From the Mat to the Street: MMA and Self-Defense


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According to Stephen Cliffe, mixed martial arts could cost you your life. Cliffe is the founder and chief instructor of Imminent Threat Defense Systems, a military-grade combative training company and he believes that over reliance on sportfighting techniques may lead to trouble in self-defense scenarios.

“This is not to denigrate the skill and physical training aspects required to compete in these sporting arenas,” Cliffe said. “The athletes have my greatest respect and admiration for both their dedication and their physical prowess.”

Having trained muay Thai and Filipino martial arts to combat submission wrestling to Machado jiu-jitsu, Cliffe believes techniques used in sporting events don’t equip people for most life-threatening attack scenarios. “Where an inadvertent eye flick or grazed testicle might end a fight in the ring, it is the starting point [in the real world].”

Even UFC fight veteran Bas Rutten said “Fighting in a nice little safe [arena] is a whole different ball game …” opposed to fighting on the street. “[Fighters] have to get used to fighting under pressure,” when it comes to life-threatening attacks.

The major difference between sport combat and Cliffe’s combative training style is the fighter’s applied force and target on the enemy’s body. “Sport combat relies on feint punches and kicks, and other acts trying to gain advantage through superior mastery of skills,” Cliffe said. “Sport combat is about give and take, never committing to full body influx.”

Ralek Gracie, whose father Rorion co-founded the Ultimate Fighting Championship, added that, “Sport jiu-jitsu ignores punches altogether, and MMA bouts forbid hits to the back of the head, enabling competitors to ‘turtle up’ to avoid knockout punches – a move with potentially disastrous consequences in a street fight.”

The intent to penetrate the body’s structure is important in combative training because people need a thorough understanding of how the enemy will reflex or maneuver during the event of an attack. People commit every ounce of “their self with every application of force to cause an unconscious reflexive response that provides us further opportunities to continue setting the agenda and stopping the induction of trauma only when we feel safe to leave,” Cliffe said.

The strikes in sport combat aren’t meant to make a body unconsciously reflexive, rather it’s to weaken the body until an opening for a knockout, takedown or submission presents itself. “Sport is about being faster, bigger, stronger and more skilled in the art of fighting without causing real, debilitating trauma,” Cliffe said. “Can it produce death? Yes, but that is by chance, not intent.”

Jeremy Lafreniere, owner of and instructor at Capital Jiu-Jitsu in Washington, D.C., said, “Many schools and instructors that teach BJJ and MMA only know the sport side of the art. They preach and train theory mostly, with limited drilling of techniques, and little to no time working with resisting partners.”

Both Gracie and Lafreniere agree that another problem is that MMA competitors train to strike with wrapped hands and wear gloves. “Effective bare-hand striking takes years of practice and conditioning and even then relies on fixing the target if the blow is to be delivered without risking injury to the hand,” Gracie added.

Whether you’re in a bar brawl or a fight for your life, intricate nuances are irrelevant because it’s overcomplicated and unrealistic. “The average person needs simple, direct techniques that are ‘punch-proof,’ leverage-based, and rely on natural body movements to overcome the advantages of a physically superior adversary,” Gracie added.

“If given the option to become a victim or make them a victim, choose to make them a victim,” Cliffe said.

FIGHT! Fans: Do you think that MMA training helps or hurts you in the event that you are involved in a non-sporting altercation?

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