On a planet teeming with organisms, humans are truly the top predator. Sure, man is not as powerful as an ox, cunning as a lion, ruthless as a wolverine, or even as durable as a crocodile, but the trait that humans definitively hold over all other species is the ability to learn and adapt. Give a prehistoric human some rocks and sticks and he’ll soon have weapons, fire, and shelter.
But given that human invention oftentimes originates in something outside of themselves, such as a fleeting thought or observation, what is it that planted the seeds for the development of wrestling, boxing, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Being that many well-known human inventions—such as hypodermic needles, suction cups, and airplanes—have all been inspired by nature, perhaps humans may have ironically learned to fight by observing the things that they now exercise dominion over: Animals.
Animals have “fighting” woven into the fabric of what makes them wild. Watch any animal fight, and it becomes clear what every human fighter should strive to emulate in the cage. Not only do animals showcase undying gameness and heart, but also they possess a technical prowess so keen that there is no thinking or reasoning, just doing. That being said, lets explore the “big four” fighting arts—and the animals within—that may have taught humans a thing or two about brawling.
Thought to be one of the world’s oldest forms of sport, perhaps the list starts here. The show of dominance is common in both nature and wrestling alike, so it’s surprising to learn that an animal that is not immediately thought of as feisty or tough is probably the creature whose fighting style most closely mimics wrestling—the tortoise.
When a turtle fight is imminent, these two reptiles will square off and meet in the middle, tying up with each other using their beaks and even their forelegs to secure what look surprisingly similar to overhooks and underhooks. They will then rise upon to their hind legs and grapple for control, while instinctively keeping their “hips”back, as one could expect a human wrestler to do. As is the case with wrestling, a tortoise fight decisively ends when one tortoise flips its opponent over onto its back, pinning him to the earth in dominance.
Also interesting to note is that tortoise fights are not considered a leading cause of death for these animals, possibly because the unspoken “rules” of the fight state that a clash is over once dominance is established—much like in human wrestling.
Although the kangaroo is traditionally thought of as a boxing animal, upon closer examination, its style of combat is much more analogous to the art of eight limbs, Muay Thai.
When kangaroos tangle, much of the struggle is fought in close quarters, oftentimes from a sloppy clinch. Although kangaroos throw punches, these blows are rarely fight-stoppers, as is also the case with human Muay Thai artists. Instead, time is taken by both competitors to set up huge shots to the body of his opponent byway of vicious kicks to the abdomen—also some of the most devastating blows in a Thai boxer’s arsenal.
The muscular tail of the kangaroo is ultimately what makes their hind-leg kicking from an upright, face-to-face position possible. Using their tails to balance, kangaroos are free to thrust wicked push kicks into their opponents. And although a liver shot from the lower limbs of a Muay Thai fighter is particularly painful, perhaps the kangaroo has a natural one-up advantage when it comes to inflicting all-out damage with these types of kicks. Kangaroo feet are equipped with razor sharp claws that slash the flesh of its enemy—a true showstopper in anyone’s book.
Thought to be “the gentlemen’s sport” in the world of combat arts, boxing in its pure form, like wrestling, is limited by more rules than most other MMA oriented arts. Being that boxing is restricted to striking only with the fists, it is hard to find distinct instances of such in nature, as animals literally fight with “no holds barred” most of the time! However, there is at least one animal that occasionally prefers to keep the fight standing to slug it out like boxers of modern day—deer.
Male deer have long been known to lock antlers and engage in a war of pushing, pulling, and fighting for supremacy. But at times, resembling the likes of Mike Tyson more so than Bambi, battling bucks will break from these stalemate clinches that also plague the boxing world and will rise up onto their hind legs and haphazardly swipe at each other with their front hooves. These flurries of “punches” are quite effective at inflicting punishment and quite a high percentage of them land, hitting each antlered warrior in the mouth, nose, neck, and body.
If BJJ was indeed learned from observation battling animals, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that most animals will never deliberately turn their backs to an opponent, much like a jiu-jitsu player. Oftentimes, in the heat of a fight, grounded animals can be seen working from a guard position while swiping with claws and teeth at their attacker. But perhaps the animal that most represents jiu-jitsu would be the boa constrictor.
Although armbars are out of the question, the style of fight that a boa brings is particularly in-line with the philosophy of BJJ in that each snake will take its time, tie up an oftentimes larger opponent, and dominate them until they can sink in that deadly stranglehold. Furthermore, the limbless and muscular frame of a boa adds to its jiu-jitsu proficiency, making it capable of winning a fight from all angles—something especially evident any time a snake is observed grappling with another species that it aims to kill.
In the end, it can’t be stated either way if primordial humans actually gleaned knowledge of fighting from the animals that inhabit the world. In fact, part of what makes the fighting arts of MMA so appealing may indeed be the historical mystery of exactly how they came to be. Did they come from man? Did they come from nature? Who—or what—took the first step at creating a wrestling takedown, a devastating knee from the clinch, a chin-jarring uppercut, or a variety of ways to strangle something living?
Where as these questions may never be answered, perhaps more important to observe and ponder is the nature that is inherent in both human and beast alike, as we are both creatures that will always have a fighting spirit coursing through our veins.