MMA vs Tradition – Part 3

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This is “Part 3” in the series of articles titled “MMA vs Tradition” examining the contrast between the recently popular Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) phenomenon and Traditional Martial Arts. A new section of this article will be posted every Monday.  Please leave a comment giving your feedback, questions, or opinions. I look forward to the discussions.

Shihan Pascetta - Baltimore, MD circa 1974


This term, “martial arts” has been associated more consistently with eastern traditions than with western science. As I have observed and participated in many of these transitions and activities involving martial arts over most of my lifetime, I have come to the conclusion that there is no “fully traditional” form of martial arts. Instead we have varying degrees of one or the other.

To one extreme are practitioners who are dedicated to a method that is practiced as close to its original form as they are aware. At the other extreme are those who believe in the practice of taking any and/or all techniques, methods, or strategies they have access to and mixing it all together to gain a more “realistic” application.

Like I quoted previously; “It’s all good”. However, while stating that I must add a caveat that each of these approaches can also have their drawbacks and failings.

While using my own experience as an example, be advised that I am a male adult who has spent most of my life as a westerner in a modern western culture. I am not an easterner from Asian culture, never will be, and have no desire to be such. Not that I feel that to be Asian is any less valuable. It’s just that I am who I am, as is each individual.

On the other hand, my heritage doesn’t require me to be chained to accepting only “western” views. It should not keep me from learning and valuing the richness of other cultures, in this case many Asian cultures. The point is that there is quite a difference between studying and learning from such valuable information as contrasted with attempting to become something or someone I cannot be.

So, my overall conclusion is that any “extreme” attempt to be “traditional” could easily become a tendency to limit your potential rather than expand it. In reality, it also appears to me that many of the, so called, “traditionalist” in martial arts are not so “traditional” when you weigh in all the factors.  Since I have visited the orient and have had the pleasure to teach, observe, and train with some of my eastern counterparts, I discovered that even the “traditionalists” deviated somewhat markedly from each other, all while sincerely claiming to come from the same tradition and root system.


In the other direction there are those who practice martial arts in other extremes. Some do so almost with disdain for anything that comes from older (“traditional”) roots. In the “tradition” of the late Bruce Lee, many such individuals claim to have studied multiple martial systems and put all such knowledge together to arrive at some “ultimate” martial art.

First, let me point out that Bruce Lee was an inspiring young man who seriously devoted much time to his hobby of studying many aspects of the martial arts from various cultures.  That was certainly admirable. On the other hand he also began with a foundation of skills, techniques, and principles from an established, “traditional” system (Wing Chun). Further, although he was quite innovative in his theories and conclusions, the reality was that his own personal “testing” of such skills and techniques were quite limited with respect to real life confrontations or even sport competitions.

Remember that his primary profession was to be an actor, not a martial arts master. He had no competitive sport experience and very limited real life encounters on which to substantiate his final conclusions. That does not invalidate his research and conclusions, however, any mature, intelligent individual must discern between “acting” and reality. In real life you don’t get to write the script or the ending to the story, much less the ending of any physical encounter. You must play the cards handed to you as best possible and accept that you are never completely in control.

There is little doubt in my mind that many individuals who are dedicated enough to do the research and training over a lifetime could come to similar levels of skill as many of the old time masters. What makes no sense to me is when we become so self-absorbed that we do not capitalize on the advances of so many dedicated “Masters” who have preceded us. Why do we need to reinvent the wheel rather than make it more refined and efficient?

I sincerely see the value of cross training. I also see, however, the tendency for much fallacy in the indiscriminate mixing of various parts of distinctly different MA systems. First, it takes a significant time to develop proficiency in any martial discipline, much less multiple disciplines. Further, there are some systems that stand very well on their own but don’t easily or readily mix with others because they are simply based on different principles and/or technical foundations.

As an analogy, both steam engines and internal combustion engines produce similar functional results but the underlying structure is significantly different. Mixing some MA systems could be somewhat like trying to build a mansion on the foundation of a bungalow.  Or, it’s like trying to take a carburetor from a Chevy and place it on a Lamborghini engine, and then place all that on the frame of a Volkswagen Beetle.

Will it run or be functional? I think; possibly, yes, possibly no. Would the final result be considered an advancement in automotive technology? I think not.

Another word picture that is pertinent might be to recognize that a Filet Mignon dinner, a Shrimp in Lobster Sauce dinner, and a Lasagna dinner may each be delicious as they stand alone. However, if you chop then up and place them all in the same pot you may end up with something more like slop than a “gourmet meal”. Subsequently, there has arisen some serious doubt as to whether “Mixed Martial Arts” is the valid label for some of these “systems” or would they be more accurately labeled, “Mixed Up Martial Arts”.

Further, many of the “progressives” in MA seem suspicious of methods that came from “traditional” roots. I would suggest that perhaps they are “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. Any functional system of information known to man has been built on rudimentary, foundational techniques. It takes a significant amount of time to, not only learn how to execute such basics but also to, understand the relationship between their usage and application.

Subsequently, there has been some speculation as to why the “Mixed Martial Arts” has become so quickly popular among the western youth. In western society we are socialized to want everything “yesterday”. We are socialized to react to the “sizzle” rather than the bacon. There appears to be an illusion of quick gratification with the typical practice of “Mixed Martial Arts”. Most serious practitioners of even these systems know otherwise. Consistent, long term results in any discipline are dependent on dedication to a cogent and functionally integrated foundation.


Copyright © 2010 R.V. PASCETTA, All rights reserved

(Go to  PART 4)

(Go back to  PART 2 of this series)

Go to Questions/Comments Page



  • abe says:

    I think the biggest beef MMA practioners have on Traditionalist is that we take kata seriously. We do the same amount of punches kicks etc. Maybe not the same in excution of the technique (that is another story in itself) but we both do alot of punches and kicks, throws, locks. etc etc. but,

    As you stated: “Any functional system of information known to man has been built on rudimentary, foundational techniques.It takes a significant amount of time to, not only learn how to execute such basics but also to, understand the relationship between their usage and application.”

    That is exactly what kata is rucdimentary and foundation of techiques, ideas/concepts and principles. But they (MMA) dont get it. They just don’t get it, they think its a waste of time. And because people see that one can become a decent fighter without kata via, UFC the vast majority think why bother with it? Its outdated not necessary and even a waste of time.

    A crazy man once said “The bigger the lie the more people will believe it” (Adolf Hitler)!!

    • Response to Abe's comment Submitted on 2010/05/24 at 10:54am

      I agree with you for the most part, however, it is even much simpler than that. The martial artists that lean more toward traditional practice tend to place a much heavier emphasis on precise execution of the basics. One of the valid arguments of the MMA practitioner may well be that although some more "traditional" practitioners may practice for greater "precision", but are they practicing techniques that are practical for actual fighting? It would seem as though the answer lies somewhere between the two extremes. I will address this further as my article progresses.

  • Bruce Drago says:

    You are an inspiration to all martial arts styles, with the wealth of knowledge we gain from your articles anyone is able to improve and refine their skills. This art we have adopted as a way of life continues to be strengthen by your influence, reinforcing dedication while forming a new appreciation from all walks of life.

    Bruce Drago

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