Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How Useful is MMA in a Street Fight?

photo credit: andriuXphoto via photopin cc
Recently I was reading an article by a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner titled, Why Jiu-Jitsu is Not Suitable for Street FightingIt got me thinking and,obviously, it reanimates the old dead-horse debate of whether or not combat sports are useful in the streets.

I've taken part in quite a few of these debates in the past. Typically they devolve into name calling, whining, and absurd claims/assertions. For the last couple of years I've avoided such discussions like the plague.

At the same time, though, it's still a topic many people are very interested in. And not just the protectors of various martial arts or combat sports. Beginners, who are new to the martial arts world, are genuinely interested in whether or not MMA is as effective in the street as it is seems in the cage.

The answer is not as cut and dry as some in the martial arts world would have you believe.

The Pros & Cons of MMA (& other combat sports) for Street Fighting -

The debate between martial artists who train purely for self defense and those who train for combat sports (like MMA, Muay Thai, and BJJ) about who's skillset carries over better to a true no-rules street fight has been going on for a long time. With the popularization of the sport of MMA, the debate has grown even more heated and prevalent.

Hell, it is not that uncommon for people from a more traditional martial art (who tend to claim they focus more on "self defense" aspects) and combat sport martial artists to literally come to blows over the debate by setting up challenge matches.

So, this is a big deal for people on both sides.

My personal opinion on the matter is that combat sports can be effective when it comes to a self defense situation. What I mean by that is, a MMA/Muay Thai/BJJ fighter could potentially survive a street fight, but they should be aware of the pit falls of their art(s) and should tweak their training approach when it comes to self defense.

So, let's take a look at the pro and cons:


  • Realistic techniques - Combat athletes prove, every time they step into the cage or ring, that their punches, blocks, kicks, throws, takedowns, and grappling are useful against non-compliant, agressive opponents. And during a street fight that is exactly what you're going to get - a non-compliant, aggressive attacker. 
  • Superior Strength and Conditioning - People who train to compete in full contact combat sports have to be in amazing shape. They need superior levels of strength, speed, and endurance to be able to handle the stress of fighting other competent fighters. An essential element of surviving a violent encounter is often being stronger, faster, and able to outlast your attacker.  
  • Better Mental Preparation - Fighting is tough business. Whether it is in the ring or in the street, fighting takes a physical toll as well as a mental toll on people. Repeated exposure to the stresses of fighting allows a fighter to better handle that stress. Especially when done in a safe and progressive manner - as is done by combat athletes. This gives combat athletes a distinct advantage in a street fight because they are more experienced when it comes to dealing with real, full-contact violence. 
Cons - 
  • Some MMA Techniques are Dangerous in a Street Fight - I don't mean that they're dangerous for your attacker, I mean that they could be potentially dangerous for you. Take for example, a typical wrestling-style single or double leg takedown: as the fighter shoots in for the take down the leading knee is "dropped" fairly forcefully down into the mat. This is perfectly fine on soft mats, but asphalt or concrete are a different story.

    What happens if you miss the shot? Well, you've probably just fucked up your knee, making you a less effective fighter.

    Immediately pulling guard is another example. Taking an attacker to the ground and holding him between your legs while you're on your back on the asphalt/concrete/broken glass isn't too smart either. So, if you're looking to apply your skill set to a self defense situation you need to be aware of the shortcomings of certain techniques - techniques that may work well with mats, padding, and a ref but could be disastrous should you try to utilize them outside that safe environment. 
  • A Street Fight isn't a Duel - Let's face it: combat sports are essentially dueling. It's always one on one. You always know the rules before going into a fight. Hell, there are rules for the fight. In a street fight/self defense situation there's none of that shit. The guy you're fighting could be trying to kill you. He could have a weapon. He could have several friends waiting to kick your skull in. Training in a combat sport does not prepare you for these situations. That's not to say you couldn't augment or adjust your training to help you better deal with these types of encounters, but you won't typically get that with "vanilla" MMA/Muay Thai/BJJ training. 
  • The MMA/Combat Athlete Mindset isn't Violent Enough - To many that may be a weird statement. A lot of folks have this idea that MMA is "violence incarnate" -  that it's the height of our culture's obsession with violence. But this is a misconception. MMA's violent mindset stops well short of "ultimate violence". As a MMA (or other combat sport) competitor you're goal isn't to kill your opponent. Sure, you may want to knock him out. But kill him? No. The thing is, when you get into a real self defense situation, your attacker may very well be trying to kill you. You can't answer that type of aggression with the "I'm gonna knock him out" mindset. You can't waste your time trying to "feel your opponent out" as though you're in the first round of a cage match. No, you've gotta answer that level of violence with an even greater level of violence. You've got to be willing to kill if your life depends on it. This is an easy thing to say, but it's a very difficult thing to actually do. You will need to devote some serious time to developing this type of survival mindset if you are serious about surviving a truly violent encounter.  
Now these aren't huge issues. It isn't like the entire skill set of a mixed martial artist needs to be thrown out the window to prepare for real-world self defense. The biggest hurdle will be a shift in mindset and awareness. But with dedicated effort it can be done. When compared to what many traditional martial arts would have to do to realistically get their art ready for an actual street fight, the adjustment is quite small.

The Other Side of the Coin - 

To be perfectly fair, traditional martial arts are nice anachronistic pastimes but they are in a much worse position than combat sports when it comes to preparing their practitioners for a street fight. Especially, those traditional martial artists who claim to possess techniques that are "t-too deadly", who never or rarely spar, and who focus solely on kata work and pre-arranged, compliant attack/defense scenarios. 

The fact of the matter is: if you're not training with any sort of realism you're light years behind those involved in full-contact combat athletics. Sadly, that is exactly what many traditional martial artists are doing - they aren't being realistic in their training. What's even worse is they've convinced themselves that they are ready for real, violent encounters.

The funny thing is, when it comes bad mouthing other arts and bragging about how effective they are in terms of real-world self defense, traditional martial artists tend to be the most vocal about. Perhaps it's some sort of compensation mechanism, but it's really laughable that people actually believe stuff like THIS is truly useful during a violent encounter.

Perhaps if there's enough interest I'll write a post on what Traditional Martial Artists need to work on to prepare for a street fight...but that'll be a really long post.

Conclusion - 

This blog post probably won't change many people's minds. In fact, it's more likely to ellicit vitriolic ranting than thoughtful consideration. Whatever. The reality is, combat sport do a good job getting fighters to a high level of proficiency at actually fighting. The only drawback is their training revolves around fighting in a relatively safe environment where the rules are agreed upon beforehand. A self defense situation is not safe and there are not rules. So, it takes a shift in one's mindset to prepare properly for such a situation.

Hopefully, this post will help someone in their own training. 

Train Hard, 
Josh Skinner


  1. I always laugh at people who have never had a full contact, continuous sparring session in their life and think they are ready for a streetfight. Yeah combat sports don't prepare you for a kill or be killed situation but what do you expect. Nobody can learn to have a killer mindset unless you are put in a situation where it is necessary. Traditional martial artist aren't prepared for that either even though they think they are. The difference is that traditional martial artists aren't used to being punched in the face so they don't know how to react when in does happen. Traditional martial artists aren't trained to fight. End of discussion.

    1. Not always true. This can differ from school to school. Even some Karate schools can offer some very competitive sparring. Also many guys schooled in Karate have worked as doorman at clubs and become very good at what works in the street. Remember most people when comparing MMA to traditional Marital Arts are comparing the PRO MMA athlete to the part time Traditional Martial Artist.

    2. Saying you can't prepare for real fight without full contact is like saying a soldier can prepare for a real battle without actually shooting people, military training has always used drill and sets to prepare for real battle, however doing it effectively that's an art in itself

    3. Clearly you've never done military training. It's as immersed as you can get and most soldiers still aren't prepared for it the first time they see action. That's why all the top regiments are made up of battle hardened soldiers, they've done the mileage. If you wanna learn to fight, spar. Nothing prepares you for getting punched in the face like getting punched in the face, ask any boxer.

  2. Hi Josh,
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    I would love to read about what Traditional Martial Artists need to work on to prepare for a street fight.

    There is a lot of interest in this topic over the internet and if you can write about it, I am sure people will be greatful.

    1. Reality Based System Like Krav Maga

    2. Read Mediations on Violence by Rory Miller! A must read for all MA Instructors!!!

    3. Thank you for the Krav Maga suggestion and thank you for theMediations on Violence book suggestion. I will read that book and consider trainings for Krav Maga.

  3. hi, I'm actually interestwd in learning miay thai pr JKD. I was wondering which would benifit me in a real life situation. The JKD school goes in depth on how certain movements have flaws and explain how to move in and out while quickly throwing hits. but muay thai builds strength amd endurance. Since I'm new, which would be best? 117

  4. I just found this website and it seems pretty useful to me. however, this post is very unrealistic. the author seems to have never dealt with any traditional martial art outside of mcdojos.
    i won't boast about my own background here, but be assured that what i'm saying here stems from my own experience in both free-for-all sparring and the "street" (more like backalley, yards and parks).

    in traditional martial arts, be they arnis, silat, kungfu, karate, western fencing or anything else, almost all training is sparring (fighting with the single rule of "do not kill or criple each other") or free drills (sparring with stricter rules ranging from prohibiting some attacks or targets to setting the first two or three attacks of the fight).
    the forms and kata most people seem to think of are only meant for solo practice and are almost never done if a partner is avaible.

    on the other hand, mma is often as unrealistic as the worst mcdojo karate schools. the article already mentioned some examples, but there are far more useless or even outright dangerous techniques in mma.
    some examples:

    -punches to the head: without bandages or gloves they'll fuck up your hand

    -going to the ground: if you're lying on the ground you're unable to defend yourselves against a standing opponent. so if you fall, get up as fast as possible, and if you take your opponent down try to remaing standing (and stomp him)

    -"long range fighting": face it, almost every criminal carries a weapon. if you stay at a distance and try to slip or parry attacks, you'll give the opponent enough time to draw.

    -no weapons practice: all traditional MAs include weapons at some point. even if you do not carry this practice still teaches you where an opponent might conceal a weapon and how you can stop him from drawing it or disarm him (before anybody claims that disarms don't work: they do if done properly and have already saved my life once)

    -making a difference between striking and grappling: for some reason mma fighters seem to be unable to do both at the same time. in TMAs, grappling is mostly used to open the defense and follow with a lethal strike. in mma, it is done to get a submission.

    these are just the general errors which every mma practicioner i met so far made. there are many more less general mistakes, but listing them all would exceed the maximum size of the comment.

    all in all, if you want to learn selfdefense, your first choice should be old style combatives like LINE or the fairbairn system (which is basically bajiquan kungfu mixed with arnis) and if this is impossible traditional martial arts.
    mma and systems of similiar background (like marine corps martial arts or most krav maga styles) are second choice at best, superior to mcdojos and bullshit martial arts like taekwondo, aikido, esdo and similiar "traditional" artsthat were never meant for real combat.

  5. You will learn self defense techniques that can be incredibly useful in a life or death situation. And very simple to learn! Subscribe Now

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. In my opinion, properly applied MMA skills would be very effective in a street fight. As I wrote, MMA skills, not MMA as combat sport, since in a street fight you avoid any rules and limitations completely, which allows even the dirtiest strikes prohibited in MMA, such as albows and knees on an grounded opponent. I have seen video of a street fight in which an individual skilled in boxing knocked the attacker out without much effort, since street thugs usually don't understand fighting on scientific level and don't see their exposed chin as their weak spot.
    The question only is if the fighter in trouble can adapt on the situation and free himself or herself from the rules and fight to actually hurt, not just defeat. Survival mode.
    I know about few stories of innocent people attacked on the street for no reason, some of them killed. My idea is it's not gonna ever happen to me just like that. Once an aggresion is shown, it's combat zone. War. Defeat the opponent anyhow.

  8. Thanks for shearing it.I would like to say self protection is not only skill but also strength, self motivation and confidence included.So people of all ages should be trained on self protection training to accept challenges.Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in Connecticut

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Thanks for sharing a nice post. Despite there being a big difference between professional martial arts and street fighting, there are some martial arts styles that will teach you the self-defense you need that can be applied to the everyday fight. See more here http://survival-mastery.com/skills/defence/best-martial-arts-for-street.html

  11. Very interesting discussion. I would tend to agree with you that MMA skills would be far more useful than traditional boxing or martial arts would ever be. Out of all the disciplines, I would think MMA fighters are more equipped to deal with the unpredictability of an encounter on the street.

  12. According to my point of view, mixed martial arts competitors are some of the most highly skilled athletes on the world.

  13. I've studied traditional Shorin ryo karate my whole life. I grew up in the projects and was in many real fights with and without weapons. I don't know where and what type of traditional martial arts people are talking about here but my experience when training was very different. We did practice traditional hand conditioning both fist and spear hand. We also fought full contact all the time. We learned eye gouging, biting face ripping scratching and breaking fingers. Hell I've broken my fingers several times just sparring. The self defense we learned was viscous. We loved when attackers grabbed us. We instantly went for the most sensitive targets like the eyes and adams apple. We were never taught not to hurt our opponent we were taught if confronted with a person who will not take no for an answer to inflict maximum damage and get the hell out of there. We even kept salt packets in our pockets in case of a fight. I can't watch martial arts movies because they are just not realistic. Combat sports are somewhat entertaining but I always find myself yelling at the TV when I see someone miss an opportunity to bite, rabbit punch, eye poke etc. I have to remind myself it's a sport and rules are needed to protect the athlete. I have to admit I never looked at MMA as a serious self defense practice. I'm still baffled as to what type of self defense training some of the people here are describing. My traditional martial arts training was brutal, you left every training session feeling you just got your ass kicked because you did. Thanks for letting me share my opinion. Much love and good luck to all.

  14. I've written a post about the subject and i take a neutral stance. It all depends on how you use certain techniques to your advantage and which ones are ineffective in the streets. Armbars themselves will rarely work in a self defense situation. Overall, MMA is suited more for sport than for self defense.