10 posts / 0 new
Last post
Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture
MMA and violence

Ok, i'm hoping this doesn't come off seeming like troll attempt, I watch MMA occasionally, and see a lot of positive effects from it's evolution on the the martial arts, etc. However, the social implications of the MMA phenomenon have really been on my mind latetly, so i'm going to put some stuff out there, knowing that there are both practitioners and fans of MMA here (maybe even in abundance), i'm going to ask some questions that I imagine won't be terribly popular, but I really do want to know people's opinion on them, and hope we can have a good conversation.

Ok, with that out of the way..Do you think that the MMA phenomenon is a good or bad cultural influence on young men who are already prone to fighting/violent encounters?

Basically, I am beginning to wonder if the popularity of MMA makes young men even more likely to participate in violence. Obviously I acknowledge if we are going to talk about media, there are many different areas of the media and violence debate, and MMA would only be one small part, but it's the part i'm interested in here, i'm not of course trying to paint MMA as some huge factor to the exclusion of other forms of media violence.

I understand of course that generally, martial arts training itself does not make people more violent, and with a few exceptions can actually do the opposite, so I am not asking here about the participants in MMA, but rather the "average Joe" of the ages statistically most likely to be involved in violence (something like 18-25 here in the US I thought). That being the case, what I am actually talking about is the marketing and image of MMA, rather than training content, which of course is indistinguishable from the "real thing" to someone in this demographic, provided they have no training or direct experience.

I have had so many talks now with younger people than me who 1) don't seem to understand how "fights" can go bad and 2) have no idea what actual non-consensual violence - say a mugging or honest to god beating for instance is like, and how it differs from the context of MMA.

Some of this could be chalked up to people just being people of course, and you could say something like "well boxing could do the same thing". However, boxing has not gone out of it's way to market itself as "the most real form of fighting" the way MMA has basically since it's public inception in the 90's.

Basically, it seems to me that if we take someone who is of this demographic, who has no training, but watches shows like The Ultimate Fighter, and really gets into the personalities and bravado in professional MMA, combined with the rhetoric of "this is the most real form of fighting", leads to a bad combination of ignorance about real violence, and increased willingness to engage in it.

Once again I am not talking here about the methods of MMA, nor the practice of it outside the public sphere...just like we Karateka are held to a ridiculous caricature concepts, so is MMA, but this caricature is exactly what the public gets, in fact it's what seems to make it popular and I am starting to really wonder about it.

Justy to give a couple examples of what i'm talking about:

-An family member MMA fan who thinks all training is full-bore sparring..literally I had to explain to him that no one trains by sparring full contact constantly..well, almost no one.

-A conversation with a young man who has fought a couple MMA fights who told me he thought he could choke out multiple assailants if he was mugged. - That is where his mind went first when talking about three people trying to hurt him - choking them out.

Things like this combined with an ignorance of violence seem like a recipe for distaster.

Anyway, I hope that all made sense, and I hope everyone knows i'm not trying to start some" MMA vs. TMA" debate, have a juvenile conversation about "what works on the street" or anything of that sort, i'm interested in knowing what people think about this. I put the thread in 'self development" for a reason, because this is precisely about the "self development" of young men - mostly at least, though before long i'm sure women's MMA will be big enough to change the equation. Frankly, in my own personal experience what i've seen is friends and family who are involved in MMA giving the ugly public face of it a pass, sometimes I also find that many martial artists who are extremely cirtical about other forms of media violence seem to give MMA a pass almost entirely, pointing out how healthy the training is, and how it engenders a healthy concept of competition etc.

I am not sure about this, I can see it when I look at other combat sports in abundance, however when I look at public face of MMA, what I see is a product that is marketed in such a way that it might just do the opposite.

What do you guys think?

Really interested to hear people's thoughts on this, especially those that train MMA.

Th0mas's picture

Although I agree about the public perception of MMA, and the negative aspects of that influence on impressionable men of a certain age and level of immaturity - but isn't this not analagous to the Bruce Lee phenominum back in the day?

I would argue that the 1970's kung-fu martial arts craze was equally unrealistic, could potentially lead to poor interpretation by the general public, did actually get interpreted poorly by the general public and lead to some very unrealistic practices...

Even Monty Python got in on the act..

 ... on the plus side it opened the door to the martial arts and we all here would not necessarily have had access to this thing that we do and enjoy. 

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

Good points and Thread.

I see MMA as not a replacement to Traditional Martial Arts, but a more Hardcore version of Wrestling.

There's loads and loads of Martial Arts schools around the world still existing and with enough students coming through the doors (I had a full class (in respect to the size of the room) last Monday Night).

Wrestling like WWE and TNA and ROH etc are where I feel its struggling. the Fighters can make as much money in Cage fights as they can in Wrestling events. It more hardcore and the fighters don't have a "desiganted" win or loss on thier fight (although it has been rumoured about some mainstream events). i don't seem to see many Wrestling Gyms or even Boxing Gyms about that used to be quite big in the day

Now regards to how it is affecting the aggressive nature of today's younger generation, well there's been many things throughout history that's instilled the need to fight. take the MOD's and Rockers at various seaside towns in the 60's and 70's Punk rock craze, I know there were many fights between the Heavy metal Rock clubbers and Pop Craze Clubbers in the 90's etc.We even have the Computer games and violent movies that have been blamed for soem of the violence in society too.

I don't see it as something which is causing it, just something that's highlighting it.

Doesn't anyone remember when the latest Rocky or Rambo or Kunfu Movie came out the men used to walk out of the cinema believing they were 10-Men and this was just a movie.

Just my thoughts anyway

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Zach,

I think you raise some very valid points. Yesterday I posted a host of government and police videos from around the world aimed at educating young men that “casual violence” can have very severe consequences. I’ve embedded one and copied the link to others below it.


This is a problem that has been recognised by various agencies around the globe and it’s obviously good that they are trying to address it. The causes for this are sure to be wide ranging and complex.

Through the ages when you mix alcohol with young testosterone driven males you get violence. It’s nothing new. However that does not stop concerns being expressed about all kinds of things being the cause: comic books, music, movies, videos games, etc. We like simple “solutions” to complex problems, but they rarely provide the answer.

As regards MMA’s influence on the public perception of violence: MMA is an extremely exciting spectator sport and I don’t feel MMA causes any problems in itself, but some of the marketing used around it may well do so.

Some of the past MMA “as real as it gets” marketing undoubtedly causes problems when it comes to confusion between consensual “all in” combat sports and criminal / civilian violence. We see this all the time in the martial arts world at the moment and it’s inevitable that this will spill over to the public at large.

I think there are moves to alter the public perception of the sport and downplay this connection these days. I recall Dana White expressing his extreme displeasure following this fight on the “Ultimate Fighter” TV series

I can’t find the video of Dana White’s reaction, but I recall he said this was exactly the kind of thing he wished to avoid as if fed into the negative public perception of MMA being a sport for violent “meat heads” (I think was the phrase used?). Both participants were kicked off the show. So we know there is a desire to move the sport away from its “no rules” roots to something seen as more respectable.

While the high level of skill, determination and bravery shown by elite combat athletes is worthy of admiration, there will undoubtedly be some who will engage in “low level mimicry” and believe that their own violence will likewise win then acclaim and respect. But for those people watching Rocky could have a similar effect.

I don’t think MMA plays a significant or pivotal role in encouraging causal violence. You can lump it in there with action movies and violent video games. It may form part of an overall culture, but the vast majority of that culture remain non-violent. It’s therefore hard to point and say that there is direct causation in making the non-violent change their nature and become violent.

To me, youth violence it’s just a continuation of the fact that all ages produce some violent youths. It’s also established biology that the emotions are developed to a higher degree than reason in adolescents and young men. If their anger or fear kicks in, they have less control over that than their elders and are far more likely to act without thinking. Mix that will alcohol and a desire to “prove themselves” to their peers and you’re going to get violence. Their violence often wins them “respect” and “admiration” among their peers (or at the very least fear) and, in the absence of an alternative way to gain “standing in a community”, it is effective encouraged. Part of the problem is the lack of an identifiable path from adolescence to adulthood in western culture. Adolescents don’t have an identified path to become men, so they make their own.

It’s a very complex issue and I look forward to hearing what others have to say.

All the best,


Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Iain and all, great points.

I am personally not a "media= reason for violence" person at all. I hope no one gets the idea that i'm trying to incite a campaign to link youth violence and MMA casually, there are IMO much, much largewr things at play than MMA there.

Having just gotten past the age (hopefully not that long ago) of "young man", I do remember how omnipresent "fighting" was in general, prior to the MMA craze.. even for someone like me who went out of his way to avoid them, I got into plenty of situations that could be chalked up to my age, revving hormones, lack of forethought..what's new right?

Basically, I get the suspicion that the bravado and rhetoric in the marketing of MMA just adds fuel to the fire, albeit likely minor fire. I couldn't agree more about the "path to manhood" thing Iain, and I think that's a really fantastic observation. I have to wonder though if there is a connection there, part of the marketing i'm talking about presents itself as essentially a "way to be a man", and i'm inclined to think it plays off the very sense of isolation that comes from the lack of that "path to adulthood".

I want to make it clear again though, I don't think that MMA would make for some great bump in the testosterone-driven fighting of young men really, and i'm not trying to get all preachy on it's effects, they are likely quite minor, and again - i watch it myself sometimes. I'm more coming at it from the angle of simply talking about a subject that seems to be taboo in some martial arts circles, rather than trying to establish a real causal link or anything like that.

As I mentioned, a lot of times when i've talked to friends and family who are into MMA (including participants) I get a standard answer that it's a completely healthy pursuit, which I guess is akin to when Karateka defend the undefendable in Karate in an attempt to "stick up" for it!

The analogies to he Kung Fu craze etc. are somewhat apt for sure, I remember reading about "Count Dante" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Count_Dante I also remember sport Karate tournaments in the 80's and 90's, where definitely testosterone and bravado resulted in some funny behavior.

Wastelander's picture

I think that most youth have violent tendencies, although some are more inherintly predisposed to resort to violence. When external influences do factor in, I believe it is mostly a matter of environment and upbringing than anything else. What MMA does, in my view, is give those with violent tendencies ideas! When I was a kid and getting bullied on the playground, pro-wrestling was still huge, and I was on the receiving end of quite a few pro-wrestling moves. I suspect this idea of stealing fighting techniques is just part of natural violent behavior, and the more prevalent MMA becomes, the more we will see MMA-style methods employed in "the street." I've already seen numerous videos of teens getting into fights and throwing elbows, knees from the clinch, and going for takedowns, trips, and chokes. All of it was sloppy, and quite evidently not the result of training, but it was attempted nonetheless. That doesn't mean it's MMA's fault, of course, but I think it's a rather likely natural progression.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Zach Zinn wrote:
I am personally not a "media= reason for violence" person at all. I hope no one gets the idea that i'm trying to incite a campaign to link youth violence and MMA casually, there are IMO much, much larger things at play than MMA there … Basically, I get the suspicion that the bravado and rhetoric in the marketing of MMA just adds fuel to the fire, albeit likely minor fire.

I think that’s a fair observation. The various elements that form a culture, no matter how small, will affect those within that culture.

During the 1980s – long before the days of MMA – I recall the media and certain politicians expressing concern about martial arts and how they may promote violence. This led to the banning of certain “martial arts” weapons including “ninja claws” and “shuriken”. If memory serves, there were reports of children being badly injured by home made “ninja stars” and that’s what kicked the whole thing off. It was the 1980s and ninjas were everywhere! Almost every martial art magazine had ninjas on the cover and ninja movies were ten a penny. Some of you may remember this TV show for example:

It seems utterly ridiculous, but “ninja culture” did have some UK politicians and newspapers up in arms and laws were passed as a result. Ninjas were so bad that throughout Europe the cartoon “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was rebranded “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles” as the word “ninja” was deemed to have violent connotations and was hence unsuitable for a kid’s TV show. So thirty years ago ninjas were briefly felt to contribute to society’s cultural problem with violence.

Earlier than that (1960s), karate had a major problem with a judge calling for “this vicious and evil art to be banned”. Discussed here: http://youtu.be/St0-JDpJAIQ?t=34m56s

While some of the marketing of MMA will contribute to “macho bravado” the positive is that it has made the martial arts mainstream and many sports fans – who have no personal interest in practising any form of martial art – have ensured martial arts an acceptable place in public consciousness. Additionally, it has done away with a lot of the martial nonsense that pervaded public consciousness prior to that.

The marketing and image could be improved, and I think it definitely has been since the UFC’s early “no rules” days, but overall I see MMA as being a positive cultural contribution; especially for those of us in the “martial arts subculture”.

All the best,


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

A recent video from Australia about UFC, a call for it to be banned, and if there is a link to violence on the street. Seems to be relevant to this discussion. I broadly agree with the conclusion the gent at the end makes about the discipline of a pro-fighter and the lack of discipline associated with civilian violence.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Another good video about the "no rules" origins of the UFC. It’s came a long way!

Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Yeah, I guess the problem is that most people "consuming" the UFC as spectators know nothing about the discipline invovled, and receive on their end a package that has nothing to do with it, and has everything to do with the bravado end of it, trash talk, obligatory afflication t-shirts, whatever. I don't think that the UFC is responsible for their behavior by any means, but in the evolution of MMA as a media product..it sure is going in the direction of something like pro-wrestling in terms of garish presentation and marketing, so I don't think they can be completely absolved of responsibility either.

PS. I remember having those first two UFC on ratty VHS recordings and going "what the (*&^ is this" , it was so different than anything i'd seen before!

On the Ninja thing, if you read up on Count Dante, he was very much a part of that sort of Dim/Mak mystical Ninja whatever phase in American martial arts, and that ultimately ended up in a Dojo storming and death...so for sure, MMA is not unique in this regard..though I would say it's much bigger.