by Valerie Masai-Aspaas
I have been doing research lately for a book into the origins of popular martial arts. As I look into different styles of the hand-to-hand combat arts, I also research their history and origin. Martial arts are absolutely all over the map.
Brazil and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Korea and Tae Kwon Do.
Thailand and Muay Thai.
Martial arts have become a part of communities and cultures all over the world. Nearly every civilization has known war, so martial artistry is a global phenomenon.
Russia and Sambo.
Japan and Judo.
Israel and Krav Maga.
Country by country, culture by culture, the origin story of each martial art tells a story about the place and time where its practice originated. There is a wealth of diversity in the world of martial arts, and for as long as civilization has existed, so have the fighting arts.
As for the United States, what could be more uniquely American than the sport of MMA? The United States is a young country with a violent history. It is one that celebrates freedom and individualism. Its story reveals a patchwork of histories and identities not unlike the many fighting styles represented in Mixed Martial Arts.
As a proud American and Mixed Martial Artist myself, the parallels between the sport and the country are clear. The story of MMA began with the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in Denver, Colorado with an open invitation to martial artists all over the world from different styles to challenge their abilities in open, no-holds-barred matches. It would be the ultimate test of martial skill and ability. Just like the U.S., its origin was unprecedented.
In the beginning, there weren’t even any rules. It was the free market. For MMA, it was the free market of techniques. Today, it’s largely the same, but with an added necessary tax. In the U.S., for roads and police and schools, in the sport of MMA, for weight classes and a safer ruleset and protective equipment.
Our country is young. It’s younger than 300 years old, and every single year sees an influx of people from different parts of the world seeking to better their lives.
MMA is young. It’s younger than 30 years old, and every single year sees an influx of people from different styles, backgrounds and skill levels seeking competition and greatness.
MMA presents an open environment to test your skills and challenge yourself to the best of your ability. No matter your background, you have the opportunity to use whatever skills or styles you have to overcome your opponent. It's just you and your opponent and a steel cage. Mix in the lights, the crowd, and the performance: and it’s an integrated model of a new pop-culture phenomenon that combines artistic and athletic performance. Multicolor lights dancing over the crowd, music roaring as they cheer, a burst of flame as the fighter emerges from backstage--maybe donning a hat and carrying a flag--What could be more American?
It may also be the most violent combat sport of all. Fighting in the cage often yields injury, minor or major, even for the winner. Meanwhile, the U.S. is arguably the most violent developed country in the world. It is no wonder that MMA provides some good American catharsis to fans of the sport nationwide.
Mixed Martial Arts began here in the U.S., but its roots are global. MMA is becoming more and more popular all over the world, with fans and fighters from every continent. When women were finally accepted into the sport by the UFC, fans saw a style of fighting they had never seen before. As MMA spreads across the globe, more and more fighters bring something new into the cage, and the sport evolves. Diversity is our greatest strength as a nation, and the same could be said for the sport of MMA.
MMA: an All-American Sport!