighting and IMHO grappling require much more skill, technique and finesse than boxing so in this regard boxing (which is a subset) has nothing on MMA.

Regarding "personal determination" and "toughness" you surely can't say they are missing from MMA fights...

As for hurting people consider the following points:
1. There's less long term brain damage in MMA than in boxing (due to the multi-range nature of the sport).
2. There are more older (read:30+) athletes in this sport than any other professional sport I have ever seen. Randy Couture still fights at the age of 46(!), Anderson Silva is turning 35, Fedor is 33, Herschel Walker just made his successful debut at 47...47! I've never seen any competitive swimmer, Sprinter nor boxer at these ages. Helio Gracie, may he RIP, had many vale tudo fights under his belt and still lived (and trained!) to the age of 95. Compare that to some of chain smoking internal artist like Hung I Hsiang who died at 65 and tell me which art promotes longevity and healthier practitioners (I'm partly kidding on this one).

Back to MMA as a training method rather than a competition - I myself do not compete in MMA and don't intend to but MMA is fascinating because it exposes what works and what doesn't and is the closest thing to reality while staying legal.

The sad truth is that internal arts are absent from MMA because they are less effective than other, full contact, live-training-against-resistance martial arts. After 15 years of modern NHB competition you'd expect some IMA guy to step up but it never happens and that is questionable. It has nothing to do with the practitioners avoiding full contact competitions as I heard, and I'm sure you're much more knowledgeable, that many IMA guys have entered full contact competitions (Like Hung I Hsiang guys i Taiwan). and it has nothing to do with rules as modern MMA is much more permissive than aforementioned competitions and even if not - there have been arenas which are bloodier and much less restrictive than the UFC, mostly in Russia and Brazil. there would be no problem finding someone who is willing to fight with "street" rules like the Gracies did in the 50-70s.

Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE to see some IMA guy entering the UFC and kicking ass, if anything it would make to world much more interesting :) but I'm very skeptical and the burden of the proof is on the IMA guys.

As for hurting or fighting someone - in training BJJ I protect my partners because they are my friends and they help me evolve and get better the same as you do for your bagua/xinyi/taiji partners. It's no different.
The only thing is that I KNOW that the training methods actually work even on resisting and *skilled* opponent.

And "blood thirsty" MMA fans are in no way representatives for the quality or nature of the sport/arts practiced same as with the hooligan fans in soccer matches (if you're familiar).

I do BJJ (and did a little boxing) because I know it works not because it's "cool" or popular, show me something better (i.e. show that methods are effective in full contact) and I'll switch in heartbeat.

Phew, that was long. Hope I was coherent enough.


You're a good man. I appreciate the humor. And you make some good points.



By the way, Asaf, I made it clear in my original post that I don't believe everyone who tries MMA is psychologically impaired or has a background of abuse, and I said that if I was 20 again I would try it.

My post was aimed at the hard core figher and fan -- and something ugly that I've observed beneath the surface.

No one is arguing at all that MMA guys aren't learning how to fight. They are. Some are paying too high a price, in my opinion.

gafas de sol hombre

El aprendizaje es un tipo de riqueza. Debido a su artículo, vamos a aprender un montón de cosas. Gracias por compartir.

gafas de sol

Yo no podría estar más de acuerdo. Este es un gran post, con mucho que pensar.

Martin Buuri Kaburia

This is tough

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)