In the early days of the UFC – when Royce Gracie shocked the world by wearing a kimono, taking fights to the ground, and submitting his opponents with unknown locks and chokes – he memorably said post fight, “My main thing is NOT to get hit.”
Royce measured his distance and used his now famous stomp kick to enter into the clinch, eating relatively few significant hits from his opponents, many of whom were strikers.
This philosophy of avoiding strikes and minimizing damage has largely gone away in the spectator sport of professional MMA. The fans boo when the fight hits the ground. The fans go wild when two fighters stand in the centre of the octagon and swing wildly, looking for a big KO. Many fighters feel pressure to make their fights exciting and forego defense in favor of exciting but risky wild striking exchanges.
But this is not the philosophy of jiu-jitsu. Grandmaster Helio Gracie expressed the idea succinctly when he said, “Survive first, and then win.”
We see some special examples of BJJ-based fighters absorbing little damage in their fights. Demian Maia (considered to be the foremost practitioner of BJJ in MMA at present) take astonishingly few strikes in his matches. In addition, he spends the majority of his fight time in dominant ground positions where he can deliver strikes to his opponents without them hitting him.
In a recent UFC TUF Finale event, BJJ ace Ryan Hall sustained very few strikes in out pointing powerful boxer and wrestler Gray Maynard.
“MMA is a damage sport and it’s in your interest to get through these fights as cleanly as possible. Fortunately, in this instance I was able to do it,” said Ryan Hall after the fight.
The sport of MMA is relatively young, but we see evidence that fighters sustain head trauma that can have long term health effects due to having absorbed head strikes over the course of their careers. That damage did not happen entirely in the ring, either. The intense training and sparring over the years contributed to their problems.
According to Wikipedia:
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have had a severe blow or repeated blows to the head. The disease was previously called dementia pugilistica (DP), i.e. “punch-drunk,” as it was initially found in those with a history of boxing. CTE has been most commonly found in professional athletes participating in American football, rugby, ice hockey, boxing, professional wrestling, stunt performing, bull riding, rodeo, and other contact sports who have experienced repeated concussions or other brain trauma.
That brings me back to our original point. That the philosophy of a fight should place as much or more importance on staying safe from damage as in getting a submission.
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