Tuesday, August 7, 2007

In Defense of Mixed Martial Arts

This was adapted from a previous post on a blog I keep elsewhere.

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MMA has been fiercely criticized for years, blackballed from the sports radio, television, and print publications. Sports Illustrated just recently saw fit to address the topic. For whatever reason our culture finds honor in football, a game that leaves men crippled at thirty with arthritic knees, backs, fingers that look like gnarled tree roots and a lifetime of post-concussion symptoms yet a single Muay Thai kick to the head is unconscionable. Even boxing, for all its corruption and history of death and disability, is defended as sport whereas MMA, well, you know, that's just a street fight. Well, you know, it's not, but money talks and when UFC's 2006 Pay Per View receipts cracked $300 million the bullshit started walking. Now everyone who wasn't on board with it before is trying to make sense of it, make a buck on it, or both.

"Why" is the most common question. I'm inclined to say "why" anything - why baseball, why knitting, why collect Matchbox cars, but the popularity of MMA is simple to me. We live in a flaccid culture without rites of passage into manhood. Boys teach each other how to be men, they create gangs, they scar their bodies with tattoos, they join the Armed Forces hoping it will give them purpose and direction. Men of my generation are fascinated with courage, honor, dedication and loyalty because they were so rarely displayed by absentee fathers. Fight culture validates manhood. And hell, if you can make it to Pay Per View the money's pretty damn good.

This is nothing new. Warriors knew that martial skills must be honed, so they created games to simulate combat. So as much as "traditional" martial artists (you know, the ones who train in feudal Japanese underwear) disparage MMA it's actually much closer to the true martial tradition than a class of 30 soccer brats flailing at the air. A samurai didn't teach his son jujutsu to build his self-esteem and improve his behavior at school. A samurai trained so that he could slam his enemy to the ground and break his body in the event that he couldn't run him through with his blade.
Mixed martial arts looks like a street fight to people who don't know a kimura from sashimi . The magic of MMA isn't that it's offers the best of any one martial art but that it forces each fighter to account for all variables at all times. MMA has forced martial arts schools across the world to diversify their training regimens, to address stylistic flaws in their "perfected" arts, and to discuss practical applications for an art that was always intended to be practically applied.

To be sure there is a lot of lowest common denominator "ground and pound" in mixed martial arts fights, but there's also the pin-point accuracy of Anderson Silva's strikes, Georges St. Pierre's superior athleticism and graceful melding of techniques, "The Prodigy" BJ Penn's unbelievable fluidity and dexterity, and world class judoka Karo Parysian's ability to drop anyone on their head with a quick turn of his hips. There is art in MMA, but it's like a Jackson Pollock painting. It's powerful and effects you immediately but you need some education to make heads or tails of it.
You don't have to like MMA but you need to understand it in order to offer any valid criticism.

1 comment:

Ryan J. Downey said...

I can't overstate what a talented writer you've become. Anxiously waiting for more.