The idea behind mixed art fighting has been around since the first caveman punched another cro-magnon in the face then slammed him into the ground. But how did today’s sport find its roots? Well no one knows for sure, but there are systems which have been discussed throughout history. The term Mixed Martial Arts itself was first coined by Battlecade president Rick Blume back in 1995, but MMA is just a name.
Its origins are a story all their own...
One of the earliest mixed competitions we know of can be traced all the way back to a sport called Pankration. Pankration was first documented in the Greek Olympic Games around 650 BC, and is one of the earliest documented full range combat styles. It implemented wrestling with boxing, kinda like those cavemen, eh?
Bartitsu was another early form of mixed arts. Created in London in the late 1800’s by a man named Edward William Barton-Wright, Bartitsu held many of the same ideas as today’s modern sport as it incorporated boxing for close range, Savate for kicks, and Judo and Jiu-Jitsu for ground defense. Bartitsu also included canne de combat, a type of French stick or cane fighting. Historians have stated that Bartitsu was one of the first competitions to combine both Asian and European fighting styles.
Over the years things progressed and there were a variety of tournaments throughout Japan and Europe. These competitions pitted artists from different disciplines together to prove themselves, and while it held elements of what we think of today as MMA there was a strict belief in traditional methods that seemed to keep students from integrating and adapting other forms into their practices.
Boxer Vs. Wrestler
The first bout between a boxer and a wrestler in the United States took place in 1887 when heavyweight champ John Sullivan, decided to go up against a Greco-Roman wrestling champion by the name of William Muldoon, who also happened to be his trainer. Sullivan lasted a whopping 2 minutes. In the late 1890s another boxer, Bob Fitzsimmons took on yet another Greco-Roman wrestler, Ernest Roeber.Similar fights would follow over the years but all of these were just one art form challenging another.
They Call Him Bruce
It wasn’t until the late 60’s early 70’s that a man by the name of Bruce Lee broke free from the constraints of tradition and formed a philosophy he called Jeet Kune Do. JKD was based on the principal that the best fighters were those who could adopt their own style based on what worked. Lee believed that all forms had their place and that one needed to integrate what worked and get rid of the rest. Lee would spend years working with the biggest names in various arts, from Joe Lewis in boxing to Chuck Norris in karate. Many people, including UFC president Dana White, believe that Bruce Lee is the father of modern mixed martial arts, and while in a sense that’s true we need to remember that in some fashion mixed arts have been around for quite some time; Bruce Lee was just the man to re-introduce the idea to a new generation of fighters.
In the United States Mixed Martial Arts began to gain popularity as a sport in 1993 when the Gracie family brought Vale Tudo, or “Anything Goes” competitions to our shores. Vale Tudo is a Brazilian sport that was developed in the 20’s and it implemented a variety of different styles, pitting fighters from all walks up against one another. The first rendition of the Ultimate Fighting Championship was a good example of Vale Tudo, and, like me, some of you may remember the early days of the UFC which differs a great deal from what we see now.
State regulations and added rule systems have morphed and changed, some say for the better, some say for the worse for the atmosphere of MMA. Judo fighters quickly learned that while on the ground, they might hold a certain advantage, standing against a Kick-boxer posed certain issues. That Judo fighter then went out and began integrating styles such as Muay Thai and Boxing into their routine which helped to develop them as all around fighters, and so on and so on. Today’s MMA practitioner typically has a regiment which includes:
- Muay Thai
- Other bits & pieces tossed in for flavor
So there you have it, a quick overview of the transformation of mixed martial arts throughout history. To learn more I recommend a quick Google search on the history of the UFC.
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