The UFC is Not Martial Arts

I stopped watching combat sports in 2016 because I didn’t want to support head trauma, bad behavior, and pointless violence.  My final pay-for-view was UFC 199.  And, since I don’t watch the news any more, I didn’t hear about the catastrophe that was UFC 229 until a full week after it happened.†

When I did hear about it, I didn’t comment.  In my mind, it was a perfect example of why I stopped watching.  So why comment?

But yesterday my friend Leo suggested that the UFC is not martial arts at all.  And he sent me a link to a video by Shane Fazen from the FightTips YouTube channel, and here it is:

At the risk of offending his clientele, Shane makes several great points, the most important of which is that…

The UFC is not martial arts.

Bravo Leo and Shane.  I agree.

I started Cabal Fang martial arts back in 2009 as a reaction to what I saw (and continue to see) happening in martial arts.  UFC demonstrated that certain traditional martial arts techniques did not perform as advertised.  It turned out that the “karate chop” wasn’t lethal, “chi power” didn’t work, board-smashing skills weren’t applicable in the ring, fitness was a more important than anyone thought, and that a one-dimensional martial artist who could strike but not wrestle or vice versa couldn’t win matches.

These were great lessons.  But people were forgetting the most important one.

It doesn’t matter if you win or lose.  It’s how you play the game.

We teach our kids this wisdom (or we should), and then we proceed to give our money and attention to trash-talking miscreants who are the antithesis of the ideal.

Traditional martial arts were slow to adapt.  Convinced that traditional martial arts don’t work, students began leaving Karate schools to sign up for BJJ or MMA “mixed martial arts” programs — both of which are devoid of all spiritual and/or character development.

This is why I developed Cabal Fang — a new and yet traditional martial art that incorporates the discoveries outlined above as well as the perennial spiritual wisdom of our ancestors.  Just because you cannot tap a guy out with meditation techniques or win a championship belt on good behavior doesn’t mean these things don’t have value.

Martial arts are not about what works in the ring — they are about works in life.

I felt then, and feel even more strongly now, that a martial art without a spiritual center is like a loaded gun in the hands of person with no gun safety education.   Should you show a person how to choke the life out of someone without teaching them the who, what, when, where and why — without teaching the value of a life?

If you do not elevate fighting to an art form you do not have a martial art.  You just have a fight.

A martial art without a spiritual center is not a martial art — It is a combat sport.

Do combat sports have value?  Can we learn anything from them?  Should they exist?  That’s a different conversation we can certainly have.

I’ve been in Shootfighting, BJJ and Savate programs, I’m currently an apprentice coach under Mark Hatmaker, the other day I posted a tribute to the great kickboxer Benny Urquidez, etc. etc.  Clearly I think there’s some value in combat sports.  But I also wish I hadn’t been concussed so many times, I worry about the fighters, and Benny is a very spiritual guy and a traditional martial artist.  Nuance is important.  But let’s not be led astray by nuance and miss the point.

Let’s stop using the terms “MMA” and “mixed martial arts”  which are very misleading.

Combat sports are not martial arts.


† Fun fact: I rely almost entirely on the Sunday Edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch for my news.  That, and whatever filters down to me through friends and the 15 minutes per day I devote to social media.  You would not believe how much happier and productive I am since I stopped watching TV news.

4 responses to “The UFC is Not Martial Arts

  1. James A Williams

    Nice post and nice link (FightTips is a favorite, but I hadn’t caught this video)! I too am ambivalent about combat sports. I’ve never been a particularly invested fan, but I have appreciated the excellence demonstrated by genuine martial artists like Georges St. Pierre. But the pageant of obscenity and egotism that is, say, a typical McGregor press conference is just repulsive and a complete repudiation of the virtues the martial arts are supposed to instill in those who practice them.

  2. Robert Mitchell

    Thanks James! I understand people are drawn to the “human drama of athletic competition” — I am too! — but your word for UFC is perfect: repulsive. When I feel like I want to watch a couple of guys “fight” I watch collegiate wrestling, Olympic Judo, or Metamoris BJJ on YouTube where the sportsmanship level is off the charts and nobody’s getting brain damage. I’m obsessed with this breakdown of Barnett v. Lister, watched it a dozen times.
    You might like it 🙂

  3. Good post, I think its more a sign of the times than anything else. Money contaminates all branches of society. There a few traditional martial artists out there though, just becoming more rare.

    • Robert Mitchell

      Thanks Billy! Money yes, but specifically greed. These fighting promotions put martial values — fighter safety, respect, honor, sportsmanship, camaraderie, etc. — way down their priority list and put money at the very top. Everybody needs to make some money. That’s fine. But money should come *after* the martial stuff. In every martial arts school I ever attended — and in all the clubs I ever ran, run or will run! — if your attitude is bad, you can’t test. And if it continues, you’re expelled. Character is everything in martial arts!

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