From Traditional Martial Arts, to MMA...

 in London - Sherbourne Martial Arts Academy: SMAA

Why do world renowned martial artists often insist that their art is the most complete martial art for self-preservation?  All martial arts aspire to this common goal, yet each martial art has similar but different approaches to address the universal problem of violence.  Often, the practitioners of an individual martial art will try to tout their style or system as the “ultimate” martial art that dominates over all others - this argument is often borne out of ambition, ego, and in some cases, inexperience and lack of exposure to combatives arts in general. This continual controversy on which art reigns supreme has generated many arguments and much infighting amongst martial arts factions for most of the 20th century.  It is this long-standing argument that has ultimately led us to the world of MMA as it exists today.

Instead of propagating contention and disagreement, let us look at the commonalities (rather than the differences) that show us there are more connections and similarities amongst martial arts than differences and disconnect.


For purposes of this exploration, we will group the existing martial arts into three categories, that focus on Striking, Grappling, and Mixed Martial Arts.  The following is a short list of popular martial arts categorized by their predominant approaches to self defense and combat.


Striking arts: Boxing, Kickboxing, Karate (with sweeps and takedowns), Kung-Fu, TKD, Savate, and Muay Thai (with clinching).  Although some of the “classical” martial arts listed in this category do include elements of grappling, throwing, and joint-locks, the predominate focus is on striking your attacker with a punch, kick, elbow, or knee.


Grappling arts: Aikido, Judo, Greco-Roman/Catch Wrestling, Sambo, Sumo, Jiu Jitsu (Japanese or Brazilian).  Similar to some of the classical martial arts listed above, these Grappling Arts also embrace elementary forms of “striking” your opponent, but the predominate focus is on grounding your opponent, and submitting them with a joint-lock, choke, or gaining superior position and establishing a controlling hold.


Mixed Martial Arts:  Arts with a mix of Striking and Grappling, such as MMA, Pankration, Vale Tudo, Shootfighting, Kajukenbo.  These arts are comprised of various elements of both classical Striking and Grappling arts, and the key notable difference is that the arts focus on neither - yet incorporate both with an equal focus.

In examining the above list, we see one overall commonality - all of these martial arts will assist you in self-defense, and each of them in their own way will improve your overall strength, speed, agility, balance, coordination, flexibility and conditioning.  This is accomplished through drills that strengthen and stretch muscle tissue and build strong neural pathways in the brain through consistent repetition of precise movements (many refer to these recognized neural pathways as learned “muscle memory”). Sets of related fundamental techniques are learned at the onset and get progressively more complex as the practitioner evolves in his/her training, and if the training is well-conceived, the techniques will gradually build upon one-another - each progressive and more complex technique is borne out of basic skills learned in early training. Effectiveness and gains increase with added experience and appropriately tailored instruction.


For example, if we look at Karate, Boxing, and Kickboxing, we see similarities in the building of very basic skills - first, we learn how to stand and move (basic footwork).  We progress to very basic blocking and punching drills (Boxing/Karate defense, simple straight and hook punches), and eventually move to basic kicking drills (first the front kick, then the side/round kick, eventually moving to more advanced techniques: high and spinning kicks, etc.).  As the student progresses, two things become obvious - First, the core basics never change and these core basics require endless repetition to perfect. Second - each advanced technique builds upon an earlier foundation (a more advanced uppercut punch evolves from what is learned from a basic hook-punch, and a hook-punch evolves from what is learned from the core basic straight punch).


When we turn the spotlight to focus on grappling arts, we see a very similar progression and scaffolding of the curriculum.  There is a core set of basic movements and positions that must be practiced and you start with the very basic - transitioning from a standing conflict on the feet, to ground fighting.  In jiu-jitsu, this may begin with basic positioning and movements, such as clinching, sprawling, “shrimping” and “scrambles” on the mat, as well as how to fall and roll properly. The student advances and learns the basic control control positions (e.g., top-mount, side-mount, full mount, the back, full guard) to more complex controls such as half-guard, open guard, butterfly guard, etc.  Once basic movements and positional control is learned, exposure to sets of basic submission techniques, such as chokes, the Americana, arm-bars, Kimura and more can be explored. More advanced techniques become apparent as the student progresses. All of this is built around experience on the mat - knowledge is great, but rolling and experience is the key. So we see a very similar development in the training methodology between the striking arts, and the grappling arts - a focus on endless repetition of the basics, and a gradual progression of the student that is built around earlier foundations in the art.


Now, as we turn the page to mixed martial arts (MMA), this becomes the glue that binds things together.  Both the grappling and striking arts are intended to provide a method of self-defense - a common goal with all martial arts - but the disciplines have been principled on two different approaches.  MMA is what brings us together under a common umbrella. This means, no more grandstanding and pontification on which martial art reigns supreme. In contrast, one could say that MMA is not a martial art at all, but a common aggregation of techniques culled together from many different sources, and based on many different experiences and perceptions.  Above all, MMA must constantly evolve and can never stagnate. For a quick tutorial on what this “evolution” entails, simply compare UFC 1-5 with UFC 215 - 220, and you will see what I mean. The art is continually evolving and continuing to figure out new ways of combining the best of the striking and grappling arts together, under one roof.


SMAA and the WKKJO primarily focus on Karate, Kobudo and Jiu Jitsu (Brazilian), and draw on any other martial art for functional self defense purposes.  This may include Boxing, Muay-Thai, Savate, Sabaki, and any other art that adds to our overall tool-box of effective techniques and training methods. Although the name appears traditional and exclusive, the philosophy is very contemporary and inclusive - we never stop evolving, and we will never stagnate in the comfort of our prior knowledge.


Only by looking ahead can we continually evolve our techniques and applications.

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