Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

The sport of MMA

I'll admit it up front; I'm not very interested in sports. But I have trained on and off in the gym my whole adult life, and I hike in the forest almost every day, so I'm into an athletic lifestyle. Just not in a competitive way or with made up rules or silly accessories like balls or clubs.

Why do we have a fascination with people who can do physical feats like kicking a ball between two posts? It seems so arbitrary. But perhaps it reflects on our ancestry when physical skills like speed, strength, dexterity and throwing precision were what got you the meal of the day, or fought off intruders. Perhaps sports are the modern day refined versions of such skills. 

Sports lets us watch and admire our heroes when they do their feats, and it gives an outlet for our innate tribalism when we cheer on our team. Life of today is so safe and has so little drama, that our evolved brain becomes under-stimulated. No surprise that sports are so popular.

When we lived in primitive societies, competition with nearby tribes were usually bloody and brutal. There was a great chance you would die from this aggression. The idea of the "noble savage"; that primitive people are more peaceful and in harmony with nature, is just a myth. Prehistorical and current primitive people are all more violent than we are. By cultural progress we have become more peaceful, but still our physique and mentality is evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to be fighting machines. This explains why so many people find sports like boxing and karate very fulfilling. In our distant past, these skills were the key to survival, so warriors were our heroes. Today these people are unfortunately seen as brutes in need of sensitivity training.

No sport captures this better than Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). This is as close to a real life-or-death fight you can come, while still being reasonably safe. MMA may seem overly brutal and without any sophistication at first glance. The brutality part is hard to overlook. Athletes get bruised up, usually bleed from their face, and are sometimes knocked unconscious. As our cultural evolution has made us more emphatic and sensitive, it is hard to not look away when someone gets brutally beaten up. Does this spectacle numb our feelings and make us less compassionate?

Take a look at violent video games. Here you are not just a passive spectator; you actively participate in punching, stabbing and shooting your opponents, in vivid graphic detail. These games have been around for decades and have players in the tens of millions, and still our society has not become more violent from it. 

One major difference is that in MMA real people are beaten up. Voluntarily, I should emphasize. The sport hasn't been mainstream for long, so the numbers are not in yet for what this has done to society. But I strongly suspect it has actually lowered the level of violence. I think violent sports and video games provide a great outlet for the warrior instincts that we carry in our genes. We should keep them around until science has found a way to erase these violent tendencies from our DNA. I believe sensitivity training just won't do the trick.

Below: One of the greatest MMA fighters in history, Fedor Emelianenko, shows that technique is immensely important, when he goes up against the giant Hong-Man Choi. Warning: graphic!

Is MMA unsophisticated? I'd say it is one of the most complex sports I have ever watched. The rules are so simple anyone can understand them, but the number of tricks and techniques you can use on your opponent seem almost unlimited. Fighting someone is clearly not as straight forward as most people think. Not in a real life bar brawl or as an athlete in a cage.

The fights typically go back and forth between three positions: standing up with kicks and punches, standing up and grappling (usually against the side of the cage), and wrestling on the ground. Fighters typically have boxing, karate, Muay thaikickboxing, jujitsu (Brazilian, sambo, Japanese or judo variety) or wrestling background. Interestingly, no high level competitor has an aikido or capoeira background. I suspect those are pretty useless forms of martial art.

Women are also active as fighters now. The current queen of the game is Ronda Rousey, a 27 year old Olympic Judo medalist, and the current UFC champion. 

She is young, beautiful, confident and has great skills. This is the kind of woman I hope will be a role model for girls, instead of the curse of feminism that plague most western countries today. Society seems pussyfied all through, and with too much focus on gender issues, instead of just ignoring gender and let people be what they want to be.

I never thought I would say this, but I find MMA quite exciting to watch. I would never participate myself though. Perhaps if I was younger and did not have so many aching joints.

The hardest thing for me to get over isn't the beating and the blood though, it is how overly gay it seems in many situations. From the stare-downs at weigh-ins, to the oiled up bodies in the posters, to all the wrestling on the ground. It's a bunch of half-naked men acting like they are in the Village People. I bet this sport has a huge gay following.

Below: Maybe it's just me, but fighting isn't the first thing that comes to mind when I see a poster like this. I think of gay porn.

« ‡ »