Okay I'll Say It -- MMA Gets the Adrenaline Pumping but There's Something Ugly that Lies Beneath

Mma  MMA is mesmerizing, especially for guys. It gets our testosterone pumping. There is a part of us that wants to be inside the ring, mano-a-mano, toughing it out with minimal protection, and may the best man win.

I've watched MMA matches on TV and they hook me with raw brutality. Maybe it's the fights I got into while I was growing up. I never wanted to fight, but I was often picked on by older, bigger guys, and was forced into fighting. Once the fight began I loved it. I considered it the ultimate competition, and you have no excuses if you lose.

I never lost a fight. A few were draws, but I was never beaten up. 

So MMA appeals to me on one level. On another level, I've reached the conclusion that this type of fighting is ugly, and the fighters and hard-core fans may have a problem.

Maybe I've gotten older and wiser.

There's a reality show that follows ultimate fighters around through their lives, training and travel. I watched one show and it was obvious that some of the guys on this episode had violence issues -- physically abused as children, growing up in violent families. As I watched the show, a realization set in.

If I were 20 years old again, I might train for MMA for a while but I doubt that I would last. I believe MMA attracts fighters who like to hurt people and don't mind being hurt. Perhaps they've been hurt at other times in their lives and feel as if they deserve it. Perhaps, as a lot of us do in our marriages, they're recreating what's familiar to them from their childhood. Naturally, this is a generalization and wouldn't be true for everyone, but I suspect it's widespread. I'm sure there are a lot of guys who try MMA just for the adrenaline and testosterone rush -- the same reason I entered the Toughman Contest back when I was 38 years old. I just wanted to test myself.

But there are other reasons some people want to go "ultimate." Perhaps its part of the video game culture of the past 20 years as kids have grown up hurting people on video screens. Have we desensitized ourselves to the point where we're returning to the days of the Roman Coliseum? Have we gotten to the point where we have a sociopath's lack of empathy when we see someone getting hurt?

One hilarious scene from the recent comedy "Bruno" was a scene near the end where Sacha Baron Cohen pretends to be an homophobe and gets into an MMA ring. It's a real crowd of MMA fans who aren't aware of the joke. Shots of the crowd show a lot of angry people who want to see violence. As the scene progresses and Cohen ends up making out with a guy in the cage, the crowd goes nuts and the ugliness of the people attracted to the MMA event is revealed.

My wife works at a filter manufacturer and she overheard guys in the shop talking about going to a bar downtown while they show MMA fights on the TV screens. One guy said he stopped going during those times because "you have to be very careful. You can't look anyone in the eye. They watch MMA and they just want to fight someone."

In recent years, MMA has siphoned off a lot of younger guys who would normally have entered into traditional martial arts. Go into a bookstore, check out the sports section of magazines, and you'll see a dozen MMA-type publications and only a few martial arts magazines like Black Belt, Inside Kung-Fu, Taekwondo, T'ai Chi Magazine, etc.

MMA guys laugh at regular martial arts. They believe real fighting is their domain. Those of us who have been in the martial arts for a long time know how wrong they are. Sure, there are bad martial arts schools, but in general we do learn to fight and we learn to defend ourselves. There are two main differences. I don't ever want to be in a fight. I don't want to make someone else bleed. I would do it if attacked, but I wouldn't feel good about it. If I go to a tournament I want to see skill and good sportsmanship, not competitors or spectators who suffer from a bad case of blood lust. Some of my students have had to defend themselves and they've done so very successfully. So we have nothing to apologize for when people who want to hurt others badmouth what we do.

I also like the precision and demands of the complete martial art. To become good requires determination, persistence, and physical skill. It takes many years of focus and self-discipline. I've never done anything as difficult and demanding as Chen tai chi.

Can anyone name more than one or two active boxing champions right now? If you're my age, you remember when Ali, Frasier, Holmes, Foreman, and others were competing for the heavyweight title. Some, like Ali and Holmes and Sugar Ray Leonard were artists. Boxing was the "sweet science." Sure, it was brutal at times, but underneath it all was skill and personal determination and toughness. You could win a fight on points, without hurting someone.

It's a different world. People interested in MMA aren't as interested in "sweet science" as they are in toughness.

The purpose of this post isn't to say that martial artists can kick an MMA fighter's butt. I know that isn't necessarily true (and so do you). It all depends on the person's size, strength, skill, and ability to remain cool under pressure.

I enjoy watching MMA sometimes because I'm a guy, I'm familiar with fighting, and it gets the adrenaline flowing. But there's something very ugly lurking just below the surface (and sometimes on the surface), and I think there are more positive martial arts that a lot of guys could participate in to channel their energies -- martial arts that could, in the long run, have a much more positive impact on their lives and their own self-image.

An Ultimate Fighter's Take on Kung Fu

Interesting story here about an ultimate fighter who is sort of putting down arts such as kung fu.

I've studied martial arts since 1973 and in all that time, I haven't been in a fight. My last fight was as a junior in high school. As far as I'm concerned, I hope I'm never in another one.

In this article, it's implied that kung fu isn't effective because in a real fight, a "grandmaster" kicked a guy in the groin and bashed his head on the bar to end the fight rather than rely on the more elaborate techniques he had spent decades practicing.

So what?

In the current steroid and testosterone-driven view of martial arts that's a side effect of the ultimate fighting craze, we lose sight of some important principles.

For one thing, these are "arts." When you're young, you very often start learning a martial art so you can fight. As you grow older and wiser, your practice evolves into something different--fitness, spirituality, personal discipline, philosophy, mastery of self.

Sun Tzu wrote that the best fighter avoids a fight. It doesn't get any better than that.

Some of the best techniques are the simplest. If a kick to the groin will end a fight, it's much better than breaking someone's arm or neck, or putting them in a wheelchair, which the ultimate fighter in the article seems to think the bottle-wielding attacker belongs.

There's another important reason not to injure someone critically in something as stupid as a bar fight: the risk of a lawsuit. Injure someone critically in this day and age, and the guy you beat up could end up with all your money. This isn't the Wild West, and it isn't ancient China, where martial artists fought and the only thing to lose was your dignity and reputation (or your life). Here, you can lose your job, you can go to jail, you can lose your home and your bank account.

If you're willing to put all that on the line just to prove you can break a guy's elbow with a joint lock, go ahead, my friend.

One of my 15-year old students used kung fu against an attacker--a drunk adult who grabbed him by the collar and raised his other fist to punch. Before he could punch, my young student did a chin-na technique that we practiced in class and shattered the adult's elbow. The attacker spent a few days in the hospital, underwent surgery, and had a long recovery.

Maybe the ultimate fighter would have been happier if the kung fu "grandmaster" had caused the attacker in the bar to spend time in the hospital in surgery. It takes a lot of internal anger to think that way. Anger shouldn't even be part of the equation in a fight. But then again, ultimate fighters have never been accused of being philosophers.

There are many reasons to study and practice martial arts that have nothing to do with fighting and hurting someone. Too often, young guys full of "piss and vinegar," as the story says, don't have the insight, life experience, and the wisdom that comes with age to realize this. And so they put other arts down.

I respect ultimate fighting and the guys who pursue that sport. My kung fu school is right down the street, just a few blocks from one of the best ultimate fighters in the business -- Pat Miletich. I always cheer his guys on, because I think it's really cool that such a great teacher is in our town. He's very successful, and I think that's fantastic.

But let's get serious. There are rules in ultimate fighting. It's against the rules to instantly break the elbow or knee of someone you're fighting. It's against the rules to break their neck. Almost always, a fighter who is in a lock that might break a joint is able to tap out and end the fight.  And when did you last see an ultimate fighter jam a finger into his opponent's eyes? When did you last see an ultimate fighter, being held in a painful arm lock, bite a chunk out of his opponent? That would be real fighting.

Good fighters in any art are good fighters. But even an ultimate fighting match isn't "real" fighting. It's really cool, and it's mesmerizing to see two guys go at it, and the training you go through is brutal, but there are still rules.

If I was 20 again, I'd probably study ultimate fighting with Pat. For a while. Until I began missing too many practices because of the injuries. At my age (I'll be 54 in a couple of months) it would be silly to engage in something that would have me limping into work. You just don't see many ultimate fighters in their 50's.

Ultimate fighting is a young man's sport for several reasons. Your body takes so much punishment at a young age, it takes a heavy toll. Your joints can't take the punishment as you get older. You heal more slowly as you get older. And as you get older, you understand that the testosterone rush that causes you to do so many stupid things when you're young, also leads you to believe that extreme force and violence are the best ways to deal with a physical confrontation.

The kung fu grandmaster in the news story probably understood this, and that's why both he and his attacker survived the encounter without an injury more serious than a "simple" kick to the groin.