MMA is an acronym for the term Mixed Martial Arts. There’s a great general description of Mixed Martial Arts here. The term was established back in the 90’s when the pioneers of MMA were trying desperately to get the sport/art accepted and the term ‘cage fighting’ had a lot of negative images associated with it. MMA or Mixed Martial Arts was a term that accurately portrayed the sport and was more paletable for the general public. The biggest difficulty in getting uptake of the term in the early days was that it wasn’t shocking enough for small organisations and events to promote their shows – ‘cage fighting’ sold more tickets and so it was very rare to see the term MMA on a fight promotion. Thankfully now there is complete acceptance of the term MMA in the Mixed Martial Arts community and public knowledge of these terms has increased dramatically thanks in particular to organisations like the UFC who have done an outstanding job of raising public awareness of the sport with their promotions.
So in its original form Mixed Martial Arts was really a concept for finding out which Martial Art or combination of Martial Arts were most effective in combat. A very limited set of rules was created, there was the minimum amount of safety equipment allowed and an arena was chosen that would not favour any one style – the Octagon. It was seen as the ultimate proving ground – if you thought that your style was best regardless of whether it was Karate or Kung Fu or Wrestling or Muay Thai, all comers were welcome to test their skills in the octagon. At this point in MMA history Mixed Martial Arts really referred to the ethos that a mixture of styles could fight under one set of rules, it didn’t really refer to a combatent being skilled in several different arts – the term Mixed Martial Artist was not really used at this point in time and was coined later when cross training became commonplace. It may seem odd to a more recent convert to MMA that there was a time (less than 20 years ago) where most Mixed Martial Arts competitions were essentially still fought by fighters that were skilled in just one style but if you think about the history of Martial Arts on a grander scale it’s easier to understand how this was the case.
There are many forms of combat that have roots that can be traced back for a century or more and we’re not just talking about Chinese forms of Kung Fu or Japanese forms of Karate – wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai and more all have considerable histories to them. Traditionally Martial Arts have stayed quite separate, partly due to the inherent closed door nature of the various organisations and partly due to the natural geological and cultural boundaries of their place of origin. A good analogy to think about is that of languages. In the history of modern culture different languages have evolved all over the world but they all share a common purpose – to help people communicate – but they all go about it slightly different ways. In modern society it’s very common to meet people who speak several different languages as different cultures are exposed to each other on a very regular basis and there are a whole host of opportunities to learn languages from schools, teachers, tutors, online, in books on audio etc. However, there was a time when finding someone that was bilingual or multilingual would have been a very rare thing indeed as the opportunities and the need to do so would have not existed in most communities. The same is true in the history of Martial Arts although it’s many decades behind. Forms of combat evolved largely in isolation in many different parts of the world and they rarely crossed paths. Just 50 years ago the opportunity to learn a range of Martial Arts would have been exteremely limited, in many instances you would be restricted to the combat style of choice for your nation. If you grew up in Thailand you did Muay Thai, if you grew up in the US you did wrestling, if you grew up in Russia you did Sambo. The chance of cross training a range of styles would be pretty much unheard of. But the modern landscape of Martial Arts is very different, it’s now perfectly possible to train a whole range of different styles in any major city in the world and the opportunities to learn are greater than ever – particularly with the dissemination of information via the internet.These days it’s almost unheard of for a competitor to enter an MMA competition without a range of styles at their disposal. It is however still commonplace for a competitor to train individual combat sports / arts in isolation and then find their own way to put them altogether in the cage. It’s very typical for a modern MMA fighter to train boxing one day, BJJ on another day and wrestling on another. Because of this kind of cross training the term Mixed Martial Artist came about as essentially it describes someone who practises and trains in this way (Note : the common cross training choices of a modern Mixed Martial Artist almost always include wrestling and boxing and even though they are not generally refered to as martial arts the general logic of the term makes a lot of sense).So really Mixed Martial Arts refers to general ethos of being able to bring any combat style together in one arena and Mixed Martial Artist refers to someone who trains in a variety of combat sports in order to be effective in a Mixed Martial Arts arena. An interesting footnote to all of this is to question just how appropriate the term Mixed Martial Arts is today and how appropriate it will be in the future as MMA becomes a style all of its own. It’s already perfectly possible to be a highly successful at MMA even without attending a single boxing lesson or wrestling class or BJJ class by just training at a good MMA class. Once this becomes the norm will it still be appropriate to call these students Mixed Martial Artists and the sport Mixed Martial Arts? It’s a bit of a moot point as the term MMA is still a good one as we’ll always have those roots and the term MMA is now so widespread and synonymous with our sport that the appropriateness against a changing landscape is almost irrelevent. Increasingly the public are already viewing MMA as a single entity rather than a collection of various parts, you cab hear this when you listen to people talk, they say ‘he trains MMA’ they don’t say ‘he trains Boxing, Wresting and BJJ’. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are a huge amount of MMA fans that aren’t even aware of what the acronym stands for and I think this will be increasingly the case in the future, perhaps this is even a good thing as MMA will be seen as will be accepted as unique set of skills rather just ones that are borrowed and blended.