Outside the Big 4

The mixed martial arts phenomenon is now worldwide. Discussions of the latest UFC take place in coffee shops, at the water cooler, and even during family meals. As the popularity of the sport has developed, so have the techniques and methods used in the ring/cage/Octagon. MMA has developed into a style of its own. But that was not always the case.


The UFC began like a bad Kung Fu fi lm, where “my style vs. your style” was the raison

d’etre of the event. Guys in gis, kung fu shoes, and every variety of uniform stalked the cage, wishing to prove their system superior. As we know, they failed miserably against the black-belted guys from Brazil.


But competition in the ring has changed. Individuals who care little for traditional martial arts began throwing down in the cage. Guys like Ken Shamrock, who has no allegiance to any ancient master, were out to win for themselves, not some school. Those fighters helped to spearhead an effort to learn the ground game of the Gracies, while maintaining the ability to punish through strikes. Over time, as more athletes came into the game, western wrestling was added. Then came more striking, as sprawls helped to nullify the shot. The will to win drove the development of the sport we see today.



MMA has largely become a system unto its own. The term MMA goes beyond naming the sport, and describes a method of training and techniques. These techniques come from a few core systems of fighting that perform well in each range of combat: kicking, punching, clinch/throwing, and ground. This new form of fighting is predominantly made up of the big four: Muay Thai, Western Boxing, Wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But is that all there is? According to some camps, yes. However, more and more success is coming to fighters who have experience in other martial arts, and they are paving a way to the next revolution in MMA.



Founded by Kano Jigaro in the 1900s as a safer alternative to Jiu-Jitsu training, Judo has become a worldwide sporting event, with competitions taking place in virtually every country on the globe. Introduced to the Olympic Games in 1964, Judo is a sport like many others. Akin to Greco-Roman, freestyle, and Western Wrestling, it is the Asian contribution to grappling sports. Its initial foray into the Octagon was far from stellar. World-class Judokas like Christophe Lenninger were defeated by more well-rounded fighters who did not wear gis. No gi means no place to grip, therefore no throws, and no victories for Judo in the Octagon.


Though Judo seemed a poor fit for the MMA competitor, its popularity as an entry-level traditional art has spawned a new group of fighters whose roots are firmly embedded in Judo, particularly welterweight phenom Karo Parisyan.


The Armenian-born athlete began his combat sports career at nine. As a Judo player, he won six Junior National Belts, and participated in the 2004 Olympic trials. His Judo coaches are living legends in their own right – Gokor Chivichya and “Judo” Gene LeBell, one of the baddest (and nicest) guys to grace the mat. Though not alone in his Judo roots – PRIDE’s Yoshida, Takimoto, and Morris, and the UFC’s Sokoudjou are all proficient in Judo – Parisyan has added to the MMA lexicon by incorporating Judo throws into his own personal system. His success has brought new attention to the art and its potential use in MMA. Gi or no gi, Karo makes it work; just ask his opponents, who now know that the clinch is no longer a place to rest.



A fully sanctioned and recognized system in China, San Shou is considered the combat side of the more commonly known Wu Shu. San Shou combines the striking of Chinese Boxing and Kung Fu with the throwing of Tai Chi and other Chinese systems; basically, a Muay Thai match with scissor kick throws and suplexes! Watching a San Shou match is like watching a real life Kung Fu movie, full of spectacular kicks and strikes, punctuated by sky-high throws and acrobatic techniques. Based on a self-defense type method of throwing, where one does not follow his opponent to the ground, but lets the impact do all the damage, it lacks the ground-based submission grappling of MMA.


When discussing San Shou, the name always mentioned is Cung Le. Cung Le is one of the most dynamic combat athletes to ever step into the ring. A former high school wrestler, Cung practiced and mastered a plethora of martial arts: Tae Kwon Do, Vietnamese Kung Fu, Muay Thai, Wu Shu, and most recently BJJ. He began his professional fighting career in the 1990s, becoming the ISKA/Strike Force Kickboxing

Champ. He also competed in K-1 in 2003, amassing a record of 17-0 with 12 KOs, and has blown away everyone he has faced on the American San Shou circuit.


His dominance in the strike/throw sport garnered him national attention, but many fighters and fans said he could not make the transition to MMA. In 2006, he took on the challenge, and won convincingly. Though still working to better his submission and counter-submission ground skills, Cung has proven to be a great combat athlete, regardless of the venue. His MMA record stands at 5-0, with all wins coming from knockouts. He has not yet performed his legendary fl ying scissor kick takedown in the cage, but he brings a distinct San Shou fl avor to his fi ghting.



Hidden behind the shadow of the Iron Curtain, Combat Sambo was initially developed for Soviet troops. Sambo, which means selfdefense without weapons, was deemed a formal sport by the USSR in 1938. At its base is a mix of local grappling systems from the toughest cultures in what was then the Soviet bloc: Japanese Judo, Armenian Kotch, Georgian Chidaoba, Moldovan Trinta, Uzbek Kuresh, Mongolian Khapsagay and Azerbaijani Gulesh.


Sambo has evolved into varying forms. These varieties include Sport Sambo, which is very similar to Judo (they even wear a gi top) but without chokes and leg locks, Self-Defense Sambo, which uses small joint locks and is similar to Aikido and Aikijitsu, Combat Sambo, which incorporates all strikes, throws and even some weapons, Special Sambo, which is used by police and military special operations forces (Spetznaz), and most recently added, Freestyle Sambo, which is essentially MMA as we know it.


Unique to Sambo is the ranking system used in the Russian Federation. Unlike in the US, the system is purely performance based. If you win a local title, you get ranked at a certain level. Win a national title and you earn a higher rank. Currently, the most notable Sambo practitioner in MMA is the undefeated Fedor Emelianenko, a man considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in MMA.


Fedor began his martial arts training in both Judo and Sambo. His level of expertise is partially attributed to his training while serving his country as a military fireman. However, he competed often in the Combat Sambo tournaments in Russia, earning the rank of Master of Sports in Self-Defense (Sambo) in 1997, the equivalent of a national title. He began competing in the more MMA-based Freestyle Sambo in 2000, and competed in and won the PRIDE 2003 tournament, a title he has successfully defended for four years. In addition to fighting in PRIDE, Fedor continues to compete in Combat Sambo tournaments, and in 2005 won its highest-level tournament, cementing him in history as one of the most effective fighters to ever compete.



In 1973, a lithe charismatic man named Bruce Lee exploded onto the silver screen. The premier of Enter the Dragon exposed the west to martial arts in a most dramatic way. Punches, kicks, elbows, knees, and throws were used to take on all comers, as Lee’s ripped physique glistened. In particular, the opening fight scene illustrated how far ahead of everyone else the Little Dragon was in the martial arts community. Fingered gloves, spandex shorts, and all ranges of fighting were used against a larger (albeit pudgy) opponent. The fight scene was furious, and ended not in a knockout, but with an arm bar submission. This vision of a no-technique-barred fighting system was what Bruce Lee’s off-screen training was all about. He called it Jeet Kune Do – the way of the intercepting fist.


JKD was never intended to be a set group of techniques or system, but an approach that liberated the practitioner from set methods so that he could develop a personalized method of self-defense and fighting. At its core was a highly developed training method that included physical conditioning, strength training, technical training in all ranges of fighting, and all range full contact sparring. That type of program is standard today, but was revolutionary for that time. Much of the training equipment we use today, such as kicking shields, was developed by Lee and his crew. Lee combined techniques and training methods from many traditional martial arts, blending them together to form his own system that included punches, kicks, trapping, and grappling. Sound familiar? It should, since it was essentially the world’s first mixed martial art.


So where are all the JKD guys in MMA? Unfortunately, JKD became mired in politics and the “my kung fu is too deadly” mindset. Nevertheless, there have been a few, most notably Erik Paulson.


Erik Paulson is the product of a lifetime of martial arts training. Tae Kwon Do, Karate, and Judo were where he started, and he ending up training in JKD in 1981. In 1988, he made his way to
. Between bartending gigs, he trained with everyone who was anyone: Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, Rorion Gracie, Dan Inosanto, and Larry Hartsell. In 1989, he met Sensei Yori Nakamura and began training in earnest in Shootwrestling, Japan’s MMA. In 1992, Erik became the first westerner to win a title in Shooto. He remained the undefeated light heavyweight champion until he retired in 2000.


Now, Erik trains other world-class fighters, such as Josh Barnett and Sean Sherk. Recently, at 40 plus years of age, Erik is back in the ring, fi ghting MMA. His experience in JKD allows him to morph his fighting system to meet the needs of his opponent, the environment and his own physical limitations. That is the essence of JKD, and Erik embodies that approach to training, fighting, and winning.



It will be interesting to see where these arts will take MMA. Will even more exotic systems come into favor and affect what we see in the ring? Only time will tell. Though it is sure that the individual practitioner will outweigh any one set of techniques and no set of techniques will work for every fighter, both method and practitioner continue to evolve. We may see the development of a true mixed martial system that knows no boundaries, except the rules of the ring and the limits of the human weapon itself.



The Filipino martial art of Kali is best known for its lightening fast use of sticks and knives. So what role could it possibly play in MMA? In the early days of Western Boxing, Filipino fighters dominated the lightweight divisions. Their ability to fight using leads, false leads, and odd striking angles made them a force to be reckoned with in the under 140-pound divisions. These ring abilities were the direct result of Kali training.


SPEED – Fighters use sticks in training to develop ambidextrousness, and to train the eye to follow objects moving much faster than a punch (stick speeds can approach 150mph). This gave these diminutive fighters the edge over many of their western opponents. In essence a form of speed training for the eyes, it helps fighters to pick up movement quickly, and react to strikes and shots more easily.


ANGLES – Jabs, crosses, hooks, and uppercuts were mixed with back fists, hammer fists and close range “stick punches” that allowed fighters to deliver blows from odd angles. Many Russian and former Eastern bloc fighters use odd strikes, especially while in ground and pound. These variations on weapons (knife) techniques are similar to Kali, and are part of the Special Sambo taught to special ops.


DESTRUCTIONS – The use of destructive blocks and covers allows a fighter to shut down an opponent’s best weapons via impact. Rampage Jackson lifts his elbows to protect against flurries. This high elbow cover is popular in Muay Thai, since it gives more structure to the cover. However, Kali fi ghters use it to attack limbs and hands. The light padding in MMA gloves allows fighters to strike virtually anywhere; it is only time until you see MMA fighters using this tactic in the ring.


MOUSING – On the ground, pre-submission “tenderizing” can also be done. Instead of using strength alone to lock an opponent, a quick mouse of the bicep using an elbow strike can shut down, or at lease significantly weaken, that muscle group. This makes a submission easier to achieve. Little effort is needed to accomplish this if done properly. Its effectiveness is truly amazing to witness, and painful to experience.

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