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.