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karim_benakli's picture
Bunkai Jutsu in MMA?

Hi everyone,

I've been watching the UFC last week-end, and during the fight Jones-Belfort, some postures of the fighters brought me to asking myself: But why do they not apply Bunkai Jutsu in MMA ?

To be more specific, it is mainly the idea of me grabbing the opponent limb (usually the arm) in order to prevent him of protecting himself and of attacking me too easily and for me to be able to strike more accurately and strongly, and if/when relevant to apply any kind of lock.

This question arises because if you've a look to the fight, you'll see that Jones is very often having his left arm extended towards Belfort in order to prevent him to attack too easily, but such an extended arm means for me "grab me and twist me" ! However, I've often seen such postures in MMA fight (also with fighters not at the level of Jones and Belfort), but I've never seen a fighter grabbing the opponent's extended arm in order to apply some of the principles described in the kata and the bunkai jutsu approach ... Why ?

I think there are different possible answers:

1. They (MMA fighters / trainers / teams) do not know about these techniques ... maybe we should try to bring this into the game ...??

2. These techniques are not applicable in the MMA context; this is of course an option, MMA context is not self-defense context (yes let's not forget context for Iain ;-) ), but up to now I've not found a reason why they would not be applicable in MMA !??

So basically the question is:

Is the bunkai jutsu approach applicable in MMA (fully or partially) ? And if not, why ?

PASmith's picture

Tricky. For one thing I'd be VERY wary of grabbing Jon Jones anywhere as his clinch game is on another level, even in the UFC. Grabbing Jon Jones usually ends up with the someone flying through the air. So maybe Belfort was looking to avoid getting tied up with Jone (in the case you mentioned here)?

Also...Jon Jones has the longest arms in the UFC. You could end up grabbing his arm and find that all you've done is given him a better opportunity to hit YOU. :)

MMA is an interplay of styles and preferences (often conflicting) and that will effect what "stuff" comes out in a match.

Ironically Jon Jones is someone that employs limb control quite a bit. Against Evans he landed a few standing elbows by engaging Evans lead hand before throwing it. Against Rampage he trapped his arms against his chest and landed a spinning elbow before 'page's hands could get back in the game again. Jones love holding the neck/head and elbowing (standing and ground) which I see as pretty fundamental to Iain's bunkai approach (central to his Naihanchi bunkai).

For someone that employs bunkai jutsu type principles Randy Couture springs to mind. He was good at setting datums (back of the neck a favourite), clearing limbs and being very good attached hitting (dirty boxing as it was called).

Given the amount of Graeco guys in MMA I don't think there's a lack knowledge on how to grip and control limbs. It's just they often use it to set up throws and TD's rather than strikes.

Wastelander's picture

I have actually had the exact same thought, so I'm glad to see that I am not alone.  I believe the reason that they do not include this is that trainers without a solid karate background that includes bunkai study do not know those concepts to teach them, and Muay Thai and boxing are the most prevalent striking arts found in MMA today and they do not work those concepts (at least not to the same degree).  I suspect that most people believe that it would not work in MMA because they think you can only utilize it on a person who leaves their arms extended after punching like you see in formal karate demonstrations, but once someone utilizes those skills to good effect at a high level of competition I think we will see a change. The same thing happened with the front snap kick--very few people used it in MMA, with at least a few saying it was useless, and then you see Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida land it spectacularly and all of a sudden I am seeing at least two fighters throw front snap kicks every UFC event, and sometimes more often in smaller organizations.

DaveB's picture

Have any of you ever visited an MMA gym and tried it out?

That would seem to me the best way to answer the question.

Personally I suspect it's simply not as easy as that: a fighter who is stalking you will not be easy to apply a small joint manipulation on simply because he will resist and try to counter grapple or strike you the moment you try it. I'm not suggesting the tactic won't work, just that it may take dedicated training to achieve when your opponent is just as likely to try and tie you up and go to the floor as they are to try and continue a standing fight.

By and large though I think these kinds of skills are not trained in the base styles that most MMAists seem to rely on.

Jon Sloan
Jon Sloan's picture

I guess this kind of reminds me of Iain's latest podcast I was listening to last night. Although it was about context he reminded us of those quotes from Itosu and Motobu about karate not being designed to for the battlefield or for sporting contests and it was best used against ruffians who don't know its methods.

That's pretty relevant here in that you're talking about applying karate tactics and techniques against a trained person in a sporting context. Something that those methods weren't designed to be used for.

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

I think it's too complex for combat sport, which usually favours simple stuff backed up by fitness and the will to win.


Zach Zinn
Zach Zinn's picture

Gary Chamberlain wrote:
I think it's too complex for combat sport, which usually favours simple stuff backed up by fitness and the will to win.


I'd actually wonder if it isn't the opposite...I think the kind of limb control used in arts like Karate isn't seen in MMA due to specifics of how professionial fighters train, with far greater awareness of range and not being overextended, playing a far more cautious game than what usually happens in violence, standing limb control stuff is just less likely, and more importantly, not really needed for the game being played

here's an interesting video of some well known MMA fighters doing multiple opponent training with Marines, I think the live bit starts around 4 minutes:

Seems to really show that training is context specific..there are all kinds of "effective" things going on here outside of an MMA or competition context, and the oppostie would probably also result - Marines losing to MMA fighters in a ring. Not saying that this is like Karate training exactly..but truthfully it seems like a closer cousin than MMA does to me..and check it out, 'traditional' techniques normally not seen in MMA are working against the MMA guys here.

Gary Chamberlain
Gary Chamberlain's picture

Interesting stuff Zach.  In that environment most combat sport skills are going to fall short.  Restrictive clothing, slippery surface, weapons etc are all notably absent in a ring/cage/mat and change everything.

As has been said, it's all about context ...