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I have never practiced any form of martial arts nor do I have any knowledge of the different forms of martial arts.

I'm considering joining a mixed martial arts gym, however I wonder about what are the pros and cons of practicing mixed martial arts versus practicing one specific form of martial arts?


  • What I want to achieve

    1. Improve general fitness.
    2. Attain skills for self defense.
    3. At the very least be in shape to be competitive at an entry-level type competition.
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    "MMA" is a "specific form" that takes whatever it considers the "best" bits from the others. Arguably :_) – John Mee Sep 30 '14 at 9:31
  • @JohnMee I agree that it's a "specific form", but I'm emphasizing on the "mixed" versus the not so "mixed". Glad you brought it to my attention that the question could be interpreted that way. – Kermit the Hermit Sep 30 '14 at 20:04
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When you train MMA you train each specific art that the gym offers: Brazilian jiujitsu (or, rarely, other forms of grappling), wrestling, some form of striking (usually muay Thai or MMA striking). You generally still train each constituent art separately at least some of the time.

The concern is that training several arts at once will slow your advancement with each one. The benefit to balance that out is that your training in each will be focused on actual fighting, rather than the specific aims of each art. That means less fooling around with gi-specific work, low-percentage techniques, and avoidant tactics like dirty fighting.

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  • Would starting out with MMA then be advantageous in the sense of giving me a flavour of the various arts(even if only very few), such that I would possibly be able to discover what kind of art I would possibly want to specialize (if I can put it like that) in at a later stage? – Kermit the Hermit Sep 30 '14 at 20:13
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    Yes, because you'll train all the basic aspects of combat: wrestling, submissions, striking. But if you want a sampler platter, it would be better to try class at every martial arts gym in town. There are other kinds of arts not covered by MMA, largely because they mostly don't work against resisting opponents or outside of extremely specific circumstances (e.g. law enforcement). – Dave Liepmann Sep 30 '14 at 20:36
  • There's also the problem if an MMA class caters to MMA competition, it has some failings in self defence. This is because MMA is no "no holds barred"; small joint locks, biting, gouging, groin/back of head blows are not trained for or taught. – Ross Drew Oct 9 '14 at 14:01
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    @RossDrew Yes, MMA students have to make do with training to become more athletic and better at the vast majority of fundamental fighting techniques. – Dave Liepmann Oct 11 '14 at 22:28
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MMA training will give you a solid set of conditioning, live drills/sparring, both with striking and grappling. There's a wealth of video and book references you can draw upon and you'll likely have lots of people to train with.

Singular martial arts really depends on the art and the school. Any of the above that applies to an MMA school may, or may not apply to a given martial art, depending on the style and school, though typically you're going to have less people to train with, and if the art is rare, less people and resources to work with.

That said, one concern I've seen with a lot of MMA schools is you have to be careful about their injury rates. Some schools like to get people into doing certain techniques before they've gotten sufficient control, and the last thing you really want is to have someone destroy your knee ligaments because they were playing around. Definitely check in with the school, talk to students and ask about what injuries they're facing.

(This is not to say there isn't bad traditional martial art schools with high injury rates either, just that MMA's popularity as a competitive sport often brings in people more enthusiastic than patient... and it leads to a common thing I've seen.)

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  • That's something I haven't considered, injury rates. Will definitely inquire about that. How would I go about asking that in an appropriate way? I must say that I too get the feeling "that MMA's popularity as a competitive sport often brings in people more enthusiastic than patient". – Kermit the Hermit Sep 30 '14 at 20:26
  • When you check out a school, ask to sit in and watch some training. Ask the students afterwards questions like, "How long they've been training? If they've had to work around any injuries" etc. Obviously, ppl will share what they're comfortable with, but most people are happy to speak up. – Bankuei Oct 1 '14 at 1:36
  • Also if the school has an online group (facebook, etc.) you may want to lurk and see if anyone's asking or mentioning injuries etc. – Bankuei Oct 1 '14 at 1:36
  • That seems like the way to go. I was in fact 'lurking' their online group today. Now I just need to muster up the courage to physically go there. – Kermit the Hermit Oct 1 '14 at 1:44
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    @DaveLiepmann I made an appointment for this evening. – Kermit the Hermit Oct 1 '14 at 12:10
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The one thing I would add to Dave's answer is that a MMA gym will tend to focus on practical a lot - and they will tend to emphasize the bigger stronger faster mantra. This is great if you are big or strong to begin with, but not so good if you don't fit those categories - in fact for a newbie it can be downright dangerous (you'll get hurt a few times), and it's certainly off putting.

Don't get me wrong - you need to experience some pain at some stage, and you run the risk of injury in any art. But you should avoid this right at the start if you can - you should aim to have a lifelong association with the arts (you could end up practicing several), but the chances of this happening are slim if you encounter aggression from the get-go.

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  • I'm definitely not "big and strong", I'm quite fit and lean though. I had a look at the programs that specific MMA gym provides and it appears that the "newbies" don't get all too physical, as far as I can make out. Glad you mentioned that, I never considered it. – Kermit the Hermit Sep 30 '14 at 20:19
  • I can't disagree with this more. MMA requires one to be technically perfect. That's the point. The more technical fighter will beat the bigger/stronger/faster fighter EVERY TIME. – coinbird Nov 7 '17 at 21:17
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The other answers are all good, but there is one thing missing from the equation here; what is the goal with your training? Do you want to become more fit? Do you want to compete? Do you want to learn how to handle yourself in a dangerous situation?

I want to become more fit

If it's only the physical training you want it doesn't really matter if you're training mixed or focused. Find a dojo/gym that does a lot of physical stuff and that you enjoy.

I want to compete in the ring

Generally speaking, a mixed style will benefit you more than a focused. It gives you a wider range of options and makes you more versatile. On the other hand, a focused style can be just as fun to compete in if you like that particular style.

I want to be able to defend myself

There are some good complete self defense systems out there and I would say to go for one of them. Is a martial artist or MMA-fighter able to defend hirself? Yes, but there are drawbacks. Self defense systems focus on what is efficient while martial arts and MMA forbid much of the really useful stuff due to safety reasons.

In conclusion, for self defense I would really recommend a non-competitional self defense style, but for fitness or competition it's mostly a matter of preference. Trying out different styles is always helpful though.

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    I actually disagree with your conclusion, specifically the "a non-competitional self defense style". Competition does not necessarily mean sport nor does it mean diluted into a dance. Granted, sometimes it does ^_~ – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Sep 30 '14 at 6:37
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    That is true. It is also true that not harming your attacker might result in you being dead. However, I feel that the actual legalities of self defense is another topic entirely. When I trained Krav Maga we discussed some of the legalities surrounding self defense (what attacks to avoid, how many follow-ups to do, etc.) so I can only assume that other systems also touch upon this subject. – Szandor Sep 30 '14 at 11:14
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    I have done Karate and Tae-Kwon-Do for the past 15 years and no one has said anything about legal definitions of self defense. – kleineg Sep 30 '14 at 12:24
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    I see problems with all 3 of this answer's topics. But the one that I take issue with the most is the idea that MMA training is worse than other systems for self-defense due to the fact that it has rules for safety. In my opinion, you're fooling yourself if you think you can gain competence (reliable in real life) in self-defense by doing something that doesn't involve sparring with partners that are there to resist everything you do. MMA gives you that. Most "focused" (traditional and modern) martial arts don't. Those arts mistakenly believe that their stuff is too deadly for sparring.... – Steve Weigand Sep 30 '14 at 17:11
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    I think you misunderstand MMA. MMA is a training methodology, not a set of techniques. It's a way of training so that you can see if your stuff is working against someone who is trying his best to do the same against you. It gives you skills in avoiding getting hurt while being able to get through his defenses. Without it, you just have theory. You can't actually use it reliably. And yes, MMA training can and often does incorporate knives and sticks. I would take MMA over Krav Maga any day. You might take this discussion to a forum like Bullshido if you really want to discuss it. – Steve Weigand Oct 1 '14 at 19:35
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Martial arts is about the journey itself, not so much the end goal. Taking on martial arts is like taking on a pet. There are specific pets that would suit someones lifestyle. There are also specific martial arts that would suit specific lifestyles. Questions you must assess:

  1. Is your body conditioned enough to take on martial arts that are heavier on the body? For example, I wouldn't recommend a 50 year old to take on Judo or Wrestling.
  2. Is there a specific subset of a martial art that you prefer?
  3. What is your time and schedule like? For example, MMA training would require more time as you are learning various styles combined, therefore you must dedicate more time.
  4. Are there any injuries that you currently have which may prevent you from doing harder martial arts like MMA, Judo, Wrestling etc?
  5. Do you have a wife, family, kids and mortgage etc? If so, the thought of MMA competition and training may be a daunting thought as you begin training - people have jobs to go to, families to support and mortgages to pay. It doesn't help taking sick days because you banged your leg up or you have dislocated ribs (YES - these things can happen, it is a slight chance but the chance is still there).
  6. Do you have a job where you are client facing? If so, going to work looking banged up may not be a good look and your manager may not be happy with this.

When you look at most of the MMA fighters or greats, they all have a base art they trained. Once they had done their time with this base art and built their foundation, they moved toward the MMA spectrum. Generally speaking, they fall underneath two categories - they are either strikers or grapplers. Striking = the art of attack with limbs. Grappling = the art of attack with any form of a seize or hold (Grappling is defined as when anyone grabs or grips someone - standup or on the ground).

Ronda Rousey was a world class Judoka (Grappling) who completed at the Olympics. Holly Holm was a world class kick boxer and boxer (striking) who was a world class amateur kickboxing champion and professional boxing champion. These are only two examples, but there is always a base and that base is required to understand the basics of combat.

It is simple to say - if you focus on one martial art instead of a mix, you will be more proficient in that field, and more effective. You will easily achieve all three (3) objectives. Most martial arts offer entry level competition and if you find the right gym, you will easily be in shape for this. I would also add - you NEED to train where they focus and dedicate time to sparring. If they do not or the sparring is always very soft, I would recommend you find somewhere else to train, unless your body is not capable of training in a sparring focused gym - a lighter style of martial arts training is better than no martial arts training :|

I would recommend this:

  1. Pick four different martial arts to do a trial lesson in different gyms - two striking and two grappling over a span of two (2) weeks.
  2. Post trial lessons, assess how your body is and assess if you liked what you learnt - maybe keep a journal as to what you learnt, how you felt, how you flowed with it all and how you felt the next
    day.
  3. Post trial lessons, take a few days off and assess what your preference is for training:
    • Did you feel as though you preferred one form of martial art as opposed to the other (striking or grappling) ?
    • Did you find yourself more fluent in one martial art more than the other?
    • Did you find your body struggled with one martial art more than another?(Be careful with this - you may feel tired for days doing any martial art for a first time).
    • If you did like both forms of martial arts, can you see yourself dedicating more time to MMA which will allow you to develop an understanding of all forms?
    • Did you feel as though you were totally disinterested in one form as opposed to the other? (e.g. someone may not not like ground work so they would opt out to focus on BJJ and focus on Muay Thai/boxing/kickboxing instead).

Once you have done the above, you will easily be able to assess this and decide on your path for training. Good luck, all the best and to anyone reading this, all the best with your decision making. I wish you every success in your martial arts training :) I am happy to answer any questions should anyone have any.

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