Wellbeing

Why Mixed Martial Arts Could Be Your New Favourite Sport

Mixed Martial Arts is experiencing a meteoric rise in popularity – and this is not simply a ‘man’s’ sport, either (fool). From Rhonda Rousey to the four-year-old kid at your local crèche, everybody’s mad about MMA. As an enthusiast himself, British India guitarist, Nic Wilson, breaks down what makes this seemingly barbaric activity so great.

In 1993 a new format of sports entertainment was brought kicking, punching, and screaming into the world for our viewing pleasure. The name on the birth certificate was the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).

It started out as a no-holds-barred tournament with a lack of rules that would make even Chuck Norris blush. Now, fully grown at 23-years-old, it is the fastest growing sport in the world. But how did it become so popular when on the surface it seems so barbaric?

Fighting is what some might call the original sport. Humans have a natural desire to want to see people compete, and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is the definitive form of competition. Two people, locked in an octagon-shaped cage, use only their bodies to attack and defend, while the crowd looks on, eager to see who will be victorious. Interested? Disgusted? Undecided?

I spoke to Melbourne-based Martial Arts instructor Rod Catterall to find out why fighting is the new fit.

‘So what is MMA?’ I hear you ask

Mixed Martial Arts is exactly how it sounds. It is every style of martial art blended together to make the ultimate martial art. Kind of like when all the Transformers join together to become Voltron. Kind of.

Here are a few (but not all) of the main styles used in MMA that you might want to look into if you are interested in training: 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu 

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This style involves grappling or ground fighting. The idea is to use submission holds to contort your opponent’s body like a pretzel.

BJJ is a little awkward at the start. It is hard to overlook the carnal nature of a lot of the positions. Case in point, the position “North-South”. One person lays on top of the other person, faces-to-groins. Yes, exactly like you’re thinking.

Once you overcome straddling each other in positions normally reserved for a one-night stand, you’ll learn to understand the attraction of the sport. BJJ is constantly evolving, you can study it your entire life and always have a reason to go back to learn more.

Karate

One tantalizing selling point of Karate is you get to wear a Gi. There is something special about putting on these white pajamas for the first time, even though your white belt will probably look like it has been tied by a six-year-old.

Karate is a great choice for people of any age, and will teach you all sorts of self-discipline and self-defense. Working through the grading system is also fun; you’ll feel a huge sense of achievement when you earn that next coloured belt.

Muay Thai

Also known as the art of eight limbs. It’s called this because you use your hands, elbows, knees, and feet to strike and grapple. Muay Thai along with Boxing, both focus heavily on cardio. Training normally consists of high cardiovascular endurance through skipping, shadow boxing, pad work, and sparing. Smokers are forewarned!

I’m not convinced I want to be beaten up for funsies

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In recent years, MMA has been making its way into the general public vernacular. At a glance, some parents may cringe at the thought of their delicate spawn participating in what looks like the most dangerous activity in the world, but with more knowledge of the rules and thorough training, you’ll find it’s often less dangerous than other concussion-laden, high-impact sports such as football.

A common misconception is that it’s all about teaching aggression. “It actually teaches tolerance, compassion and respect,” says Rod. “Not to mention the fitness and health related benefits of such a balanced and well-rounded exercise regime.”

“It assists with your personal growth,” he says. “It helps with being able to focus, live a less-stressed life and teaches you a positive mental outlook.”

Rod also adds, “I’ve had my daughter in the dojo before she could even walk, and she is by far the most coordinated and confident kid in her crèche.”

A part of the allure of MMA is the inspiring superhuman regiments fighters put themselves through. Fans of popular reality show The Ultimate Fighter will be familiar with the torturous amounts of training, strict diets, and weight cutting they endure on a daily basis. Emulating this sort of assault on the human body is one of the reasons why armchair fighters have taken up the plight of martial arts, though obviously to a much lesser, more cheeseburger-eating level. The grit and determination it takes to compete is as infectious as the flu.

It’s also about the Girl Power

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Rousey v Holm

Another thing that makes MMA unique is that it is arguably one of, if not the, world’s most equal sport in terms of popularity for both men and women.

Female sports are normally relegated to the doldrums of Australian TV if they are lucky enough to grace our screens at all. Netball is one of the most participated sports in Australia but it’s TV ratings may beg to differ.

MMA however regularly promotes female fights as headlining bouts and the numbers don’t lie. On November 15th last year more than 56,000 people attended Melbourne’s debut UFC event headlined by Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm, and 1.1 million people tuned in to watch on pay per view.

Alright, I’m in. Where do I begin?

Once you are blessed with finding an interest in MMA you will start noticing on every other street corner resides a martial arts gym. Whether it is the 30-year-old karate school with the faded sign or perhaps the cardio-based boxing class your gym offers.

If you are a newbie, it might be an idea to avoid starting out at what is called a fight training gym. These gyms are for advanced fighters, training professionally. You’ll know when you walk into one because a hush will come over the room while heavily-tattooed people hitting pads will temporarily pause and stare at you.

Instead, seek out a more family-friendly gym. The emphasis should be on learning and fitness, not heavy sparring. There is no need to turn up to your office cubicle on Monday morning looking like an extra from Fight Club, unless of course, that’s what you want.

So what are you waiting for? Regardless of your age, expertise or fitness level, there is definitely a martial art for you. Rod’s advice: “To quote one of the teachings, the only difference between a black belt and a white belt is that the black belt didn’t stop training. My advice is to just take your time, don’t be in a hurry, and have fun with it.”


Rod Catterall has been practicing and teaching Martial Arts for over 30 years. He has many schools around the country under the banner All Stars Defence.

By day Nic Wilson plays lead guitar for Melbourne rock band British India and by night is a gardener, film maker and martial arts enthusiast. The rest of the time he sleeps on a pile of money.