Mixed Martial Arts isn’t new but its popularity is. Back in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I had the good fortune to train with Steve Morris. Steve Morris was known worldwide as a formidable karate fighter and is recognised as one of the founding fathers of what we now call MMA. The training was tough to the extreme with knockouts frequently happening in sparring. I’m not sure how I survived a year but every club that I trained at after, even as a professional kickboxer, was easy in comparison.
To give you a better insight into the differences between MMA and Japanese martial arts training, most traditional Japanese clubs are divided into ‘jutsus’ and ‘dos’, ie, jujitsu, kendo, etc. Karate is formally known as karatedo. The difference between these two is that a ‘jutsu’ martial art solely deals with fighting techniques whereas a ‘do’ martial art has the same fighting techniques but also deeper learnings. Furthermore, some martial arts have introduced rules into their system, effectively rendering them as just a sport, such as judo and boxing. Many karate clubs concentrate solely on sport karate.
Karate is an ancient form of combative techniques developed in Japan with underlying principles of self-discovery and self-improvement . The ultimate aim of karate training was to aspire to live by a set of core beliefs and values including courage, loyalty, self-control, honour and justice. Many karate styles still have their emphasis on the core values.
Back to MMA. Over the years, I’ve learnt many different styles of martial arts. Those students who attend Friday sessions at Loughton Club will know that we host Penchak Silat classes about twice a year. Our Wado Ryu syllabus also includes short-range Muay Thai techniques. I’ve met some excellent fighters along the way. Up until 3 years ago, I regularly sparred with professional heavyweight MMA/Cage fighters. The best MMA fighters that I’ve seen are, in my opinion, the ones who have a good grounding in a traditional art, whether that is karate, boxing, jujitsu, muay thai or some of the lesser known forms.
This variety of experience has given me the opportunity to see what does and doesn’t work in a real-life self-defence situation. Personally, I prefer karate to MMA because, as well as teaching core values, it has more relevance in ‘street’ self-defence. For example, MMA fighters are well trained in going-to-ground. This isn’t always the best solution on the street because of the danger of multiple attackers. MMA fighters wear gloves which are unrealistic in a real fight. There are rules in MMA but no rules on the street and a robber or assailant may attack in an unpredictable manner or with a weapon. The cushioned or sprung floors of the dojo/ring won’t prepare a student for the concrete/tarmac of the street.
I also believe that when teaching students how to harm others, there should be some moral guidance taught alongside this. As a Sensei, I have a responsibility to ensure that students are fully aware of the consequences if they use their karate outside of the dojo, from both lawful and ethical viewpoints.
At Loughton Karate Club, we train solely for self-defence and self-improvement.
Sensei Stephen O’Brien