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MCM180's picture
Kata designed for wannabe-MMA enemies?

Hi all,

Sorry to crash the forum so much so early on...but I find this a fascinating area of contemplation...and the forum is peopled by good folks.

I'm curious whether there's a need for a kata designed for the kind of enemy we're likely to face in a world that has seen massive popularity of MMA. My guess is that in most of the parts of the world that have TV or youtube, the average drunk-in-a-bar or punk-in-the-street has seen some MMA fighting and probably thinks he can do some of the techniques (ground fighting, chokes, etc.).

Is there value in designing a kata specifically for such an enemy? That is, is there a series of techniques that works particularly well against such an opponent and is pretty different from Heian/Pinan or other existing kata?

Or does application of techniques from existing kata do the job sufficiently?

Or is my assumption about badguy styles incorrect, and are the typical acts of violence of today's badguy essentially the same as before the MMA explosion?

Thanks in advance for any insights.


Ian H
Ian H's picture

I suppose the first question would be to figure out whether a villain or ruffian in a Tapout shirt differs in any way, in terms of fighting techniques &c, from the villains and ruffians of old who inspired the existing kata.  

Kevin73's picture

This is always an interesting topic.  You will find grappling counters in the traditional kata to defend against takedowns etc.  If you look at the Bubishi, you will see many techniques that resemble "mma style" takedown attempts as well.  Most okinawans knew tegumi, or their version of wrestling/grappling so they would have been very familiar with it.

That being said, some people like to design their own katas to strategize and select their own go to techniques, but I don't think that you HAVE to do that either.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

MCM180 wrote:
I'm curious whether there's a need for a kata designed for the kind of enemy we're likely to face in a world that has seen massive popularity of MMA. My guess is that in most of the parts of the world that have TV or youtube, the average drunk-in-a-bar or punk-in-the-street has seen some MMA fighting and probably thinks he can do some of the techniques (ground fighting, chokes, etc.).

Good topic!

The key issue for me would be differentiating between “fighting” (including “street fighting”) and criminal violence. Remembering also that self-protection is legal; street-fighting is not.

The best way to deal with a “drunk-in-a-bar or punk-in-the-street” is refuse to engage in a fight. Keep your wits about you so you can avoid situations, keep your ego in check and don’t rise to provocation (because, if you do, it’s no longer self-defence and you can go to prison for fighting; even if it is consensual), and, if it has to get physical, then pre-empt and flee. Good self-protection tactics demand we never get involved in anything that resembles a “fight”.

If violence is forced upon us, then the party that is forcing that violence will also have their own tactics to consider. It is far better, for them, to attack without warning and in an explosive and rapid manner. Putting up a guard and squaring off would be a very stupid thing to do … but not quite a stupid as the person who dealt with that by responding in kind.

Rory Miller captures this well in this blog post:


Rory Miller wrote:
The duelling paradigm. Other than for fun or sport or balancing things within a social group, people don't square off.  Because it's dumb.  If you had to take out the biggest, scariest martial athlete you can imagine, how would you do it?  Exactly. From behind with a weapon. And maybe friends.

This has a lot of implications for MA/SD.  The paradigm sets you up to expect distance, time and warning, none of which will exist unless you are monkey dancing.  People who are successful at duelling or sparring believe (sometimes, I hope rarely) that the skills will transfer to ambush survival...and they don't.

All kinds of consensual fighting (MMA, Boxing, Judo match, Karate sparring, etc) are different from civilian self-protection. You simply can’t take the methods of one context and apply them, unaltered, to the other context. Attempting to do so will give problems tactical and legally.

These two podcasts go into much more detail of this issue:



If we make the common sense decision never to agree to fight outside of the sporting / dojo environment, then “street fighting” will not be an issue for us. What remains an issue is the non-consensual violence of others. The very nature of that violence dictates that is will not be like a “fight” i.e. there will be no distance, no back and forth, no feints, etc. etc. Instead what we have is explosive and chaotic violence where the aim is not to “win” but to cause harm (for the instigator) and to legally avoid harm for the person protecting themselves. That leads to a very different dynamic to the kind of exchange we see when both participants agree to fight and are going for the win.

Having established that the very nature of the situation will be different, we can acknowledge that within those very different dynamics, which have differing objectives, there will be common techniques. You will find chokes, for example, in both … but the exact type and the manner in which they are applied will depend upon the situation and objective. So there will be some limited cross over, but we need to be careful not to over exaggerate it.

MMA is very popular, but it’s not so popular that it has redefined criminal violence nor is it so popular that it can override millions of years of human evolution. The way we instigate and respond to unfettered violence is determined in significant portion by our biology and psychology. Innate aggression, fear, the “fight or flight response”, etc all contribute to a dynamic that is far less cerebral than we see in consensual fights.

Take a look at the huge amount of CCTV footage that is available which depicts violent crime. It looks nothing like any kind of “fight”. The obvious exception being consensual fights (which are illegal and avoidable). True violence is most frequently decided by an unexpected strike (during dialogue or by ambush) or by whoever lands the first solid head shot among the chaos that ensues beyond that point.

There has not been an epidemic of ankle locks and triangle chokes within criminal violence since MMA gathered a mainstream following. The crime stats are unequivocally clear.

Self-protection training should focus on what really happens the vast majority of the time, and hence there is no need for a “MMA revamp”. Indeed, doing so will make things less effective and less realistic. Criminal violence has not changed and hence the solution should be based on the problem as it truly is.

What is really happening, I would suggest, is a fear that MMA guys are better at kicking ass. Those who don’t do MMA don’t like that and want to feel like they could hold their own. The bottom line is MMA guys, generally speaking, ARE BETTER at kicking ass in unarmed one-on-one fights than pretty much everything else out there. They train specifically for that, and MMA is a perfect solution to unarmed one-on-one consensual fights. And I think that holds true whether in a cage or engaged in a “street fight”.

However, as already discussed, that’s not what criminal violence is. Using a solution to unarmed one-on-one consensual fights in an environment where multiple people are likely, where the aim is ensuing safety and not winning, where legal consequences need factored in, where weapons are often used, etc. etc. is not going to lead to the optimum result.

This extract from Sam Harris’s interview with Jonathan Gottschall would seem to be very pertinent:


Jonathan Gottschall wrote:
But what I’ve found, especially in MMA gyms, is that the realm is dominated by young men. You’re talking about men who are 15 to 24 years old. In my gym there was almost no demographic diversity. There were very few women and graybeards. More or less everyone was a young man.

And if you ask these guys, “What are you doing here? This is kind of a weird thing to do, getting punched in the face all the time. Why do you do this?” one thing you don’t hear is “I want to know what to do in a self-defense situation. What if I’m walking down the street and a mugger comes along? How can I defend myself?” They’re not worried about that.

What these young men are worried about is winning a duel. They’re just like me. They’ve been in situations where they got bullied, and if that ever comes up again, they want to be in a position to stand up for themselves. They want to avoid humiliation and dishonor. They’re preparing for duels. So, generally speaking, I think they’re less likely to back down from a fight.

But part of the reason you prepare for duels is because then everyone knows you’re preparing for duels. So in their social network, these men are advertising themselves as the sort of men who are not going to take any shit because they’re dangerous. They are establishing a reputational deterrent against disrespect as well as aggression.

I think that’s a very insightful observation. If you are worried about winning a duel, I can see how the concern with MMA in a “street fight” becomes an issue. If, however, we are truly focused on self-protection, where the last thing we want is a duel, then it becomes less of an issue.

If you want to be able to outfight MMA guys, then you need to train for that. If, however, you are genuinely concerned with self-protection, then you don’t need to train to outfight MMA guys. Indeed, focusing on that would be a distraction from the training in awareness, avoidance, escape, fighting to flee, etc which would better serve your needs.

As regards the kata we have today, they are completely focused on self-protection:

“Karate is not intended to be used against a single adversary. It is a method of using the hands and feet to avoid injury should one, by chance, be confronted by a villain or ruffian.” – Anko Itosu

“The techniques of kata have their limits and were never intended to be used against an opponent in an arena or on a battlefield” – Choki Motobu

You therefore won’t find escapes from heel hooks or triangle chokes within kata. We do find stuff useful for civilian self-protection though.

To quote Rory Miller again:

Rory Miller wrote:
When I look at [karate’s] kata and kihon, they have possibly the best body mechanics for infighting that I've seen... then they choose to test it at sparring range, where it sucks.  Or, worse, point contact range where it sucks AND it screws up everybody's sense of distance and time.

When we look at kata from the original civilian self-protection perspective, there is loads of good stuff in there both in terms of techniques and body mechanics. If self-protection is truly our goal, then the existing traditional kata are a great resource. If we are looking to out fight others, then we need to look elsewhere.

My personal view is that modern martial artists – regardless of style – should train for both self-protection and “duelling”. One keeps you safe; the other is great fun and has its own inherent value. In my dojo, almost all of the physical self-protection material has its origins in the kata. However, we also have a fighting component to what we do; and for that, although there is some common ground, comparatively little comes from kata.

The final thing I’d like to say is that the danger with threads like this is that people can read them with an agenda. This is NOT a TMA vs MMA thing. MMA guys can take the parts of their skillset that apply to civilian violence and combine it with the correct objectives and tactics to be highly effective in self-protection. Anyone who states they can’t is deluded.

Saying that the methods for one-on-one consensual fights are not ideal for non-consensual criminal violence, where multiple enemies, weapons, etc. are a frequent occurrence, is a statement of obvious fact. It is not a slight on MMA. Indeed, I have a positive view of both sport martial arts generally and MMA specifically, as these articles make clear:



This post is also not a vindication of all “traditional” training. Those who read my stuff regularly will know I am frequently critical of undeniably impractical practises that have sadly became widespread in traditional martial arts.

Having written all of the above, the short answers is: No, there is not a need for new kata :-)

All the best,


JWT's picture

Excellent post Iain, I wholeheartedly agree. Under pressure (even if they do come from a competitive training background (be it in MMA, K1, Karate, TKD, Krav Maga etc) in my scenario training I see a lot of the consensual violence skillsets and dynamics go out of the window and well trained people (even when they are not role playing) grabbing, holding, pushing, barging, swinging wild haymakers and windmilling. When tempers fray at professional fighters' weigh-ins we see similar dynamics. The people who access their drilled skillsets are those who are most used to the environment and whose training most closely mirrors that environment.  John Titchen

MCM180's picture

Thanks for the good responses. I hadn't considered the built-in biological responses, but that makes perfect sense. 

Time for me to shut up and train...

OnlySeisan's picture

Get on Marc MacYoung's webiste nononsenseselfdefense.com and Rory Miller's blog at chirontraining.blogspot.com

It will help change your persepective on what violence and self defense is and what it isn't.

Trust me. Check it out.

diadicic's picture

Vinicio Antony explains how he uses kata techniques/concepts in MMA and his fighters do very well with it.  However, he does explain that he is adapting the original concepts to MMA and not using them as probably intended.  This tends to make me think that all Martial Arts were never really intended for MMA and that they would all have to have been adapted and evolved to be used in MMA.  From what I read in martial arts history, martial arts were developed for either battlefield or self-protection.  That how I look at it.


Anf's picture

Would your average drunken punk whose seen some MMA be able to make it work?

If we have to fight for real, only the fool would attempt something that doesn't come naturally to them.

MMA guys train a lot. They do lots of fitness and strength training, and they do lots of combat sport training. They train a lot with partners who will hit and kick and choke them if they get chance, and so they learn through practice the best way to guard against such things and the best way to time an offensive.

Is that your average drunken punk that's seen some MMA?

In my younger years, I had the displeasure of witnessing more drunken brawls than Id have liked to. I might have been in one or two myself. In my experience, there are few things more tragically funny than watching someone who is convinced they are a fighter trying to fight. I'm neither joking nor exaggerating when I say that most such incidents I've seen ended up with the wannabe fighter putting themselves out in one way or another without their intended foe having to really do anything. I've seen people attempt to throw kicks and fall over from the momentum of their own leg, I've seen people throw rapid hand combos into thin air while leaning forward then fall over. I've seen people put up a comedy version of a guard then get walloped.

That's not to say that we should underestimate anyone, no matter how drunk or stupid. But I think I'd treat any threat exactly the same. Ie assess the situation and respond accordingly.