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MMA CAN LEARN FROM THE PAST
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MMA CAN LEARN FROM THE PAST

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Forgotten Fight Science: MMA Can Learn From the Past

Everything old is new again.  I’m a firm believer in this idiom, especially when talking about combat sports. It’s all been done before.  MMA can learn from the past.  The Beni Hasan tomb in Egypt has thousands of depictions of wrestling techniques, including almost every submission you can think of. When talking about MMA, ancient Greece had Pankration which can be dated to at least the 33rd Olympiad in 684 BCE, some 2700 years ago.  Even closer to our time was Rough and Tumble in the USA, from the turn of the 19th century.

MMA Can Learn From the Past

Outside of the rule set, the overall structure of these fighting arts was the same.  Fighters started standing with strikes, clinch, takedowns, grappling, submissions, and ground and pound. What separates the historical sports from today’s MMA, is the approach and mindset.  Today, a fighter will have their base art, which they will then cross-train, or mix, with a counter style. So a grappler will cross with boxing or Muay Thai.  This inevitably leads to a skills gap under a rule set that allows all phases of the fight. 

As the modern sport of boxing evolved, since taking over from Bare Knuckle Boxing in popularity, one significant area of knowledge was lost to time: clinch fighting. Sure, a few techniques survived, being passed down here and there, but by and large, as a unique phase of the striking game, it died.  With MMA rules, we saw its return, but without the years of empirical knowledge that once was.  It is now referred to as “Dirty Boxing” and is a comparatively crude and unscientific method. 

Manuscripts

With the advent of the internet, old manuscripts are getting digitized and becoming readily available to anyone, allowing the knowledge to resurface. As a rule set, Bare Knuckle Boxing always allowed fighting inside the clinch, as well as throws and takedowns, because it came from the real life and death sword systems of 17th century England. When going through the old manuscripts we see a highly scientific, and empirically tested system of using standing-wrestling to improve ones striking in an environment not naturally suited to generating the proper power to punch.  In other words, they used wrestling in a way to make their weak inside punching stronger. 

MMA Can Learn From the Past

The use of the “Chancery”, or the headlock, was a highly effective clinch that was commonly used in the ring. There are also a number of clinches and techniques used inside a clinch, which I can pretty much guarantee you have never seen. There are many things that MMA can learn from the past.

Do yourself a favor and look through some of the old manuscripts, I think you will be highly impressed. My monthly column, Forgotten Fight Science, will look at some of the techniques found in these old manuals and explore how they can be applied to modern MMA.

Dan Kanagie Dan is a hoplologist, historian, author, and life long martial artist. He has worked on reconstructing various historical combat styles including ancient Greek Pankration, Anglo/American Bare Knuckle Boxing, and Irish Shillelagh fencing. He is the author of the first, original manual on Bare Knuckle Boxing in 100 years, and is the historian for BKB, the first legally sanctioned bare knuckle promotion.

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