The Martial Arts Phenomenon

Martial Arts have fascinated the British public for many years

From Hollywood Films to the rising popularity of Kung-Fu and Karate back in the 70s; the highly energetic and ‘lightning-fast moves’ from the East – had the public incredulous and eager to learn more. Many of these traditional styles have now become mainstream. It’s not unusual to witness – Karate, Boxing, and Ju-Jitsu being performed by two fighters; battling it out to an audience of thousands.

With the growing popularity of these martial arts; an ‘all-round’ sport style which you may know as MMA (mixed martial arts) has evolved; which has now found its place in modern sport. The world of martial arts is broad; it could be argued that many styles are a hybrid of others. This article will look at the development of mainstream fighting sports which have gripped the nation; through comparing three traditional styles of martial arts; Karate, Boxing and Ju-Jitsu, and how they may have influenced MMA’s development. Some of the reasons they might be classified as ‘incomplete’ styles in modern combat sports, will also be looked at.

The Japanese style of Karate

Known equally for its etiquette as much as its strong kicks and punches; karate is a style that has ingrained itself with the British public since the 70s. From ‘karate kids’ to black-belt grandads; you are likely to see variations of this style being practised in church halls and leisure centres throughout the UK. Up until the 70s, the majority of the British public were used to western boxing; or watching staged wrestling matches on Saturday night tv. The introduction of karate from Japan enthralled the general public who were soon searching to find their local class. It could be argued that karate was the original style to gain popularity in the UK; moreover, the one that influenced the nation to take their pick and learn from the many successor styles that followed.

Although karate is regarded as an effective form of self-defence; its practicality has been put into question with certain aspects of the style. In contrast to boxing, which includes ‘heavy contact’ sparring; many karate schools may only practice light, point-based fighting techniques; which are often pre-planned technical sequences. For example – a fighter may perform a set combination of controlled punches and kicks at their opponent, which the opposing fighter blocks. This staged sequence can be performed several times to help improve technical ability, speed, and power, but the ‘realism’ of these pre-staged fights with regards to a ‘real fight’ situation has been under discussion with contemporary martial arts fans.

In addition – the practicality of ground fighting systems such as Ju-Jitsu has put the effectiveness of karate as an ‘all-round’ style into question. Although some joint-locks and body-throws are incorporated into karate – it can be argued that there is simply not enough practical elements to make karate effective if a fight was to take place on the ground.

Boxing – a martial art?

Although you may not perceive boxing to be a martial art; it can very much be classified as one of the ancient styles, with roots dating back to the 7th century BC. Boxers are some of the hardest punchers on the planet; this style is all about conditioning your mind and body to not only deliver and evade well-executed punches but also to take them. Boxers train to fight; a typical class can involve – fitness drills, heavy sparring, and punch bag training; thus, exposing the students to real fight situations and preparing them mentally.

Some people may assume that boxing is just two shirtless brutes trying to knock each other out, but a well-trained boxer is a highly-skilled martial artist. The style is known as the ‘sweet science’ and boxers use footwork and body movement as gracefully as any other well-trained fighter.

Boxers are experts at delivering devastating punches, but the style is far from complete within the world of mixed martial arts. For example – the unpredictability of lower body movements such as kicks and sweeps could work against the boxer; as a result, a lack of knowledge and familiarity with these movements could potentially give the boxer’s opponent an advantage. In addition, if a fight was to take place on the ground with an expert in Ju-Jitsu – the situation is likely to turn out negative for the boxer; who, without adequate ground fighting skills, is at a high risk of becoming overwhelmed by their opponent.

Ju-Jitsu is known for its ground fighting

This style has variations such as Japanese and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu; however, the close range and ground fighting skills that make up the style will be the topic of focus. Ju-Jitsu is highly technical and does not simply rely on brute strength; instead, it employs skilful takedowns, throws, and joint locks which are an extremely effective method of gaining the advantage of your opponent in a cage fight situation.

With the rising popularity of cage fighting in the 90s; it was not unusual to see a Ju-Jitsu fighter take down an opponent double their size and overwhelm them in a way that resembled a boa constrictor choking their pray. These ground-based fights may appear to be two people rolling around over one another; however, the skill involved in submitting your-opponent effectively can take many years to master.

Ju-Jitsu is highly effective; however, learning it as your only style may not offer you an ‘all-round’ method of fighting. For instance – a Ju-Jitsu fighter may be put in a vulnerable situation against a boxer if they are unable to take the fight to the ground, and have to rely on a stand-up fight. The speed, power, and accuracy of many boxers’ hands – may be out of the Ju-Jitsu fighter’s skill set when defending themselves against the boxer. Likewise – the fighter may be at a disadvantage against a highly trained karate fighter; for example, a well-timed spinning kick may be unfamiliar to a Ju-Jitsu fighter whose training does not practise using or defending such movements.

The world of martial arts is highly complex

The whole debate could easily turn into a playground argument regarding whose style is best. In simple terms – any martial art has the potential to be effective if your training scenarios are realistic. Regarding the effectiveness of the different styles in street defence situations; this is an entirely new debate. You could probably agree though; MMA has evolved from the various styles of martial arts; because each has their own specialities that work, and make them unique; moreover, learning a style that incorporates a bit of everything appears to be the best option in competitive combat sports.

Thanks for reading.

A.T Hawthorn – 13.7.19

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