Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Religion vs. science / TMA vs. MMA

Since I practice both a traditional martial art (aikido) and mixed martial arts, I often get caught up with lots of arguments and discussions about the relative merits of the two. It's a touchy subject, since experienced TMA practitioners are highly invested in their arts, and MMA practitioners often have TMA experience that they "outgrew", so personal bias comes into play a lot.

For me, the two are not competing against each other, they are orthogonal in their attributes, overlap some, and only become antagonistic when someone postulates an either-or scenario. This is very similar to debates about religion vs. science or faith vs. evidence.

First, let's get some definitions out of the way. For me, a traditional martial art is one that emphasizes martial artistry along with cultural and character attributes. They are generally very formal, have a rigid hierarchy (often denoted by titles such as 'master', 'sifu', and 'sensei' and colored belts indicating rank), and tons of splinter groups and off-shoots from "mainlines". Examples of TMAs include the various flavors of aikido; karate-do; judo; tae kwon do; kung fu; wing chun; and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Most of these arts also claim to be extremely effective in self-defense situations and/or particularly lethal, an assertion based on their heritage and not on evidence.

Related to these are what I call "sporting martial arts". These are combat sports that are generally one-dimensional, have competitions governed by rigid rules, and often lack formal or culturally steeped rules of etiquette. Amateur wrestling, boxing, and, to a lesser degree, Muay Thai kickboxing are examples of this. Ironically these don't really claim to be strong for self-defense due to their one-dimensional nature, but their training methods make them surprisingly effective for that purpose. BJJ is a sporting art as well, but its roots are in self-defense and NHB fights so I don't put it in this classification.

A mixed martial art combines the techniques of multiple combat sports and martial arts, and eschews the rigorous rules of conduct and hierarchies typically seen at a traditional martial art. MMA practitioners train at a gym (not a dojo or kwoon), don't have a belt system, don't practice forms or kata, and work under a coach.

MMA arose in two big steps.

The first was Bruce Lee's introduction of the Jeet Kune Do philosophy, which discarded the dogma of "you train under one style only" in favor of "use those techniques which work, discard the rest". This was a revolutionary concept at the time (if you ignore a couple of the "ancient MMAs" such as aikijujutsu and ancient Greek pankration) and counter to the rigid mindset of so many traditional martial arts.

The second step, and quite possibly the most important, was the arrival of mixed martial arts as a sport, with organizations such as the UFC, Pride, Rings, various K-1 derivatives, IFL, Cage Rage, Rumble on the Rock, and so on providing fight cards and venues. This greatly popularized the sport of MMA and, at the same time, the notion of MMA as a martial art in its own right.

And it was about this time that the TMA crowd freaked the fuck out. To understand why, you need to realize that traditional martial arts typically do not have full contact sparring with "anything goes" type rules. Almost all TMAs require a uniform that is very unlike street clothes. Each style limits the techniques for sparring to emphasize that style's strengths. Almost all striking styles (tae kwon do, kyokushin, goju ryu, et. al.) disallow clinching, throws, or joint locks during sparring; often require heavy padding; and in some cases disallow many types of practical strikes (TKD doesn't allow knees or kicks to the leg; kyokushin does not allow punches or elbows to the face). Almost all grappling styles (judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu) disallow striking during sparring.

There's nothing particularly wrong with all that, but these limitations mean that a style's effectiveness is a matter of faith. Too often bold claims were made about a particular style's lethality, i.e. "I could use these killer techniques but I'd maim you, so I can't spar". This is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit.

Why is it bullshit? Because, as Jigoro Kano (creator of judo) discovered almost 100 years ago, if you do not practice your techniques against a fully resisting opponent, then you have not mastered that technique. That is an absolutely unavoidable reality. If you possess some devastating joint break or nose smash or eye gouge or throat crush that you've never actually used it, then there's no way you can tell if it's effectiven (in absolute terms) and if you've really mastered it.

This is where many sporting martial arts (and judo, which is part TMA and part sport), developed a practical advantage, even with huge gaps in their curricula. A practitioner of a sport art competes against others on a regular basis, exposing them to opponents that do not want a technique performed on them. By using only techniques that won't kill someone, combatants can use their full repertoire at full speed and power.

This has a couple benefits. The first is that a student truly learns how to use a technique, under duress, and under less than ideal circumstances. This cannot be emphasized enough. The second is almost entirely intangible -- the student learns to deal with conflict and confrontation at high speed. Many TMAs train students using rote partner drills or unrealistic attack patterns (aikido's randori). The student's mettle is rarely tested against an attacker using skills or strategies outside that TMA's comfort zone.

A boxer may not be great at take downs or kicks, but he's usually very comfortable having someone trying to knock his head off. A wrestler may not have good striking skills, but he's used to someone trying to tackle him and slam him to the ground. Real world experience will trump theoretically dominant skill sets almost every time.

Now, MMA is the polar opposite of a TMA when it comes to the effectiveness of a technique -- it is purely evidence based. Faith doesn't play into it. Techniques are researched, developed, enhanced, and then tested in the crucible of a mat, ring, or cage. Techniques that simply do not work very well eventually fall by the wayside, so you have an accelerated evolutionary mechanism at work.

Over the past 15 years this has been strikingly evident in the MMA world. In the early days of the UFC you had Brazilian jiu-jitsu guys dominate using very rudimentary take downs and almost no striking skills. Over time wrestlers with superior take downs and take down defense, but sub par striking and submission abilities, started to dominate the scene. Then fighters like Fedor, BJ Penn, Wanderlei Silva, and GSP started showing up. They would use Brazilian jiu-jitsu submissions, wrestling take downs and take down defense, boxing punches, and Muay Thai kicks and knees.

MMA practitioners today are much, much different than those of even 10 years ago. An MMA fighter today probably still specializes in one domain, but he will be at least "good enough" in every other facet of the game or he won't be competitive. This is the evolution of MMA today.

MMA techniques and training regimens are based on evidence, not faith. You don't learn a technique with a master scowling at you saying "This will work when you need it, trust me!" If you can't pull off something, you won't use it, and you'll find out soon enough if you can pull it off.

TMAs, on the other hand, don't have the laboratory of no-holds barred competition with which to evolve, which is why, by and large, the goju-ryu or wing chun of today is nearly identical to that of 50 years ago.

TMA practitioners have their counterarguments when it comes to pure combat efficiency. The most common is that a TMA isn't a "sport" and thus is potentially more lethal. But as I discussed earlier, if you have a host of lethal techniques that you've never used against someone trying to beat the crap out of you, it's doubtful that you'll be able to use them when the shit hits the fan. The second most common, and ironic, argument is that a TMA is more effective "for real" since MMA competitions occur inside a regulated ring, wearing protective gear, minimal clothing, no weapons, and a well-defined one-on-one scenario.

This claim of "more realistic" would have a lot more weight if TMAs regularly trained in street clothes, wearing shoes, with weapons, against multiple opponents, and outside on concrete or inside on hardwood floors -- using a wide range of techniques. But they don't, making the argument specious at best.

So all that said, I must be pretty down on TMAs, right? NOT AT ALL! As I said at the beginning, I still practice a TMA (aikido) regularly. And here's why: MMA and TMA offer completely different things.

If you want to learn how to fight, then I do strongly believe than an MMA is going to be far more effective than any TMA in existence. It's faith vs. science -- I have evidence of MMA effectiveness and, more importantly, as I progress with MMA I can test my own abilities. It is true that MMAs are really optimized for fighting against someone who also has training, but I don't consider that a liability. Many TMAs are really setup to fight against others of their own style or against completely untrained opponents.

But not everything is about fighting. TMAs offer a host of valid benefits:
  • minimal but real exposure to history and cultural information
  • a feeling of learning an art form. For many people things like kata, practice drills, etc. are relaxing all on their own.
  • flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular improvement
  • relaxed environments where you can hang out and have a good time without feeling competitive pressure
  • a feeling of accomplishment based on your own advancement, not on your competitive ability
For some these benefits are absolutely massive. There are people that would be woefully uncomfortable wearing board shorts, rashguard, and mouthpiece while getting the shit kicked out of them. For your average house wife or mid-40s executive, something like tai-chi or wing chun or shotokan may be just what they're looking for.

An MMA practitioner poo-pooing those elements is missing the point entirely -- those features of a TMA aren't meant to appeal to an MMA practitioner hell bent on crushing the opposition.

If you want to learn how to fight, then MMA is the answer. But MMA training would leave a lot of people empty and cold, people who would otherwise find deep satisfaction with a TMA.

The analogy is religion vs. science. Religion doesn't make a lot of sense to a lot of people, and it may not be practical as a cure for cancer or your financial problems, but it's a source of wonderment, comfort, and camaraderie with like minded individuals. And this is what TMAs are like.

Science won't comfort you or tell you what you want to hear, but it will provide data in a measureble, repeatable format based on experiments and observed behaviour. It is up to you to draw what you can from MMA, but it cares not for your own needs. But you can rely on it to be fairly objective or, more callously, uncaring.

And as in the modern world, religion and science are not mutually exclusive, unless you choose to put them at odds with each other. TMAs and MMAs can coexist as long as you understand their roles and accept their limitations. And if you choose not to do both, that's great, but don't disparage the other because you're projecting your values onto something that isn't a good fit for you.


Anonymous said...

I was stumbling around on the internet and came across this post.

Simply amazing. You have such good insight. Keep it up.

inihility said...

Great insight, however we all must acknowledge that this is a generalization, in the sense that the definition of MMA is that of a sport, and that sport is applied much more competitively than any TMA; like you already mentioned, the two offer different things, however they overlap in some areas, rather their focus is different in essence.

And why is that? Entertainment, a lot of people love watching two other human beings beating the crap out of each other. Without UFC, K-1, and other main stream MMA competitive venues, MMA would not be as clearly defined as it is today, competitively.

Another reason that is worth pointing out is that since MMA has no origin, or shall we say it has no dedicated origin, it has no culture or history to follow closely by, so the end result is that it can only focus on the combat aspects.

Justin said...

Awesome dissemination of both TMA's and MMA. Your experience in both helps alot. Coming from a TMA backround the only thing that I only really have problems with when people bash TMA's is the claim that TMA's are ineffective.

I hark on the latter part of your statement that TMA's are meant to use against people with the same training or NO training at all. I would assume that at least some MA training would be effective in self defense against someone with NO training at all. MA's are all about self-defense, and when you are able to have some ability to defend yourself I would say that, if learned through a MA, there has been some ability learned and hence it is 'effective.' Of course I speak as MA's in general versus untrained opponents, which is why I think MA's started in the first place.

Another quick point that irks me is that people fail to see that TMA's have been around for thousands of years. I don't think that something 'ineffective' would last for that long. There was a practical reason why TMA's developed not because some guys were just f*cking around and just talking about theory all day long.

thequickbrownfox said...

Interesting thoughts but you seem to be somewhat patronising about the benefits of TMAs, which is surprising as you practice aikido. Isn't part of the philosophy of aikido that violent conflict should be avoided, that the optimal outcome for a fight is for it to have never happened? From the sound of it MMA does not greatly concern itself with this.

Here's another analogy: MMA is a science that aims to maximise a single variable. TMAs are integrative sciences that try to optimise several variables.

Mr. Taps Too Early said...


I guess I disagree, I think my comments were pretty level and I specifically call out TMA's benefits and its appeal to a specific group of individuals.

The goal of my article is to identify why MMA, as a FIGHTING ART, is more effective than a TMA. It's not a judgment on the validity of TMA's in the grand scheme of things.

FWIW, I no longer practice aikido, I simply had to make the call where I wanted to spend my (limited) time and aikido fell by the wayside so I could do other activities (rock climbing, etc.)

JV said...

yeah, i think you're article still falls into the trap of sport versus art.

you say you study aikido? but obviously the point of aikido has been completely lost to you. aikido is a combat martial art, pure and simple. the fact that you don't realize that means that your training is less than effective. aikido's techniques have been honed on the battlefield, as in samurai battlefield. they're effective, but the practitioner has to make the techniques effective.

bjj, judo, boxing, muay thai, while they may have their merits, are still sport. there are rules; there is a set environment. just because a bjj player can put someone else in an armbar in a bjj competition doesn't mean anything outside of competition, period. in a combat situation, there are so many more variables.

me? i'm an aikidoka who has also studied judo. i love both. thankfully, i've never been in a self defense situation, but i have no doubt whatsoever that my aikido skills will be useful if/when that time comes.

Mr. Taps Too Early said...


Instead of reposting my article, I'll just say that my original post actually covers all this. Sportive vs. "realistic", resisting vs. participating opponents, and the limitations of sportive arts for self-defense scenarios.

But I will trust proven techniques -- i.e. proven to me directly instead of "I think some scrolls mentioned that these worked in Tokagawa era Japan") -- over theoretically perfect techniques that I can't use in a live situation because it's "too deadly" or "too brutal".

Don't get me wrong, there are elements of aikido that I still use, particularly kotagaeshi and nikkyo.

Amusingly enough wrist locks are in BJJ, but they're of the goose neck variety because that is far more reliable than trying to get the nikkyo/nikajo angle. Note that law enforcement also use the goose neck variety for this reason.

steve said...

A serious martial artist should understand the origin, history and technical skills in detail of his/her own style of martial art. A martial art is a martial art (who need a dictionary ?) If not , why call it martial art. If it is not a martial art, it should not be called a martial art in the first place. I do not like the idea to name it TMA or MMA, it is better to classify different MA's according to their situational applications or presentations. On the stage for competition, there are rules to follow if you want to participate or to win, therefore, the presentation of the MA on the stage (win or lose) would be quite different from the presentation of the MA on street (Life or death situation). The most important variable is YOU ! Every martial art has strength and weakness, I do not like to compare which MA is better than other. Again, the most importanat varible is YOU , your ability, your skills, your attitude, If you could defend yourself, protect your love ones, do good things to the society, your country and make yourself a better person, influence other people to become better persons, then you are doing good things to your own style of martial art.

Jerry said...

I cringed when I read this blog. It just sounds like some more MMA propaganda to me.

You can go to any MMA school and find just as many crappy fighters as you can in a "TMA" school.

What you're trying to do is compare the work ethic of professional figther with someone who just likes to run through forms a couple times a week. Is there really a comparison?

If you train hard and your methods are realistic then you'll be good at any MA whether it's MMA or TMA.

This blog should be entitled "My Jesus vs Your Jesus" :)

JV said...

i like steve's comments. i agree whole-heartedly.

"taps too...", you still make the same assumptions over and over. that somehow sport techniques are "proven". they're no more proven for a combat situation than anything else.

sincere training is the key. at my aikido dojo, uke isn't going to sandbag. if i leave an opening, they'll let me know by not allowing me to complete technique. when i studied hapkido, my friends and i would try to stab each other (with rubber knives of course!) or punch each other full speed. of course, there's only so far nage can take it without injuring uke.

train sincerely, always consider all the variables, train the mind with confidence, stillness and to be ready for action.

fun discussion.

Mr. Taps Too Early said...

Fundamentally it sounds like there's a disconnect here when it comes to the viability of sport training. My belief is that sport training that is competitive, while NOT the same as combat training, is still more valuable FOR combat training than doing ritualized combat with overly excessive rules that limit you. I've never been in an aikido dojo that allowed uke to throw repeated leg kicks, shoot for single leg take downs, or even jab. The techniques were straight atemi and overcommitted attacks. I've seen people yelled at because they resisted a technique too much.

If you guys believe otherwise, that's totally fine, and I respect that opinion. But for me, approaching this from an evidence based perspective, I can see evidence of effectiveness in closer-to-combat scenarios with MMA than I do with TMA. If all you train is point fighting with no clinches or takedown you are probably going to be woefully unprepared for an actual violent encounter. If you're used to being grabbed aggressively and with bad intent, then you'll be better prepared.

But I don't state or believe that sport BJJ or even MMA is the SAME as self-defense combat, I just posit that they are much, much closer than the sparring and randori of restrictive TMAs.

That said, judo and BJJ are TMAs and I still find them effective, but with obvious gaps in their repertoires as well.

Man, did someone link to this post or something, because that article was posted years ago and now suddenly it's getting comments all in one day! =)

Anonymous said...

"Man, did someone link to this post or something, because that article was posted years ago and now suddenly it's getting comments all in one day! =)"


JV said...

posted today to aikido journal online. oh yeah, i see the date now...2007! wow!

hey like i mentioned, i've done judo, and love it. i do think it's useful; teaches timing, distance, execution, many valuable things.

i'm doing aikido now, but i also trained in hapkido for some time. i wrestled for a time in high school also (wasn't very good at it though, lol).

from my perspective, the fundamental disconnect is between a rules-based art and a combat-based art. unfortunately, you can't train in combat. i understand the perspective of approximating using bjj/judo/mma/whatever. i respect that view also. but sports, to me, are too restrictive.

again, this is just my take. thanks for putting up with the comments. this is always a very interesting debate.

Mr. Taps Too Early said...

Hahaha, okay, that explains a lot =)


Respectful commentary is always good!

Regarding the sport aspect, I come from the other side, because if you look at Kano's original rationale for pulling the 'too dangerous' moves from jujutsu, he created this paradox where an ostensibly less effective set of techniques were actually more effective because they could be practiced at full speed.

For me, the sport aspect is precisely what allows BJJ, judo, boxing, wrestling, et. al. to be more effective as combat arts because of the resisting opponent.

Really this boils down to the fact that we have a finite set of choices when it comes to training:

* full on combat training without holding back. No rules. This has the downside that the minute you have one loss, your career is probably over =)

* emulated combat training using cooperative opponents and/or highly restrictive rules. Aikido randori/jiyu-waza and TKD point sparring come to mind.

* sport training, with resisting opponents and less restrictive rules. Kyokushin, judo, wrestling, sambo, catch, and BJJ fall into this category.

I think #3 is more realistic, because I value a resisting opponent FAR more than availability of dangerous moves. As I said in the original post "Real world experience will trump theoretically dominant skill sets almost every time." And as Kano found, until you can execute a technique against a FULLY resisting opponent, you have no idea if it actually works.

But that's just my opinion, I don't think there's really a right or wrong on this, but I wrote the original post to distill my attitude on this into a single post I could link to when talking to friends and training partners about this issue.

As an aikido data point, I was pretty comfortable with several core techniques, particularly nikkyo and shiho nage. I could execute them in class, but one day when experimenting with a friend, she escaped both trivially by doing things that people in class never did. She wasn't muscling, she was just thinking "Oh, why I don't I just do this?"

I remember the first time someone executed a sloppy kotagaeshi on me. I didn't airfall, instead I managed to back roll and executed a single leg takedown from my knees. This was outside a dojo (we were actually having this very discussion and he was an ikkyu in aikikai) and he was extremely irate.

Of course, the easy answer is that he did it wrong -- which is true! But then the obvious follow on is -- "Why was this the first time he found out?" Because I was resisting his techniques pretty hard. And this guy was an ikkyu.

Note that I've seen this at numerous schools, so I do tend to 'blame' the styles more than specific instructors. I've seen this with yoshinkan and aikikai in schools on both coasts. said...

Well written!. Although it may have already been commented on before, and sorry if it has, but i really would add Muay Thai to the list of traditional martial arts. It is very old, full of tradition and culture behind it. Unfortunatly, it is seen as most today as a thuggish art practised mearly by people who want to knock everyone out.

JV said...


i'm just going to say a couple more things to leave you with. thanks again for putting up with the comments. i think it's great to discuss these very important aspects of why we train.

take care. best of luck in your endeavors.

one, no matter the art, i believe that in a self-defense situation the defender must be able to strike. if you can't strike to either soften up or unbalance your opponent, forget it. i learned this in hapkido and this is how i train in aikido now.

two, a friend of mine who's been a hapkido instructor for many years said something very interesting to me once when he heard i was having this same debate, sport versus art, with someone else.

hey, i train hard, my buddies and i do not practice with each other in a compliant manner, we try to simulate real attacks at full speed as much as possible, without hurting each other of course. i'm personally confident that the techniques will/could work, but after a similar debate, i did ask myself "well how do i really know?"

my hapkido instructor friend left me with this...i'm paraphrasing a bit.

"you're asking the wrong question. what you should be asking is, are you willing to do whatever it takes in a combat situation?"

kenw said...

Interesting. I must agree with a lot of what you said. I have asked my 14 year old son to throw me some slow jabs so I can see if I can use Aikido to defend against them. He can't jab slowly and I ended up with a fat lip and I wrestled him to the ground although he is taller and stronger than me and playes lots of Rugby. I'm a 50 yr old 4th kyu. i believe we (Aikidoka) could do with some crosstraining in something like boxing to give us a heads up with what it feels like having a good clean straight punch coming at our face and not some wide haymaker that is easy to defend against. I have heard it said that against a good trained puncher you have to get almost in a clinch to use yr techniques. Atemi could be practiced in boxing training like Aikido used to do and this is what I shall do. taninsugake (Randori) does give us the opportunity to practice under multiple attachers (does MMA have multiple attackers ?) and all these things need to be considered as Aikido is not some secret weapon that makes us Superman and invincible like some dreamers believe.

Mr. Taps Too Early said...


I'll go out on a limb and say this -- against a _skilled_ opponent, aikido is useless. Aikidoka practice against, as you say, wide haymakers or nearly irrelevant attacks (shomenuchi) or wrist grabs.

A skilled opponent with proper training will be doing things that aikidoka never train against, such as jabs, sharp hooks, wrestling take downs, etc. Take a trained aikidoka and just watch him try to work against a judoka -- it's almost embarrassing. I've seen multiple shodan level aikidoka get demolished by sankyu level judoka.

That said, as my article tries to say, it's not always about the effectiveness, it's about the art itself sometimes and the culture and history and tradition.

MMA does not train against multiple attackers because its application is mostly for sport. Against multiple attackers I really don't think any art is going to be particularly effective unless they're all just running at you.

If you don't train against something regularly, when you encounter it you will be woefully unprepared.

Ironically enough, when I had this discussion with my old aikido instructor he challenged me to try whatever I wanted against him. He whooped my ass, but he did it using kyokushin =)

Gary said...

I believe it depends on training and the person more than the art. I have trained in Aikido for over 10 years and did some boxing and Gracie JJ in the past.

I have goofed around with Judo players (shodan + level not beginners) and it was possible to avoid takedowns or throws. However, I don't practice fluffy bunny Aikido.

Many Aikido dojo's practice only crazy straight puches (no one does this in real fights) and take blending to far. People who have only seen this side of Aikido believe Aikido is not effective. We regularly practice against jabs, use leg sweeps and as long as the two players agree we resist and attempt escapes.

I don't believe this is unusual as I have visited other schools that train in the same vein and been to seminars where we did throw kicks, sweeps, etc.

All this said, I do believe fluffy bunny Aikido dojos are more popular since they are more accessible to the hobbiest or part time student.

Peter said...

Very interesting discussion. However, I'm not sure why it has to be either-or. The Krav Maga school I went to (when I had more time) started with ritualized attacks (more like jujitsu or aikido) so you could learn to do basic techniques cleanly, including those that are effective but can't be used in a sport setting. However, the ritualized attacks and defenses were all ones that would make sense in a street self-defense context, and there was lots of discussion of when attacks occur, how to react and when to get combative, etc.

After yellowbelt, though, you could do sparring classes with contact (and protective gear and safety rules). You could also do BJJ-style grappling from early on. And a lot of the younger, more aggressive guys would go out and do MMA competition on the side. So you could create your own training mix and get the best of both TMA and MMA worlds.

I don't mean this to be a KM endorsement in particular, by the way. Any school could do this, including ones that come from long traditions. e.g. you could do traditional jujitsu with all the bone-breaks, etc., but then also do judo and some kind of striking sparring to train reactions.

Tsai Xing Wei said...

I came across this thread through Aikido Journal. Well though out article.

I would just like to add: MMA techniques usually are more effective and easier to learn in the rough and tumble world of sport MMA. It doesn't require the precision, the angles and the long, long time of training before it's effective that TMA techniques require. Hence the goose-neck joint locks vs nikkajo.

However, the advantage of TMA techniques would be that once you get the techniques right and it's becomes part of your DNA, you can apply it effectively on anybody of any size or strength. Because it's just physics.

Whereas sports like MMA and Judo, are still based on weight categories. A lightweight competitor will get pulverized by a heavyweight opponent because frequently the techniques aren't refined enough or precise enough to overcome the disadvantage of weight, height and strength.

Hence sport MMAs are more 'effective' in the sense that it takes less time to learn in order to apply it in a sports context, but TMAs are more 'effective' in the sense that it can handle more variables in a real fight to the death (multiple attackers? attackers with sharp knives? Bigger and stronger attackers?) but it takes much more time to learn in order for it to work.

i seem to remember reading that some of Morihei Ueshiba's student came to him from a Judo background precisely because he notices that he can throw guys much bigger than him in Judo, but he recognizes that Aikido can enable him to do that.

Tsai Xing Wei said...

By the way, I do Yoshinkan Aikido and Kickboxing too.

Tsai Xing Wei said...

MMA is like a jab. I like it very much and it's easy to learn and its effective. It's a bread-and-butter strike. You can practice this against a resisting opponent so you know it works. But sometimes the opponent just isn't fazed by it, because he happens to be twice my weight and a lot taller than me (I'm a small guy by the way).

TMA is like pressure-point strike with your knuckle. You have to be damn precise and time it right, or it won't work, and you'll end up pulverized. Takes a whole lot more time to get it right, and another zillion years to make it part of your DNA. You cannot learn this just by practising against a fully resisting opponent. You have to start off by practising against a completely compliant partner because you have to learn the precise points to strike, the pressure to be applied, and get the timing right (coz it works better when the opponent is breathing in rather than breathing out). But once you've mastered it, you can take down a rhinoceros of a man with just one light and well-timed strike. Saves you energy and allows you to deal quickly with multiple opponents. But you have to invest a lot to get to this stage. Hence the need for some 'faith' to begin with.

We need to train in both: TMA for it's preciseness, efficiency and beauty and MMA because... well... I don't want to wait 10 years before I can defend myself and the ones I love.

Mr. Taps Too Early said...

Tsai Xing Wei,

I understand the difference you're trying to portray, but in my experience...I've never seen the 'precise' TMA you talk about.

Weight classes are created because, all else being equal, the larger/stronger person wins. THAT is physics.

Judo is physics. And with great technique a very small person can throw a very large person. But at some point the physics of the strength/size difference cannot be overcome by technique alone, no matter how much people wish to believe this is so.

Keep in mind that Brazilian jiu-jitsu was created by a very small, light and frail person SPECIFICALLY because he emphasizes techniques over size/strength. Helio Gracie is the equivalent of aikido's O Sensei (or Shioda), a small person with excellent technique.

The difference, again, is the resisting opponent portion. I have never been convinced that a 50 year old grandmaster of any random TMA has any chance, whatsoever, against George St. Pierre, BJ Penn, or any other MMA champ.

Tsai Xing Wei said...

>I understand the difference you're >trying to portray, but in my >experience...I've never seen the >'precise' TMA you talk about.

I think you've hit upon the crux of the whole debate between TMA vs MMA. And it is all about what we've experienced and what we haven't.

Shioda (a young cocky judo champion then) was amused when he saw O'Sensei for the first time throwing around his students effortlessly. He thought it was faked. Until he was invited to attack O'Sensei and he 'experienced' the technique. That was the evidence for him, subjective though it was.

That's why this TMA vs MMA debate will forever be unresolved, because it is all based on subjective experience (or the lack of) which becomes 'evidence' for us. And this is exacerbated by the fact there are many more floppy bunnies out there teaching than real hard budo men. Plus MMA is a popular commercial sport on tv (but not many will pay to watch aikido demos).

As for the physics of things:
I did jiujitsu (classical, not BJJ) for a few years and many of the techniques are also in Judo (no surprise here). And yes, it is based on physics. But the physics of aikido are far more refined and less dependant on strength.

The physics of Judo/Jiujitsu are based more on leverage and pulling strength. The physics of Aikido are more on blending, entering (irimi - a technique that doesn't exist in judo), redirecting force and use of refined angles, which is more difficult to do, but it avoids clashing and reliance on physical strength.

Both the jab and the pressure point strike are based on physics but they are not the same in terms of effectiveness in ending a fight.

Anyway, your subjective experience is just as valid as mine. And at the end of the day, it is the man, not the art that makes the difference.


Mr. Taps Too Early said...

Yes, we've gone full circle -- it's faith vs. science. The problem with "real TMA is totally effective, but no one has seen it" is that it is effectively the same thing as magic, ghosts, or other Iraqi WMDs -- stuff people claim exist but we can't ever actually see.

So when I'm going to invest decades of my life in something, I need some kind of evidence that what I'm pursuing is going to be effective. Unfortunately we get apocryphcal stories about Shioda, Ueshiba, or ancient kung-fu wizards instead of something we can see.

I totally understand why some people have a problem with MMA, but despite its deficiencies, it's still evidence based with minimal rules compared to any TMA I'm aware of.

Tsai Xing Wei said...

It's apocryphal only if the stories don't come from the source but from untraceable hearsay.

What I mentioned about Shioda came from his own book "Aikido Shugyo" in his own words. (I have a copy translated to English).

Tenryu (a professional sumo wrestler in the 1930's who challenged O'Sensei in public) also recounted in a published interview a similar "conversion" experience.

Kenshiro Abbe (All-Japan Judo champ at his prime) also had a similar experience with O'Sensei and this is also published in personal interviews with him.

(Many of these interviews can be found in Aikido Journal online).

To these men, it is not blind "faith" but first-hand evidence. To use your own words, these _are_ the people who have _seen_ the WMDs at first hand. And based on these evidence, they _did_ spend the next several decades of their life in pursuing it. You can't tell them they didn't see what they saw and they didn't feel what they've felt.

A more apt analogy than MMA = scientific evidence and TMA = blind faith, would be those who claim the earth is flat because that is all they are able to see around them vs those who believe the earth is round because they went up to space and saw the earth with their own eyes.

Resistance-based training is also part of my aikido training. There are countless of times when my sensei tells me to resist his technique and not to fall no matter what he does, in order to show me what a difference a slight change in angle or body position makes. So I am not disagreeing with you that Aikido training needs resistance training which unfortunately is being overlooked in many Aikido schools today.

But there are also appropriate times for training with a completely compliant partner as well, in order to learn the finer points of technique that would be missed in the blur of rough and tumble action.

To master a concerto perfectly, requires you to practice your scales first. An especially more so for a novice beginning on his journey to mastery.

My personal evidence are the many times when I have felt at first hand the scary power of a well-executed aikido technique. I do kickboxing as well & used to do jiujitsu, and am used to taking punches and kicks and being thrown hard. But I've never been as scared of being manhandled like that in aikido.

But if your main point in your post is that Aikidokas today don't practice enough with fully resistant partners, then I fully agree with you.

(Discussing things like this often involves a lot of passion from both sides. I hope that I have not overstepped any boundaries of courtesy in my comments on what is after all your blog. If I have, I do sincerely apologize).

Mr. Taps Too Early said...

I guess "apocryphal" is a bad choice of words, it's more like "hearsay" when I can't witness it firsthand. So even if a credible source tells me that "this will work if you practice long enough", it's hard for me to believe that with 100% faith unless I can witness it myself.

I have never been thrown very effectively in aikido, and I trained a Yoshinkan derivative for years. When I started judo, and I was being thrown even when I resisted entirely

Going back to aikido's effectiveness, I've trained where I was allowed "resist" as much as I wanted, but I was NEVER allowed to use whatever techniques I wanted. I've never seen effective defense in aikido against a double leg takedown, a jab, or even a decent clinch. If it was capable of being effective, I'm sure we'd see some MMA fighters using it -- and those are people that train hours every day for years and years.

The closest I've seen is Lyoto Machida using sokumen irimi nage a couple times, but I'm guessing that was more coincidence than anything else (since he studies BJJ and shotokan).

Asaf said...

About 10 years ago I spent two years training Aikido (Aikikai) and my experience mirrors MTTE's.

I wanted to refer the earlier comment made by JV: "aikido's techniques have been honed on the battlefield, as in samurai battlefield. they're effective, but the practitioner has to make the techniques effective."

It's totally false. First, Aikido was created well into the 20th century - at least a couple of hundred years too late.

If he meant that Aikido techniques were battlefield proven because they're derived from koryu Jujustsu I can extend the same claim for Judo and BJJ (again, these are with the added benefit of "Alive" training). What about Greco-Roman wrestling?

Second, I think it was Marc McYoung who wrote that never in history was a battle where an Aikido army defended from the Karate army storming up the hill...people need to get in their heads that unarmed combat on a battlefield was a rarity and bad idea since the first Homo Sapiens picked up a rock or a Mammoth bone. Empty hand techniques are just not-so-hot when dealing with weapons and I doubt they were used extensively on any battlefield in history - If you somehow lost your weapon on a "Samurai battlefield" you would probably be facing a life expectancy measured in seconds, JuJutsu technique notwithstanding.

This why a lot of Aikido/Jujutsu technique are implicitly about sword retention, or buying a second to draw it so in a way they might've been relevant in older times but mostly useless in modern battlefields or on the 21th "lethal str33t" since we don't carry around katans and body armor.

That said, I think there ARE a lot of things to learn from TMAs (and I mean fighting techniques, not philosophy) BUT these can be utilized 10 times more effectively by someone with alive/MMA background.

Anonymous said...

I would like to chime in on this conversation, and I know that I'm a few years too late. I agree with your assertion that sport fighting allows fighters to fight at full speed against a fully resisting opponent, and this almost always defeats styles based in theory and lacks full contact sparring. The point I would like to make is that despite this, MMA can often be ineffective in street-style combat. This has been shown in a martial-arts documentary called Fight Quest, in which two professional mixed martial artists traveled all around the world to study and train in martial arts in their native countries. They went to Korea to study Hapkido and Taekwondo, to Okinawa to study Karate, China to study Kung Fu and Sanda/Sanshow kickboxing, etc. One of the most intriguing stops they made was in Israel to train in Krav Maga. They were taken to real, highly secretive IDF military bases and trained with actual Israeli commandoes. One of the training exercises they performed involved running through a wilderness course of sorts, where there were Israeli commandoes hiding behind random trees. As you approached them, they would pop out from behind a tree, and attack you, sometimes with a dummy weapon. It was your job to incapacitate them in some way as quickly as possible, then keep going. As you proceeded, another commando would pop out from behind a tree, you would have to perform a quick series of strikes and counter strikes, disarm techniques or takedown, and get up and move on.
And so, there was a female Israeli instructor who ran through the course as a demonstration. She successfully took on each attacker, one at a time, spending no more than five seconds with each one, before moving on to the next. She made it look easy, in fact. When it was turn for the American MMA fighter to run through the course, he came upon his first attacker who charged him from behind a tree. He struggled with that first attacker for too long, then a second attacker approached him, and now he was suddenly fighting two people. He failed, started over again, and the same thing happened. He was spending too much time struggling against the first attacker. The result was both of them ending up on the ground, in a grappling struggle, and all the other commandoes came out to the aid of the one that was fighting this mixed martial artist.
This goes to show is that had this Israeli commando been in a cage with this professional American MMA fighter, and had to fight around the rules, without a doubt the MMA fighter would have been able to submit him within three 5 minute rounds or whatever. The MMA fighter was using his fighting style (MMA) in a battle-oriented situation. MMA failed when it comes to finishing an opponent as quick as possible and moving on to another. The MMA fighter was doing what he knew best - putting all his focus and energy into a single opponent, and taking him to the ground. The ground is the last place where you want to be against multiple attackers, even if you are in control.
This episode (linked at the bottom) is an example of just how ineffective MMA can be in battle-like situation outside the cage. There is a whole world of street-style no holds barred self- defense which can render MMA useless in certain situations.