“MMA,” or mixed martial arts, is known as a combat sport that involves two fighters inside an enclosed arena who fight to either knock out their opponent or score enough points from the judges at the end of the fight to win. “Martial arts” refer to different sports or skills that stem from self-defense and attack moves. With these definitions so closely related, you may wonder if MMA is a form of martial art.
Is MMA a Martial Art?
MMA is technically not a single martial art. It is rather a sport that involves combatants using various martial arts to win against their opponents. In other words, the sport of MMA involves a variety of martial arts such as BJJ and Muay Thai, but is not in itself a martial art.
You’ll find that there are several martial arts that fighters in MMA practice. In this article, we’ll break down the differences between MMA and martial arts in greater detail, as well as how the two intertwine with one another.
What is MMA?
MMA is a fighting sport. It is a full-contact combat sport that involves two fighters using striking, grappling, and ground fighting to attempt to subdue their opponent to win a fight. Combatants in MMA use various martial arts and other fighting styles to try and outmaneuver their opponents.
With that said, the sport of MMA is not considered one of the martial arts; rather, there are techniques and fighting styles that are based upon various martial arts that fighters use during their competitions.
What is the Difference Between MMA and Martial Arts?
As you might have guessed from above, the biggest difference between martial arts and MMA is that MMA is made up of various fighting styles, while martial arts is a series of different combat forms.
For instance, one fighter might have a specialty in karate and some taekwondo, while their opponent might have been a college wrestler who also learned judo in training.
In this example, the first fighter uses two martial arts styles (taekwondo and karate), and the second fighter also uses two styles (judo and wrestling). However, when the two combatants fight, this is classified as an MMA match and not martial arts because the fighters are using these styles in combination with each other during the competition.
However, this isn’t where the differences end. Several other features distinguish MMA from martial arts and vice versa.
Martial arts can be practiced for various reasons, including:
- Military and police forces use martial arts to deescalate altercations.
- Individuals practice martial arts for self-defense, competitions, or to improve their overall physical, mental, or emotional well-being.
- Actors and actresses may learn and practice martial arts to fulfill certain roles.
- People may practice martial arts to preserve their heritage and honor relatives who also practiced.
Meanwhile, because MMA is a professional sport, the martial arts used are primarily meant to take down an opponent during a match. Each fighter involved will use a preferred martial art to win competitions.
Rules and Regulations
MMA is more structured and rules-based versus martial arts because it is a combat sport. For example, MMA fighters must abide by certain rules, such as:
- There are areas on the body fighters are not allowed to hit.
- There are certain holds and attacks that are illegal moves.
In contrast, martial arts have fewer rules and regulations. For example, a common practice of martial arts is to take your opponent’s momentum and movement and turn it against them. This may involve cheap shots or attacks to areas that would otherwise be deemed illegal in a formal MMA fight.
A final key difference between MMA and martial arts is the format in which competitions or matches take place.
In MMA, most competitions follow a standard format: fight inside a specified area with a referee and protective gear while following the rules until one opponent is left standing. Fighters can employ moves from various martial arts to win.
In contrast, martial arts competitions have more variety. Some martial arts matches will be structured similarly to a formal MMA fight. However, you can also expect a range of competitions that determine which competitors have the best form, speed, and more. Additionally, matches usually restrict fighters to practice only one martial art.
What Martial Arts Does MMA Include?
In MMA, there are several fighting styles that one can choose from to employ to come out on top in a fight. Many fighters use multiple martial arts disciplines to maintain a good attack and defense in a fight, including:
- Muay Thai
- Kung Fu
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
While there are plenty of other fighting styles in martial arts used in MMA, the ones listed above are the most common.
What Martial Arts Are Best for MMA?
Various martial arts forms can be successfully used in MMA, and the best martial art you can use for MMA will depend on various factors.
Most fighters who get into MMA have the knowledge and skills of at least one martial art and may need to learn a secondary martial art to be fully prepared for strikes and self-defense techniques for matches.
For example, some MMA fighters are former boxers or wrestlers who have needed to learn a different discipline like judo to compensate for their primary fighting style’s weaknesses. Some fighters may have a jujutsu background and need to learn a different striking style like karate to counterbalance grappling techniques.
The best martial art to use for MMA will also depend on a fighter’s body type and physical ability.
- Many fighting styles like taekwondo, karate, and muay thai involve much stamina and limber body movements, which favors fighters who are smaller in stature.
- Fighters in the heavier weight classes might prefer the grappling techniques found in martial arts like judo and wrestling because it is easier to fight from the ground up, where they might be more comfortable and have certain advantages (harder to get back to their feet, harder to pin because of size, etc.).
- There are even fighters who might be longer in their limbs and bigger in their hands and feet that have a preferred fighting style than those who might be smaller in those areas but more equipped to fight in other disciplines.
There is also the learning curve of some fighting styles that can either encourage or discourage a fighter from learning that fighting style. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is generally regarded as the hardest to learn because there are several ways a person can attack and defend, depending on the situation.
On the other hand, boxing is the easiest to learn because of the simplicity of the fighting style (only punches with closed fists, standing on two feet, no kicking).
When it comes to MMA and martial arts, there are many similarities and places where the two cross paths. But MMA is not a martial art; martial arts are used in MMA fighting to help a fighter win a competition.
There’s no one martial art that’s better than the rest when it comes to MMA. Martial arts make up several fighting disciplines broken up into two categories: grappling and striking; many MMA fighters will use more than one martial art from either category to help them fight.
Additionally, some martial arts are easier to learn than others for MMA. A fighter’s background, physique, and the learning curve of each fighting technique can help determine the best art to use.