This article is from the Martial Arts FAQ, by Matthew Weigel email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
Mixed Martial Arts is both a style and not a style simultaneously. It
is both a new and old way of thinking about martial arts. It bases the
decisions about which techniques to use on their demonstrated
effectiveness by different practitioners in open, non-style-specific
sparring and/or competition that is designed to have as few rules as
possible while still ensuring safety against death or severe permanent
There are two main styles of MMA:
1. Sport MMA- Mixed Martial Arts designed for sporting competition,
such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Pride Fighting
Championship, or Vale Tudo style fighting matches. These matches
usually have two unarmed persons duking it out with the core rules
being: No biting, No eye-gouging (with fingers or chin) and No
fish-hooking (inserting body parts such as the fingers into bodily
crevices such as the mouth or nose). Groin attacks (striking or
squeezing the groin) are also often illegal.
The promoters may add more rules, or simply use what are considered to
be the core rules. More restrictive promotions of MMA include Old
Pancrase, Shootfighting, or RINGS rules. These rulesets often ban
striking on the ground, closed-fist striking, or both.
In general, boxing (kickboxing/muay thai included), wrestling
(Freestyle, Greco-Roman, and to a lesser extent Judo), and Brazilian
Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) are the three styles that comprise the core of nearly
all modern MMA training.
2. Street MMA- The principles of Mixed Martial Arts as applied for
non-sport situations. There seem to be fewer mixed martial artists
interested in this as compared to sport MMA, though the number of
practitioners is growing. In practice, many, though not all, of the
persons doing this come from a Jeet Kune Do background, and sometimes
call what they do Jeet Kune Do (ex. Matt Thornton, Erik Paulson)
Their work is somewhat different from the JKD mainstream in calling for
large amounts of few-rules sparring, and they encourage their students
to do sport MMA sparring/competition. One can argue endlessly whether
what they do is or is not MMA or JKD- suffice it to say there are
similarities to both, and that JKD can be MMA and MMA JKD.
Most Street MMAers believe that sport MMA merely needs some changes in
strategy (less emphasis on staying on the ground, more weapons
awareness) and the addition of some techniques to become highly
effective for the street. By far the most common addition to
street-oriented MMA is Filipino martial art (FMA) training, due to its
emphasis on, and practical use of weaponry, primarily the stick and
The sport developed worldwide in the current form circa 1997, with the
main centers of development being Brazil, the US, and Japan. During the
time of its development, there were many exchanges of knowledge between
the nations that developed MMA. Techniques were taken from the martial
arts and sports of Brazil, Japan, England, America, Thailand, Holland,
France, and Russia, along with smaller amounts from other nations.
Early MMA was internationally popularized by the broadcast of the
Ultimate Fighting Championship I in November of 1993.
The first documented Mixed Martial Arts style competitions, and
certainly the conceptual ancestor of todays MMA, were the Pankration
events of Classical Greece. Different styles of Greek wrestling and
boxing were utilized. However, unlike the early UFCs, there was little
emphasis on proving which style(s) worked best. Instead, there was much
more concentration on representing the city the athletes came from, and
each city's native styles were considered to be equally good. Other
forms of MMA have existed throughout history, such as French
The first Ultimate Fighting Championship was the brainchild of Art
Davie and Rorian Gracie. Originally to be called War of the Worlds, it
ended up featuring a sumo wrestler, a boxer, a savateur, two
kickboxers, a kenpo man, a shootfighter, and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
fighter named Royce Gracie. Gracie swept by the other contestants to
win the tournament, and swept two of the next three tournaments (Gracie
could not continue due to heat stroke in UFC III) By the time of UFC
III, the referee was allowed to stop fights. After UFC IV, Rorian
Gracie pulled out of the UFC, and after UFC 6, similar but smaller MMA
events began popping up all over the country.
In the first few UFC tournaments, when the rules were limited to the
core three, a large variety of stylists competed. However, few fared
well. Boxers tended to dominate the striking, wrestlers (Freestyle,
Greco-Roman, and to a lesser extent Judo) dominated the takedowns, and
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) dominated on the ground. As a result, people
began focusing on these three.
(Note- much of the information on the history of MMA came from the book
No Hold Barred: Evolution, by Clyde Gentry III, available at
Most Sport MMA fighters fall into one of three general categories- the
groundfighter, the wrestler, or the striker.
The groundfighter is the closest to a "pure" grappler one finds in MMA
nowadays. The groundfighter's strength is the ability to force a fight
to the ground, where they then seek a fight-ending submission (joint
locks or choke). While the ability to perform takedowns is integral to
groundfighting strategy, a clean, powerful takedown is not as important
to the groundfighter as it is to the wrestler.
The wrestler is a stand-up and striking on the ground oriented
grappler, whose strength is usually the takedown. A common strategy of
the wrestler is known as "ground and pound." This refers to the method
of taking an opponent down, achieving a dominant ground position, and
finishing the fight with strikes.
The striker is also commonly known as the standup fighter, due to their
preference to stay on their feet and win with a knockout. The strategy
of the striker is called "sprawl and brawl". This refers to their focus
on nullifying takedowns (the sprawl is the highest percentage defense
to one of the more common entries to a takedown in wrestling, the
shoot) in order to stay upright and exchange blows.
These categories should not be taken as exclusionary of other
categories - groundfighters learn at least the basics of wrestling to
be able to take down people and the basics of striking to keep from
getting KOed. Strikers learn enough wrestling to neutralize takedown
and throw attempts and enough groundfighting to get back to their feet
if they are taken down. Wrestlers learn enough groundfighting or
striking to protect themselves in one of those areas and to be able to
easily finish opponents with another.
On rare occasions, you will see fighters highly skilled (by MMA
standards) in all three areas. These types of fighters are becoming
increasingly common as the sport becomes more professional.
Training resembles boxing, wrestling, and BJJ training, but with a much
smaller selection of technique (for instance, the BJJ spider guard is
strongly de-emphasized in MMA, as are wrestling pins). There is also a
focus on 'putting it together,' using boxing to set up a takedown, how
to take someone down while maintaining position for a submission,
boxing on the ground, etc.
Street MMA may add weapon drills, awareness training, and changes in
Examples of Street MMA are the Dog Brothers style of martial arts
sparring (full-contact stickfighting with limited to no protective gear
and real sticks), Roy Harris' school in San Diego, CA, and Frank Benn's
school in Austin, TX. Reality Fighting and adrenal stress/scenario
training (such as that done by Model Mugging/IMPACT, Tony Blauer,
Peyton Quinn, etc. ) are also often large influences on many of these