MMA Moves: The 13 Traditional Martial Arts That Gave Rise to Them

by Lito Angeles, adapted from his book Fight Night! The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Mixed Martial Arts

MMA Moves: The 13 Traditional Martial Arts That Gave Rise to ThemDespite what many people believe, MMA is not a barbaric blood sport. It is a stringently regulated combat sport that attracts some of the highest-caliber and all-around well-conditioned athletes in the world.The training regimen of the average professional MMA fighter would thoroughly exhaust most athletes in other sports due in part to its comprehensive nature.

Some of you may be thinking, How about the athletes who compete in Olympic decathlons or Ironman triathlons? Well, both these multi-event sports are very demanding. However, the big difference that separates the two from MMA is that they don’t simultaneously apply multilevel skill sets directly against one another to attain victory.

There are three recognized phases of combat in mixed martial arts:

  • Stand-up striking: The combatants have space between them and aren’t holding each other.
  • Clinching: The competitors are very close to each other, and their arms and upper bodies are tied up.
  • Ground fighting/grappling: The fighters are on the mat and their limbs are entangled.

In their never-ending quest to evolve and improve, modern mixed martial artists constantly hone their MMA moves to be well-rounded and well-versed in all phases of combat. With that said, there are still two general categories of MMA moves: striking and grappling.

The strikers are fighters who prefer to keep their distance from their opponents so they can dominate fights through MMA moves such as punches, kicks, knees and elbow strikes. Their main goal is to knock out their opponents.

Conversely, grapplers prefer to close the distance and take their opponents to the ground, where they can either pound their opponents until the referee stops the fight or apply MMA moves such as a submission hold.

MMA moves come from an eclectic combination of various martial arts, most notably Western boxingmuay Thai, Western wrestling (such as Greco-Roman, freestyle, folkstyle and catch-as-catch-can) and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

The following list of 13 martial arts elaborates on each source of modern MMA moves a little more:

  • Western boxing is a striking art that only uses punches, which are generally divided into jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts.
  • Muay Thai is a Thai-based martial art referred to as “the art of eight limbs.” It is a fighting system that uses the fists, elbows, shins, feet and knees to strike an opponent. Combined with Greco-Roman wrestling, muay Thai is also considered the essential source for clinching in MMA moves.
  • Greco-Roman wrestling is one of the major styles of Western wrestling. It focuses on upper-body attacks and forbids any attack below the waist, even leg takedowns. As a result, clinch work, head locks, bear hugs and throws are prominent aspects of this style.
  • Freestyle wrestling is one of the major styles of amateur Western wrestling. It allows upper- and lower-body attacks, which means that leg takedowns and defenses are prominent parts of this style.
  • Folkstyle wrestling is a style indigenous to the United States. It is basically a hybrid of freestyle wrestling practiced mainly in high schools and colleges.
  • Catch wrestling, also known as catch-as-catch-can wrestling, is an “old school” submission style of wrestling best known for its brutal submission holds, including leg locks, neck locks, arm locks, shoulder locks and chokes.
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu focuses on grappling, especially ground fighting. A BJJ competitor’s goal is to obtain and maintain a dominant position in order to use a submission hold, like a joint lock or choke, that will force his opponent to submit.
  • Sambo, also called sombo, is a Russian martial art that emphasizes jacketed wrestling and grappling skills in its sport variation. It is widely known for its leg locks.
  • Judo is a classical Japanese grappling art that primarily emphasizes throws— shoulder throws, hip throws, sweeps, etc.
  • Sanshou is a full-contact Chinese sport that consists of kickboxingtechniques, takedowns and throws.
  • Karate is a Japanese martial art with numerous styles. It is primarily a punching and kicking system that incorporates, to a lesser degree, many of the other natural weapons of the body for attack and defense.
  • Taekwondo is a Korean variation of karate that strongly emphasizes kicking.
  • Submission grappling, also known as submission fighting or submission wrestling, is a martial sport that combines tactics and techniques from Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Western wrestling (all forms), sambo, judo and luta livre(Brazilian freestyle fighting).
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