I remember when the argument first started on forums.  It’s an age old argument but technology has forced it to change.  Instead of seminars or magazine reader write-ins, it had shifted to the digital space.

‘Mixed martial art is more effective than traditional martial art.’

‘A traditional martial art master can overcome any mixed martial art fighter because of time of study.’

‘Combatives can’t be trained full speed, so who wants to learn it….we are better off with sparring and MMA!’

It was always a strange dichotomy – how do we reconcile the Alpha and Omega, and the Nu in between?  Everyone argues about the validity of the other…which is a fence post I have tried to walk for a long time.

Combatives is the basis of all martial art.  Look past it’s current iterations and to it’s meaning – it’s fighting for your life.  Simple, effective, quick to learn.  Our ancestors didn’t have a martial art, they had tools around them they made weapons, used them against their enemies, and figured out the quickest way to win.  From kung fu to pankration, Applegate to Pramek Adaptive Combatives…it’s all about simplicity and making it work.

Martial art was combatives turned into a learning style…over time as cultures needed a means of passing on to the next generation not only their style of survival fighting, but the intricacies they found in training.  They used martial art as a means of teaching what they found worked, how they found it worked, and how to pass it on in an organized manner.

MMA was what many considered the eventual evolution of martial art….the blending of styles.  Why do all kicks when someone may grapple?  It was, and is, what many consider to be the highest form of martial art – as it blended styles of martial art for the competitive ring where no holds barred…style against style.  Therefore, it must be the highest level of martial art.

But is it that simple?

Let’s take a step back. READ ON BY CLICKING READ MORE


First, let’s look at MMA in it’s current iteration – the UFC.  Every time a fighter comes up, they name the martial arts he or she has studied.

Second, we look at martial art competition – the longer someone has trained, the higher the belt, the better they do at sparring.

And lastly, we must look at combatives – the root of modern martial art.  Most combative systems are based in simple judo, juijitsu, sambo, boxing, and weapons work.

When we look at the MMA schools we find a variety of styles being taught:  muay thai, boxing, judo, jiu jitsu, kick boxing, karate.  I know many of the highest ranking MMA schools that have on staff experts on certain martial arts to train their students to be better than the opposition at certain things (for example, sambo and leg locks) to get a leg up.

When we look at modern martial art schools, we see a focused study on one of the styles taught in an MMA school.  My good friend Kyle Church runs a Tae Kwon Do school – he is a 6th Degree Blackbelt and runs the school at Tiger Rock.  He was one of my earliest training partners and has always believed it important to expose students to other forms so they can apply their TKD against it.  His school focuses on one set of skills, Tae Kwon Do, but occasionally incorporates grappling into his class.

When we look at combatives, we see modern combatives styles who’s teachers have a background in traditional martial art.  Matt Larsen is a die hard BJJ and JJ practitioners, Kelly McCann incorporates muay thai and boxing into his combatives work, and I (dare I include myself in such a sentence) still teach the Kadochnikov form of sambo study in my study and roll when I can with others.

The greatest injustice done upon the martial art community has been internet style marketing.  Somewhere along the ling we forgot the basis for all we do and move toward what works now.  Youtube has replaced the seminar circuit, websites and online sales have replaced the traditional school, and MMA gyms have supplanted the traditional martial art school.  While these schools have tried to outlast the onslaught, the martial art world of the 70’s and 80’s has been replaced with black belt factories and UFC gyms (one of which is opening next to my house).  I cringe at what will become of that location…but, it is better than the Movie Galley that was there.  That place sucked and I am proud to say I owe them no late fees.

In the end, we have to take it step by step.

To survive on the street, you must have training in combatives.  Combatives is what we see in every fight and we can use the internet as our source of intelligence.  Training in hard striking, targeted kicks, weapon defense…but most of all exposure to these situation tempers us to the reality of fighting.

We move from combatives to martial art, as we look for specialization in what fits us.  Some people are genetically built for certain styles…kickers, strikers, grapplers:  they are half trained, half born.  A person with long legs and short arms will never be a great striker, nor will a person who is 120 lbs be a great grappler in the competition that is life.

And we must use MMA to hone our personal weapons.  MMA blends, it shows us in training and competition the most common denominator.  MMA is not a form of mastery in an art, it’s a mastery in competitive fighting.  MMA shows the common denominator in striking, kicking, and grappling is shown in it’s training.  Any student of martial art can benefit from it’s study…but any MMA student benefit from the targeted study of their weakness through traditional martial art.

For all of eternity, boxing, which I grew up doing and tested my skill at Atlanta Boxing Gym, has always been a study of boxing in every culture through settling scores in fisticuffs…boxing is a TMA, it can be used in combatives, and it makes an MMA fighter better.  See:

In closing, step back…look at how you can improve your skills at the basic boxing gym, or a TMA school. Find one that works with what you are doing. Then test it within your sport. Find an MMA school and use it to test your skill level with your training. And most importantly, always keep the thought process of combatives – you are there first to learn to survive, then have fun.

1 Reply on The TMA MMA Combatives divide.

  • Joel L. says:

    I could not agree more. One of the great things about MMA is the variety it offers. with good training partners, you might spar against someone who is a strong boxer, kick-boxer or grappler. I’m personally weak in BJJ, but i find that is where i have the most fun in training because that’s where I’m able to make the biggest gains in skill.

    one other thing to keep in mind is that MMA is a sport that is constrained by a rule set. if your focus is being able to protect yourself in a street fight, just keep in mind that folks might behave a bit differently. I don’t have any reservations about going for a rear naked choke or triangle against someone in a grappling match, but on the street, getting my inner elbow or thigh bitten to shreds doesn’t really appeal to me. (or more importantly the loss of mobility in applying these).

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