Mixed martial arts, a combat sport that combines striking and grappling techniques from a variety of disciplines, has gained popularity in the United States since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts in 1993.
With the sport’s emphasis on fitness and mental and physical endurance, service members’ participation in the sport is on the rise.
“The game has evolved from a one-style fighting martial art in a short amount of time,” said Staff Sgt. Keli Manglona, 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron armament cast leader and double stripe purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the MMA Lab, a mixed martial arts studio in Glendale. “It’s more than who can use the most force and take the most punishment. With BJJ you can be the smallest guy and still control the ground with skill.”
MMA is a combination of standing and ground fighting.
Fighters begin standing and combine different striking techniques from disciplines such as boxing, Tae Kwon Do, Karate and Muay Thai. The goal is to win by knockout, technical knockout, submission or decision. The striking game is the most action filled aspect of martial arts and typically draws the loudest response from spectators.
To transition from standup to the ground game, an MMA fighter takes their opponent to the mat using techniques acquired from wrestling or Judo. This often involves the use of the opponent’s momentum and leverage for a slam or trip. When competitors hit the mat, they use Jiu Jitsu and wrestling to position themselves for a potential win, by applying a variety of chokes or using joint manipulation to obtain a submission.
According to the founders of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, 90 percent of real-world fights end up on the ground, which is why their fighting style puts so much emphasis on the ground game.
BJJ is the most famous of this style of fighting. Royce Gracie, the son of one of the originators of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, a modern form of BJJ, dominated three of the first four UFC events by submitting much larger and stronger opponents than himself, introducing BJJ into the world as the dominate grappling martial art. The Gracie family showed other martial artists that there were more aspects to fighting than just the standup game.
Though some have likened the sport of MMA to human cockfighting, the mental agility of these athletes is just as important as their physical prowess.
“MMA is the ultimate form of mind and body connection,” said Staff Sgt. Jesus Artesi, 56th Medical Support Squadron medical readiness training manager and instructor for Lotus Club Jiu Jitsu/Siege MMA. “You must innovate, learn, study tapes from the current champions, improvise, be disciplined and consistent to remain relevant in the game.”
The benefits of martial arts impact the daily lives of all the participants, from professional fighters to civilians and military personnel. It increases stamina and physical strength along with flexibility and confidence. MMA could be used for personal gain or for a thorough workout.
“I think MMA, more than any other sport, has the best characteristics in building a combat athlete,” Artesi said. “This directly translates into the military life; the dedication, discipline, hard work, sacrifice, fear, courage, danger and the combat. All of these qualities, forged from training, will positively impact any unit.”