Modern Pankration is a pioneering precursor to MMA
Modern Pankration, also known as Neo-Pankration, was born in 1969 when Greek-American combat athlete Jim Arvanitis began to resurrect the ancient Greek all-in fighting style. Arvanitis studied striking and grappling like Muay Thai and Judo, as well as spending countless hours researching ancient Pankration.
Taking what was useful from every style he studied and combining techniques from the ancient sources, Arvanitis created a style that he labeled Mu Tau Pankration, which eventually became Modern Pankration. Arvanitis also changed the pronunciation from “Pan-kra-tee-on” to “Pan-cray-shun”, so it would be easier for English-speakers to adopt. In 1973, Arvanitis was featured on the cover of Black Belt magazine, unleashing Modern Pankration into the public eye. Using a similar philosophy to Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, Arvanitis recreated his version of the ancient fighting style.
In 1985, Aris Makris opened the Spartan Pankration Academy in Laval, Quebec, Canada. Makris was determined to hone Modern Pankration further, bring it closer to its roots and ridding it of the impractical techniques and theatrics that were being used in Pankration schools. As the sport began to grow, Greek scholars and martial artists began working together in the mid-1990s to make Modern Pankration as true to the original as possible.
Pankration is a bareknuckle sport, but in competition, gloves are used. It is very similar to MMA, but there are a few intricacies which make it unique. Hooks and uppercuts are rarely employed, with straight punches used to set up take downs. This emphasis of going for the takedown as a preference over standup fighting is a signature of the sport.
While Pankratiasts like ground and pound as well as submission grappling, they have a weapon in their standup game that is designed to end fights. The gastrizein is a straight kick to the stomach that looks a little like rear teeb from Muay Thai. The difference is that it uses the heel of the foot to strike the gut with full force.
The Modern Pankration double leg takedown is performed by dipping under the opponent’s punches, grabbing both legs while using the hips to drive upward. From here, the Pankratiast lifts his opponent straight up in the air and slams him down onto his back. From the clinch, a fighter might also use a one arm shoulder throw to put their opponent on the ground. When on the ground, leg locks and arm bars are used, as is the shoulder lock, performed like a double wrist lock/kimura while trapping the head between the knees.
The fighting art is growing in popularity in Greece and with people of Greek decent. Mickey Pappas, owner of Titan Fighter in London, brought his Pankration background into his coaching style, training some of the best fighters on the MMA circuit. Modern Pankration is particularly popular in Russia. Former and current UFC fighters Ali Bagautinov and Khabib Nurmagomedov both have a background in Pankration. Bagautinov is a former world champion, while Khabib won the European title.
As Modern Pankration continues to grow, expect to see more practitioners entering the professional MMA circuit. The ancient sport brought back to life has a lot to offer MMA.