Sunday, May 27, 2012

Watching MMA

As mentioned in previous blog posts, I more or less live under a rock. I tend to be pretty detached from main stream anything. I don't own a T.V. that plays channels, I don't read the newspaper or watch the news, etc. I pretty much live in a bubble. I know this isn't really a good thing, but it's where I'm at right now, so it is what it is.

I went over to my mom's house a while back and she wanted to show me some MMA fights since I had never seen any. Yep. I've been practicing Martial Arts for several years now and I've never watched a boxing match or MMA match at all. My mom and step dad are pretty supportive of my Martial Arts goals and they link me all kinds of stuff, keep an eye out for articles, etc. and my mom is actually (and surprisingly) really big into MMA. She knows a lot of the fighters names and styles etc.

Well, my mom was telling me about some of the MMA fighters and how the Brazillian JuJutsu guys were pretty hard core, especially when they 'ground and pound'. She was also trying to explain how good this one guy was and how he just toyed with his opponents. I THINK it was Anderson Silva, but it's 11pm and too late to call my mom and double check. 

ANYWAY, so my mom pulled up the episodes she had recorded and was having me watch some. I got to thinking, as my mom was getting all excited and yelling at the T.V. and I was watching through my fingers over my eyes...

"Isn't this just a little bit fucked up?"

Pardon my language. But seriously: what is so wonderful and exciting about watching two guys get into the octagon and beat each other till they are bloody and broken? I mean... if you REALLY think about... that's kind of messed up. They beat the other guy till he gives up or can't continue anymore, and they stand up covered in blood with huge bruises already forming, black eyes, and the crowd goes totally wild. Woah.

And we've been doing it pretty much since the beginning of recorded history. 

We have rules to protect our fighters now, but gladiators competed in the Colosseum and fought to the death. Think about it... Two or more people got up in front of a crowd of thousands of cheering people and fought each other until all but one of them DIED. For ENTERTAINMENT.

All I can think is "Why?"

I'm about to open a huge can of worms with this, but I'm going to do it anyway and I'll try to be brief:

Violence is part of human nature. We can't escape it. It's part of who we are. 

I'm not saying we're not capable of mercy and compassion and love, but I don't think it's our first instinct or our natural tendency. When we don't understand something or we're afraid, humans generally react with violence. "What is that?" "I don't know.." "Kill it!"

In a perfect world, we wouldn't have things like Martial Arts, because everything would be love and rainbows and sunshine. No one would hurt each other or hate each other and things like rape and murder and theft wouldn't happen. But we don't live in that kind of world, so it's a moot point. Sorry hippies, you can't escape your programming no matter how much you try and you can't change anyone else either.

I would wager that, for whatever reason (religion/original sin, evolution, instinct, etc.) violence is in our nature. We can't escape it. During the time when there was no law and we had to defend ourselves, or abide by laws such as Hammurabi's code "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" being violent kept us alive, fed and our families safe. 

In today's 1st world countries, there is no need for that type of violence. We have police officers and a legal system to take care of the bad guys for us. So how do we get these primal urges out? Watching MMA, boxing, and wrestling, and if we can't satisfy our need for violence though those channels, or feel that the justice system fails us (bullies in school for example and teachers/principles who won't do anything) we have cases of monkey dances in bars, road rage, school shootings, etc.

I would almost argue that sport fights, or in the past, sport killings, are/were necessary to appease our darker sides and keep a greater peace. It keeps the real beast lurking inside content, keeping the rage and our violent natures at bay. 

The caveat being, real violence rocks us to our core. It touches and twists us in ways we cannot understand until we have experienced it first hand. Soldiers coming back from war, rape victims, people who have suffered gang beatings, people in the law enforcement industry. I have read stories about and talked to some people who have experienced real violence, and having to actually hurt someone, having to kill someone, being violated by someone, these are things that are utterly shattering to a person. They can take years to come to terms with and to get over. Some people never get over it.

If going through these things is so devastating to our psyche, then why do we crave violence and often react with violence first? Why is violence is such an integral part of our nature if it is so damaging to us?

Finding the answers will involve a great deal of research looking through piles and piles of information regarding history, culture, violence, psychology and philosophy. Even then I'm not sure there is one single right answer. I think most of Miller's work is going to be a good place to start, and following his sources. Reading work by other experts on the topic will help, so I will probably read some of Marc MacYoung's work as well. 

Still.... it's a big question... probably one with many answers.  


  1. I have to say that I am quite surprised to read this on a young martial artist's blog. I hope that you don't feel like I am being inflammatory, because I'm not trying to be, but I will give my opinion.

    As a martial artist, I thoroughly enjoy watching MMA (and I am hoping to have my first amateur fight sometime later this year) because I like watching the technical aspects. I understand the mechanics and the training and the skill involved in becoming a top-tier MMA fighter, and I have even used things that I've seen in MMA matches in my own training. Sure, a lot of it is only applicable in a sporting context, but that doesn't mean it's useless, either. I am not one of the people who cheers when I see blood, but I do cheer when I see a great combination, well-timed takedown or amazing technique. As martial artists, I don't see why we can't enjoy MMA and see the art in it.

    Some people may see brutality, and I suppose that it is brutal at its core, but I see a contest between two highly skilled modern martial artists who are testing themselves against each other. This, to me, is the most interesting and exciting part of mixed martial arts. I feel that your gladiator analogy is flawed because those people generally had no choice but to fight to the death, and with absolutely no rules, while modern MMA fighters choose to fight in a clean arena with strict rules and protective equipment and they get paid to do it. The people who fight in MMA are people who love fighting in MMA, and they are fantastic athletes and skilled modern martial artists.

    1. I do understand there is skill involved, I don't deny that. It takes skill to do anything on a master level. Be it paint a picture or snipe someone.

      But for all the amazing technique in the world, they're STILL using that technique to cause someone else harm. A well timed combination to the face and ribs hurts. Why develop such a skill? I can hit this guy till he goes unconscious or taps out. Its violent. Spartans were probably some of the fittest people on earth... Point is, no matter how you gussy it up with technique and skill and training and such, all that work is still going into performing a violent act. A violent act which will be watched and cheered by hundreds of thousands of spectators.

    2. People enjoy watching feats of skill, and that is evident beyond combat sports. Look at the Olympics, for exmple. Millions of people will watch all kinds of events in which people seek to prove that they are better trained and better skilled athletes, from swimming to boxing to judo. Some of the sports will be completely non-contact, non-violent affairs and some will be full-contact and bloody. People's interest in human athleticism and skill, and attempting to develop and test human athleticism and skill, has existed for as long as humans have, and there is nothing wrong with it.

      I don't deny that it MMA is violent, but no one is being victimized and I feel that is a key factor--I do not feel that violence is necessarily a bad thing, but victimization IS. The MMA fighters, the boxers, the Muay Thai fighers, the wrestlers, the judoka, the BJJ competitors--everyone who competes in combat sports does so with the knowledge that they will be training and competing to use their martial skills against another person who has trained to do the same thing to them. No one is the victim in these contests, and so the violence is not so much a spectacle as a test. If you train martial arts with the intent of becoming effective at fighting or defending yourself, you must train against resisting opponents and with contact, and so the most logical method of doing this (for most people) is to do some form of competitive fighting to test their own capabilities.

      As for your question of "why develop such a skill?" I have to say that the answer is very simple, and I suspect you won't be particularly fond of it--that is PRECISELY what martial arts were developed for. They were not developed to build self esteem, promote self control or bolster a person's spirituality. They were developed so that people could learn the most effective ways to visit violence upon another person who is intent on victimizing them. Period. Those other things may come along with the training, but they are a by-product, not the intended result. People can (and do) choose to train for those by-products, but that is a relatively new concept and was not the original purpose of martial arts.

    3. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with being a master level athlete, or anything for that matter. Watching an Olympic Ice Skater or Gymnist, a world cup soccer player, a horse back rider, a pianist, a dancer, etc. None of those things involve violence. I am always fascinated by watching anyone who can do anything well, I never said there was anything wrong with being a top level athlete or with watching and cheering for that.

      Doesn't matter if there is a victim or not, that's not the issue. Monkey Dancing, in or out of the ring, is still violence. Bar fights are Monkey Dances, which is a social form of violence. Two willing combatants duke it out. An MMA fight is just a monitored fight for ego, money and status. Yes that involves testing your skill against another fighter, but in the end its a mutual agreement between two people to fight to a conclusion, which meets Miller and Abernethy's definitions of social violence. Victim or no, it's still a FIGHT. With FIGHTERS. Runners run a race, swimmers swim a lap, riders ride a horse. Runners, swimmers, bikers and riders don't fight a race or a pool or a horse. (At least not the same way) They don't beat it bloody. You can't "ground and pound" a race, a lap, a ball, a game, a dance or a piano.

      No shit Martial Arts was created for violence.
      Martial - adj. 1)inclined or disposed to war; warlike; 2)of, suitable for, or associated with war or the armed forces; 3)befitting a warrior

      Pay special attention to that last one. "Befitting a warrior." In my Wilder seminar review I covered the difference between a fighter and a warrior. A fighter just wants to monkey dance, a warrior ends the conflict. Martial Arts were designed and practiced for and by warriors, NOT for fighters. I have posted previously my frustrations on the subject. I refuse to go to tournaments to spar or "play tag" with my opponent because I am not in the business of fighting. I am in the business of ending my opponent as quickly as possible in order to prevent serious injury or death to myself and/or my family.

      So, what I was trying to say was this "Why take such a skill... and turn it into a sport?" Why take something that was designed to brutally injure, maim, and/or kill your opponent and turn it into something that is glorified and televised to thousands of viewers while hundreds more cheer live in the stands? It's not a question of whether or not MMA fighting is violence, it's a question of why do we, as humans, hunger for violence. Why do we want to watch it or participate in it? Because if it were simply and only a question of skill, we would find other less painful, less gruesome ways to satisfy that need. Skill and strategy and technique can just as easily be practiced in a chess match. Go to a grand master chess game and I GUARANTEE there will be not even a fraction of the number of attendees as there is at an MMA event. We prefer real fights over metaphorical fights any day. Even as kids. Think about middle school or high school. The second a fight broke out in the halls everyone stops and watches or comes running to watch. WHY?

      Why are we so drawn to violence that we make a sport out of it to satisfy our craving?

    4. I don't disagree with your view on training as a warrior versus training as a fighter, but the problem with training with a warrior mentality, only, is the very reason that combat sports were developed--you simply cannot train to brutally injure, maim or kill your opponent effectively because you will end up brutally injuring, maiming or killing all your training partners. Rules end up being put in place to make training safe, but in the process we tend to lose a lot of the effectiveness and real feedback that we need in order to ensure that what we are training will work when we need it. Combat sports grew out of this, because people who trained in martial arts had a need to pressure test their techniques in a safe manner. Even the US military teaches collections of martial arts concepts and techniques from combat sports (boxing, wrestling and BJJ) in conjunction with more self defense oriented arts (karate and krav maga, for example) and they compete in these things to pressure test their capabilities.

      Your aversion to the "monkey dance" based on Rory Miller's definition is perfectly sound--people should avoid engaging in them at all costs. But there is a caveat. "Monkey dances" performed in social settings (clubs, bars, etc.) or isolated settings (back alleys, empty parking garages, etc.) can escalate from chest-puffing, dominance-proving affairs to deadly engagements (possibly with multiple attackers) very easily, while the "monkey dances" of combat sports are performed with protective equipment under strict supervision of a rule set designed to prevent such escalation. They are both "monkey dances", yes, but they are not the same type--one is much, much safer than the other which diminishes the need for avoidance.

      As for why we like to watch violence, specifically, I imagine it is partially a primal instinct. "Monkey dances" are called such for a reason--since the beginning of primate kind (although it is evident in the behavior of many other animals as well) social hierarchies and disputes were sorted out through violence because that was the easiest and simplest method to prove who was better than the other. As we all have this concept in our lizard brain, we know that we should watch these contests so that we know who is better, as it befits our social standing to know such things. In addition to that, however, is the more sophisticated reasoning that I stated before in regards to our fascination with athleticism and skill.

  2. You wrote, "Yep. I've been practicing Martial Arts for several years now and I've never watched a boxing match or MMA match at all."

    I can say, yep, I have been practicing karate-jutsu-do for over thirty five years and I have never watched a MMA event.

    I did watch boxing as a youngster and even took boxing lessons. I tend to think the older boxing was the real boxing, i.e. Max Smelling, etc. and find today's boxing uninteresting.


  3. Have you read Rory Millers ebook "Violence: A Writers Guide?" A very good overview IMHO.

    And for a libertarian opinion there's "Freehold" by Michael Z. Williamson. The main characters journey revolves around the questions you pose.

    Some food for thought,

  4. I get where you are coming from on this. MMA fights are brutal and they tend to appeal to the innate bloodlust and desire for spectacle in the masses. I never really watch it, firstly because like you I no longer own a TV (best decision I ever made chucking it) and secondly because it bores me. I understand the skill and training involved but it doesn't make the fights anymore interesting. I also dislike the ego and arrogance involved in the sport. It's a business, that's the bottom line, a money making thing. Like boxing. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not for me.

    For what it's worth, I published an article on my blog that might interest you on the subject of violence.

  5. I think you are missing an important dimension. People enjoy being spectators at violent spectacles because it allows them to occupy the vantage point of the gods as they were conceived in ancient times, being able to view the most violent and otherwise threatening acts as pure entertainment, as play. We find that attractive because we are able to satisfy our elemental desire for displays of destruction that come from our unique human nature and that has nothing similar in the natural world.

  6. I do agree with you that such sport and entertainment is a necessary part of human cultures. In addition, I think it is good to have such entertainments, because it expresses something real and valuable in our natures, and because it brings us pleasure, just the way that it brought the Olympian gods and goddesses pleasure to cause and watch human squabbles. And pleasure is good. As long as no one is being coerced to participate, it should be not only permitted but celebrated.