What Is The Difference Between MMA and Martial Arts?


Mixed martial arts (MMA) is literally a mixture of techniques from various martial arts put into one style of fighting. This is why many people think MMA is not a real martial art, as it uses techniques from other arts. But the main difference between MMA and traditional martial arts is the concept. 

MMA puts a lot of emphasis on sports and prizefighting. It teaches you how to fight under the rules, win fights and you can earn a lot of money and become very famous. On the other side, martial arts is more about the culture, being in top shape, with the main focus on improving oneself.

In this article, I will explore deeper into the differences between MMA and martial arts to help you decide which one is right for you. And in the end, we will see if MMA could, to some extent, be seen as real martial art.

What are the Main Differences Between MMA and Martial arts?

A lot of people think that MMA is a real martial art mainly because of its name “Mixed Martial Arts”. But in spite of this, there are a lot of differences between these two, and here are the notable ones:

  • MMA is a very popular sport where the main goal is to win a match. Although some martial arts include competition like karate, the emphasis of the art is on improving oneself.
  • Most martial arts include forms of meditation exercises where the goal is to focus on calming your mind. MMA won’t teach you these exercises, but a lot of fighters do them on their own.
  • Some martial arts, notably from China, teach techniques that do not work in real fighting. MMA differs a lot here as each technique you learn works in real life as well.
  • Some traditional martial arts include a strong cult following. Culture in MMA gyms is oriented more to the modern way of living and doesn’t include any type of cults or following.
  • MMA is a mainstream sport in which fighters can earn huge money. Some martial arts include competition like karate or judo, but you won’t get rich or very famous competing. 
  • Most martial arts focus on just one element of fighting like judo on grappling or boxing on the standup. In MMA, you will learn how to fight in the standup, clinch, or fight on the ground. This makes it more versatile than most martial arts. 

Is MMA Better For Self-Defense than Traditional Martial Arts?

In many self-defense scenarios, MMA could help you much more than training in other martial arts. Even though MMA is widely known as a popular sport, its concept makes it close to ideal for self-defense. This is because it prepares you to fight in all elements using only the techniques that you can apply in a real fighting situation:

  • Standup (Muay Thai, Boxing, Karate)
  • Clinch (wrestling, Muay Thai, BJJ)
  • Ground fighting (Wrestling, BJJ)

Or in other words, whatever happens and wherever the fight goes, you will be trained to face any type of fighting situation. Also, MMA training includes a lot of sparring which gives you a sense of what it’s like to be in a real fight. You will spar in the standup throwing strikes, use takedowns and fight on the ground. In some way, MMA fights/sparring is often all over the place just as fights on the streets. So once in a street fight, you will know how to keep your mind calm and which techniques to use to stay out of trouble or escape from it. 

However, MMA won’t teach you how to use or defend against dirty tactics and weapons like some martial arts would. This is often seen as the biggest drawback of MMA when it comes to self-defense. But still, is MMA the best fighting style for street fighting? 

This really depends on the type of situation you are in. Set against martial arts, MMA is certainly better because it covers most situations you can find yourself in. 

Can a Martial Artist Beat an MMA Fighter in a Streetfight? 

MMA is superior to most martial arts when it comes to street fighting. But, there are a couple of martial arts that stand a high chance against an MMA fighter in a match without the rules. This is mainly because MMA won’t teach you how to use dirty tactics while some martial arts will like Krav Maga.

You see, MMA is a sport that prepares you how to fight under the rules. Even though MMA fighters are well rounded, they are not allowed to use any dirty moves like eye gouging or groin strikes. When they receive an illegal strike to the groin area, for instance, the referee would stop the match and give them time to recover. The same stands for other dirty tactics like eye pokes, biting, and many others.

But as we know, you can do anything you want in street fighting as there are no rules. This is where some martial arts have an advantage since they will teach you how to use dirty moves.

MMA fighters are simply not used to these types of strikes as they never practice them in the gym. Although they land now and then due to the nature of the sport, dirty tactics are not a part of their training. Once in a street fight, most MMA fighters would crumble like average humans upon receiving a groin strike for instance.

Still, landing dirty moves is not an easy thing to do, notably when a person standing in front is a skilled MMA fighter who has far better fighting skills. 

Can an MMA Fighter Go Into Martial Arts Competition And Win?

MMA fighters are masters in many fighting styles as they know how to wrestle, box, or execute judo throws. This makes some people think they can take part in martial arts tournaments and win. Even though this sounds right on paper to some extent, the reality is a bit different.

First of all, the goal in MMA is to mix techniques from various martial arts into one style of fighting. Or in other words, fighters do not excel in one art, they are just using certain techniques from it. Second, the rules in martial art competitions differ a lot from the ones in MMA.

Here is one instance of how it all looks in practice.

In 2017, MMA star Conor Mcgregor moved into boxing to face Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match. MMA fighters know how to box so it was reasonable to assume they can beat boxers in their game, right? Well, things didn’t go as planned for the Irishman since Floyd went on to play with him for 10 rounds before knocking him out.

The same thing happened to the former UFC fighter, Ben Askren. In 2019, he stepped into a wrestling match against an Olympic gold medalist, Jordan Burroughs. Bear in mind that Askren has a strong NCAA Division I wrestling background. He built his entire MMA success on utilizing his amazing wrestling skills. But, he was away from wrestling competition for almost a decade.

Once the match started, Burroughs went on to literally walk right through Askren to take him down to the mat. He gave Askren a wrestling class and reminded us that MMA fighters can’t go into martial arts competition and expect to win. 

Can a Martial Artist Beat an MMA Fighter In an MMA Match?

Martial artists certainly have good fighting skills but those are not enough to beat MMA fighters in their sport. In fact, it would be a miracle to see a martial artist coming into MMA and succeeding. This is mainly because most martial arts are too one dimensional for MMA no matter if we are talking about grappling or striking.

For instance, Karate stands for a solid base for MMA that teaches you really good footwork, kicks, and blitz attacks. They are real masters in moving in to land a strike and get out really fast without being hit back. But once in an MMA match, skilled MMA fighters would take them down without even putting much effort into it. And once the fight goes on the ground, karate fighters would look lost because they never learned how to fight there.

The same stands for other arts like Judo. Their throws, trips, and sweeps are very good techniques that also work in MMA as well. But Judo fighters don’t know how to defend vicious kicks or punches in the standup. Even if they get the clinch, taking an MMA fighter down is not easy simply because they all know how to defend against it.

We can continue to give you examples from other martial arts as well, but you can see our point. MMA is far more versatile than most martial arts and we don’t have to mention the difference in rules. 

What Martial Arts Are Allowed in MMA?

You can use any martial art to fight in MMA as long as the techniques are within the rules of the sport. But bear in mind that being an expert in just a single martial art is not enough to fight in MMA. All fighters must know how to combine techniques from various martial arts to cover all the aspects of the sport.

Over the years, many fighting styles proved bad for MMA like Aikido since their techniques are not effective enough. Some other ones like Kung Fu are bad because they put a lot of emphasis on dirty moves like eye-gouging or groin strikes that are not allowed in MMA. 

But on the other side, different types of martial arts have emerged as very useful in MMA fighting. Here are some martial arts that are allowed in MMA and what type of techniques they bring to the sport:

  • Muay Thai – roundhouse kicks, knee, and elbow strikes
  • Boxing – footwork, punching combos, head movement
  • Karate – movement, angles, straight punches, fast kicks
  • Taekwondo – various spinning and jumping kicks, ability to fight from both stances
  • Wrestling – double/single leg takedowns, top control trips and throws
  • BJJ – chokeholds, joint locks, sweeps, escapes

Which Martial Art Is The Best For MMA?

MMA is still a young sport that is evolving really fast and we can’t say for sure which martial art is the best. In the beginning, MMA fighters were experts in just one style of fighting. We saw a lot of style vs. style matchups in which BJJ fighters were superior to fighters from other arts.

But according to the modern data, most of the UFC champions in history have actually come from wrestling.

Saying which one is the best is unrealistic because modern MMA fighting is a sport in which being an expert in one art is not enough. You can’t compete using just BJJ or Muay Thai skills like you could in the early days. In modern times, MMA fighters cross-train in the following four martial arts to become well-rounded fighters:

  • Muay Thai – is often seen as the complete striking art as it teaches you how to use all limbs as weapons in a fight. The emphasis is on powerful kicks and clinch where you can land knee and elbow strikes.
  • Boxing – is crucial for MMA as it teaches you all about the movement and punches. We are not sure if any other martial art will teach you better footwork and head movement than boxing.
  • Wrestling – is often seen as the best base for MMA as it allows you to take the opponent down and control them on the bottom.
  • Jiu Jitsu – is so important that you can’t expect to succeed in MMA without BJJ skills. It teaches you how to take the opponent down and use various chokeholds and joint locks to submit them.

Is MMA a real martial art?

We don’t see any reason why MMA couldn’t be seen as real martial art. Some people think it isn’t because it is a mix of techniques from other arts. But, remember that some real martial arts also include techniques from other arts. The best instances are Russian Sambo, which is a mix of judo and catch wrestling. The other one is BJJ which originates from Judo. In fact, most BJJ throws, trips, joint locks, or chokeholds are actually Judo techniques.

Next, let’s not forget that the way wrestling, boxing, or judo techniques work in MMA is much different. Due to the nature of the sport, you don’t shoot for a takedown the same way you do in wrestling. Or, you don’t stand in the same stance or throw the same punches as in boxing. The mix of various grappling and striking techniques in MMA is really unique and you have to adapt every single martial art technique to it.

Even though MMA is a popular sport, it is still far better than most martial arts when it comes to self-defense. It is the only fighting style that will teach you how to fight in all elements of fighting. For instance, MMA is far more practical in real life than Kung Fu or Aikido that people see as real martial arts while MMA is not.

And there is the other argument that MMA is not a real martial art because it doesn’t focus on self-improvement. This is not true in our opinion as there are many studies showing MMA improves your confidence, makes you more patient, and can help deal with various mental disorders.

Related Questions

Why Is There No Kung Fu In MMA?

In modern MMA, you can clearly see the lack of traditional martial arts, notably the ones from China. You will rarely see MMA fighters having a background in Chinese martial arts like Kung Fu. The reason for this is simple, the concept of most Chinese martial arts like Kung Fu simply does not fit well into the sport of MMA and its rules.

First of all, Kung Fu includes dirty tactics like eye-gouging and strikes to the groin area that are now allowed in MMA. Landing these strikes would force the referee to instantly stop the fight and can get you disqualified.

Next, some of the fundamental techniques you learn in Kung Fu are really bad for MMA fighting like the stance for instance. Kung Fu fighters tend to hold their hands stretched in front since the emphasis is on intercepting the strikes coming at you. Standing in this type of stance can get you seriously hurt in MMA and we are not joking about it. 

Kung Fu

There are many other issues with Kung Fu in MMA. One of the biggest is the lack of sparring and competition. Sparring allows you to test the techniques you learned against the training partner. It’s also important as it gives you a feeling of being in a real fight with a person trying to hurt you. And the lack of this feeling is what would make most Kung Fu fighters look lost in an MMA match.

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