ESPN’s Outside the Lines recently did an expose about the rising popularity of mixed-martial arts among children.
As a fan of the sport I have long held the opinion that the national consciousness finds the sport so brutal (which it is) due to the foreign nature of martial arts discipline within our popular culture. It is true that millions of Americans participate in some form of martial arts, whether it is Judo, Karate, Taekwondo or the other forms. But participation in such combat sports in the United States is not as universal or widely seen as it is in other countries. Israelis practice a mixed-martial arts form called Krav Maga whose origin is derived from the military it is still a discipline almost all Israelis learn and is becoming commercialized. Russia and many other Slavic peoples have rich traditions of wrestlers and practitioners of Sambo. In Japan students learn Kendo in mass classes as part of primary school. Japan is also the home of Karate and Judo. Thailand has a long tradition of boxing known as Muy Thai. In Brazil it is common for individuals to learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
All of these disciplines as well as a host of others are commonplace and accepted within their respective sporting culture. The blending of these various disciplines into a new form has undergone a serious evolution now known as contemporary mixed-martial arts. This new form of martial arts is unique and fresh yet unfamiliar and confusing to untrained eyes. It is commonly dubbed brawling or street fighting because that is the closet thing our sport culture can label it as.
While the United States does have a rich tradition of boxing and wrestling (Roman-Greco) these two forms of combat are not prominent in the collective consciousness. Wrestling was never truly popular (unless it was Hulk Hogan and the Rock) but boxing has recently undergone a Dark Age in popularity and appears to be in a transformative period or Renaissance. Due to our familiarity with boxing, mixed-martial arts is often compared to boxing (OTL has posed these questions and debates several times). Such a comparison is unfortunate due to these sports being similar in only a small fashion. It is on par with rugby versus American football or baseball versus cricket. Such comparison, while useful in creating a narrative that makes for highly debatable television, does not do justice to boxing or mixed-martial arts.
The views expressed on Outside the Lines while informative and interesting were right and wrong at the same time, though such nuance was ignored in favor of the classic proponent vs. opponent debate at the end of the segment. Watching these children partake in the sport I love left me with several thoughts. The first being they are too young to be at the stage of martial arts integration equal in professional MMA. In my opinion these kids are better served by focusing in on all the doctrines both individually and simultaneously. In other words, Monday is pure Jiu-Jitsu, Tuesday pure Judo, Wednesday Greco-Roman wrestling and so forth. I feel that this better prepares these students for the rigor and diversity of MMA far better than launching them into said diversity. Most of the footage shown during the OTL report appeared to be poor quality wrestling and ground-and-pound. This critique is more directed at the teachers of the sport. These teachers might not have the qualifications to teach pure BJJ, pure Judo or pure wrestling so it is understandable that they begin with hybrid training.
The second point is that State athletic commissions ultimately determine the rules for sanctioned combat sports. Currently athletic commissions allow for fourteen years olds to box in competition. The same should apply to mixed-martial arts.
While MMA has undergone its own period of rapid transition there is still great work to be done in order to achieve national acceptance.