Thursday, 29 March 2012

The East Resurgent: Why Karate, Taekwondo and Judo Are Making a Comeback in MMA

If we were to examine the styles most commonly adopted by Mixed Martial Arts competitors it would be difficult not to conclude that Muay Thai, wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lie at the core of our sport.
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If they were to examine the styles most often adopted by Mixed Martial Arts competitors it would be difficult not to conclude that Muay Thai, wrestling & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lie at the core of our sport.

Indeed, it is debatable whether any successful competitor can claim total ignorance of these disciplines, so embedded are they in our new, international fighting culture - if MMA is, as some commentators argue, becoming a "style" in its own right, then our own Frankenstein's monster is wielding Thai kicks, shooting thunderous doubles & rending flesh from bone with Rio's slickest subs.

The world's fastest-growing, fastest-changing sport is on the move one time again, leading us to ask which styles fighters are using to broaden their combative horizons, & why? Why are fighters using Karate footwork, Taekwondo kicks & Judo throws over say, movements drawn from Shaolin Kung Fu & Aikido? To find out, they must examine what these re-emerging styles offer the aspiring fighter, also discussing why knowledge of the "big three" alone will seldom lead a competitor to success from this point onwards.

This much is without a doubt true, yet, as any martial arts fan will excitedly tell you, the Octagon is becoming increasingly crowded as of late - Thai, wrestling & BJJ are losing their hold on the middle of the cage, being forced to share the glare of publicity with techniques drawn from a range of historicallyin the past marginalized disciplines.

They will first examine both Karate & Taekwondo, highlighting aspects of these arts which can push an MMA fighter's game to the next level.

Our first point of note relates to stances & footwork - while Thai fighters have become famous for their plodding, stalking movement, they are now seeing fewer & fewer fighters achieving success with this approach.

The striking game is changing - has already changed, in fact, selecting fighters who use the more hand-oriented "Dutch style" of kickboxing over proponents of pure Muay Thai.
With 4oz gloves & increasingly-skilled competitors, successful fighters increasingly eschew the "rock-em-sock-em robots" approach, looking in lieu for ways to keep away from being hit; Karate is of obvious interest to those who seek to improve their evasive movement - lots of Japanese styles like Wado-Ryu & Shotokan emphasize diagonal movement & "in & out" footwork, allowing competitors to increase their traditional boxing/kickboxing defense with a sophisticated process of cutting angles, leaving opponents with nothing but air to counter.

Alongside Taekwondo, Karate training also provides strikers with the ability to fire "chambered" kicks, circumventing the necessity to "switch step" & telegraph the slower, albeit more powerful, Thai kicks they normally associate with MMA. Indeed, a brand spanking new generation of fighters are beginning to add Taekwondo to their training, following in the footsteps of Anderson Silva, Ben Henderson & Anthony Pettis by diversifying their kicking game & reaping the multiple benefits of improved leg dexterity in the cage.

No-one is proposing that boxing & Muay Thai have become useless in MMA - fighters arriving in the Octagon with nothing but a Karate or Taekwondo belt around their waist will have their legs battered black & blue, as they would expect; , what they are seeing is an MMA "arms race" - as competitors refine often trained styles, both up-and-comers & prescient veterans seek to unveil weapons that opponents do not regularly encounter, putting a spanner in the best-laid game designs & maximizing their "ways to win".

What does a Judo player bring to the table? Ask any BJJ player who has rolled with a champion Judoka, & they will immediately point out things: strength, balance & posture. Judo players are nigh-on impossible to take down, hard to keep down as well as a nightmare from the top position, when pitted against guard specialists.

Contrary to what they might think, it is not only the Western boxer or seasoned Thai fighter who might need to think about grabbing a phonebook in MMA's current climate of modify - grapplers must keep their finger on the pulse, being attentive to the interest shown in Judo by lots of successful competitors, including both Nick & Nate Diaz.

As with Muay Thai, while no fighter will be able to enter the Octagon without solid fundamentals derived from wrestling & BJJ, they may yet see a time in the near future when the Uchi-mata is learned alongside the double-leg shot as a "bread-and-butter" technique.

This much they know, & have always known about Judo, yet the takedowns present in the "gentle art" have often proved technical or "gi-centric" to be applied successfully in MMA - until now, that is, as fighters like Manny Gamburyan & Ronda Rousey (in a manner not dissimilar to Fedor Emelianenko) start to make use of Judo together with a comprehensive "no-gi" skill set, countering Greco-style clinch takedowns with a series of stunning leg elevation throws & sweeps.

The point, ladies & gentlemen, is this: day, each & every useful technique will have been adopted in to the MMA canon, & fighters will only be able to get better at what they already know, being unable to add new strings to their bow - that day, however, is a long, long way off.

For brevity's sake, this news story has neglected to analyze the one-thousand-and-one new movements being practiced in MMA, ranging from the stunning guards associated with Eddie Bravo's 10th Planet technique to flamboyant strikes drawn from systems like Capoeira.

While they may not think of MMA's infancy when they watch a master like Anderson Silva strutting his stuff, the fact remains that our sport is very, very young - expect to see more Judo, more Karate, more Taekwondo; when these styles become normalised, expect the unexpected, perhaps even some Kung Fu. As MMA fans, they live in an period of perpetual modify - sit back & enjoy the sheer dynamism of our sport.

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