Aptitude for Street fighting in Martial Arts and MMA

Photos of MMA in an article from Jogo do Pau Cascais

These days, we see on YouTube and TV a lot of MMA (mixed martial arts) fighters, coaches and promoters criticizing traditional martial arts, self-defence systems and so forth, usually presenting themselves as experts in everything concerning fighting and commenting on the lack of applicability these might have in real combat/ street fighting scenarios.

This is nothing new. Not long ago we would hear the same statements from combat sports fans in general.

Actually, those that practice MMA, specifically the competition aspect of the sport, are technically as poorly prepared as any traditional martial artist (that practices his sport in competition) to face real street fighting / self-defence. The only advantage they might have is the awareness that they are not made of glass and know by experience they can handle some beating before KO, what doesn’t happen so frequently in other Martial Arts.

This Post is a wakeup call, but sometimes we need to read these things in order to remember. Martial Arts, mixed or not, usually prepare athletes for competition, not for street fighting.

(Disclaimer: The films linked in this article are not suited for impressionable and/or minors).

It is true that traditional martial arts are mostly stylized and, as such, out of step with the reality of a real street fight, and most of the “self-defence systems” that are sold around have a lot of “bullshit” (don’t get shocked with the word, you can see in article “Can’t Learn Self-Defense in the Two-day Courses” what I think on the subject), even because self-defence is not mostly disarmament, combat or fight training, but an easy “sales pitch” to sell the class of any martial art. In addition, it is much easier to teach disarmament movements or techniques than to teach people how to identify hazards, risks, behaviours, etc… and explain to a student that most of the training is learning how to run away…

But it is also true that competition, notably MMA, has little to do with the reality of street fighting. A fight against an opponent, with rules, referees, assaults, pavement and defined and protected limits… is not street fighting, let alone self- defense.

Not to hit the traditional martial arts again, nor to return to the theme of self-defense, let’s think a little bit about MMA vs. Street Fight competition (I will use the MMA because I had to choose an example sport and these are the heroes of the moment when it comes to “YouTubers”). Well, MMA has a lot of blows, submissions, screams and blood, but it is a competitive sport, it has a competitive framework, rules and a format that favors its acceptance as a sport, protecting the physical integrity of the participants, etc. … Concepts totally opposite to what happens in a scenario of physical aggression in the street.


On the street, there are no rules, everything is valid. In competition, it’s not quite like that. Even the ancient Greeks in Pankration competitions had some rules, such as forbidding to stick their fingers in the eyes of the opponent, or biting (actually in Sparta, where these two rules did not exist) and there were referees who, armed with a stick, enforced the rules (even in Sparta).
MMA, for example, in spite of its more “free” origin (“Vale Tudo”, which by the way also had some rules), has a few more rules than the ancient Greeks… Times are different and unsportsmanlike behavior is forbidden, and as such, it is necessary to implement rules of conduct.

I’ll list some of the MMA rules:
(Taken from Wikipedia)


  • Biting, finger in the eye, biting, pulling hair, pinching, scratching and spitting at opponent
  • Attacking the opponent’s mouth with the hand, genital area or kidney with the heel
  • Threading the finger into any hole, cutting or laceration, and manipulating the opponent’s small joints
  • Attacks to the spine or back of the head, striking from the top using the elbow tip, any kind of throat attack and clavicle grab
  • Kicking or striking with the foot or leg the head of the opponent on the ground (exception for One Championship).
  • Kick or hit with the knee the head of the opponent who is on the floor
  • Throw the opponent headlong on the ground or toss him out of the ring
  • Hold shorts or opponent’s gloves as well as grab the octagon grid
  • Using improper or abusive language in the ring or disrespecting the referee’s instructions
  • Attacking the opponent at intervals when he is under the care of the judge or after the bell has announced the end of the assault
  • Use some slippery substance on the body

The format.

Even before stepping into confrontation, a competitor accepts a certain format, typically composed of a definition of the enclosure ring, the rules for participation, the characteristics of the participants, the equipment that they can use…

mixed martial arts in stafffighters
MMA Photo by Maza Fight


In the case of MMA, or in Martial Arts competitions, the confrontation takes place in a round, square, hexagonal or octagonal enclosure with a fence or safety area that prevents practitioners from being thrown out. The same applies to other types of contact sport.

When an athlete is thrown against the ground or against the boundaries of the ring, or throws himself or herself on the ground in order to gain an advantage, he is not properly falling on a cement floor, tar or stones, he is not in danger of hitting on a sidewalk, of falling into a hole or of hitting a car, wall or brick wall, it will not be cut with glass, trash, etc. … He is protected by the relative security of being in a controlled environment.

When an athlete enters in one of these competitions, he is not subject to the interruption of friend, relative or acquaintance who decides to enter the contest. Usually these competitions are 1 to 1, the attentions can be totally focused on the opponent that is ahead of us without worry of a possible friend coming from behind and grabbing or hitting us.


Every athlete, when entering a competition, must have a series of constraints on the equipment that he can use, either to protect him or to cause damage. By default, the more contact there is, with or without the use of weapons, the more damage can be done, the more protective equipment will be used. Cockles, pectorals, teeth protections, helmets, shin guards, are examples we all know and got used to see in competitions.

We are usually sure that no one will grab a chair or a stick, that the opponent does not carry a white weapon or a firearm. The dispute will not turn into a scenario of armed combat.

In the street there are many obstacles, many objects that can be used as a weapon, and you never know what weapons may be hidden in the opponents, and the only protection we use is the clothing of the everyday life.

Image of WAC Combat with the participation of Jogo do Pau Cascais

Weight categories.

Categories of weight and separation by gender make competition fairer, valuing the technique and placing athletes on an equal place. Competitions become more attractive. However, the same is not true in situations of aggression. If we look at crime statistics in Portugal and elsewhere, we will find that in most situations reported to the Police the physical aggressor usually benefits from a considerable physical difference, either by size, sex or age (besides social and economic factors), is often armed and / or does not come alone. The fact that we are in an urban environment and living in society implies that we are not alone; sometimes we are surrounded by friends, but also by potential aggressors.

We have had a number of examples of this recently on television, even in the youth.


Of course my intention is not to belittle MMA, Traditional Martial Arts, modern combat systems, combat sports, etc … Some practitioners yes, the ones who have the illusion they know everything, and those who lack modesty. This makes it impossible for them to realize that although what they do is more or less effective in situations they face in competition, unless they have tried it on the street against opponents who actually wish to do them harm, they should be careful about what they sell online or in person to the students who listen to them.

To the rest of us, I can guarantee that there is space and number of interested parties more than enough for all of these genres. If nothing else, by the practice of physical exercise, by the organization or principles, continue to dedicate yourself to your training with loyalty and respect for your effort and dedication, yours and the efforts of your fellow athlete, I believe there is no training or physical exercise more complete than the Martial Arts (they have an obligation to be).


Ricardo Moura
Author: Ricardo Moura

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