Some casual MMA fans can be pretty snooty about which martial art disciplines actually count as “real”. While some styles are certainly more “art” than “martial” this article will expose some lesser known but equally effective styles and hopefully open some of your minds to the validity of other styles.
Famous Practitioners: Bas Ruten, Lyoto Machida, George St. Pierre
Origin: Ryukyu (Okinawa) Japan
Difficulty to Find: In an MMA setting it’s pretty unheard of
Karate is one of those trigger words that make a lot of MMA fans snicker and talk smack but they better do so under their breath at least around guys like Lyoto Machida. It’s different from a lot of more common MMA styles in that open hand strikes and “spear hand” techniques are taught. One of the biggest advantages of the style is it’s focus on timing and opportunity. While it has brought a lot of success to Lyoto, you don’t see it in many MMA gyms and becoming proficient in the art may give you that unorthodox advantage that has made Lyoto’s performances so remarkably unique. Just don’t think you can get away with mastering Karate and neglecting groundwork.
Famous Practitioners: Ronda Rousey, Rick Hawn, Jimmy Hettes
Difficulty to Find: Incorporated occasionally but pure Judo is rare
Judo isn’t snickered at very much and it’s not as obscure as other disciplines but it gets surprisingly little time in the spotlight compared to it’s off shoots (Jiu Jitsu and Sambo). Judo is Ronda Rousey’s main discipline and her ability to arm bar every single opponent (even though they all know it’s coming) speaks to the power of judo. It’s different from Jiu Jitsu in that throws are emphasized and in Judo tournaments you can get points for pinning an opponent. While at times you might see some Judo based throws and techniques taught in your grappling class, you will rarely find it as available as BJJ in MMA gyms.
Famous Practitioners: Cung Le, Patrick Barry, Liu Hailong
Origin: Chinese Military
Difficulty to Find: Unheard of in most MMA gyms, good luck with this one
Sanshou is one of the more obscure martial arts and is studied by very few fighters in the MMA scene today. It’s very translation means “unsanctioned fight”. However it has served Cung Le well in the octagon, most recently against the well known fighter Rich Franklin. Liu Hailong is known as “the conqueror of Muay Thai” because he has been able to defeat so many top Muay Thai fighters (Muay Thai being the preferred striking discipline among amateurs and pro’s alike). One of it’s big advantages is that it encompasses the ground game as well as striking, making it more complete and well rounded than other martial arts.
Famous Practitioners: Anthony Pettis, Dennis Siver, David Loiseau
Difficulty to Find: In MMA gyms, on occasion certain kicks are taught but that’s about it
Few things evoke as much hatred as the mere mention of Taekwondo in many MMA circles but fighters like Anthony Pettis prove that it is a valid style or at least has a lot to teach. Uriah Hall used a spinning back kick in the second to last fight of last seasons ultimate fighter, Dana White himself said it was one of the most devastating knockouts he had ever seen in MMA. So why does it get so much negative attention? Because in it’s pure form Taekwondo is about as useful as a straightening iron is to Dana White. The blocks and stances just don’t make sense in the octagon, it really is more “art” than “martial” but it still has valid techniques that when properly executed have devastating results.
Famous Practitioners: Fedor Emelianeko and Igor Vovchanchyn
Sambo is big in Russia and not really anywhere else. It’s an offshoot of Judo just like BJJ and similar in a lot of ways but combat Sambo encompasses striking as well as grappling. It also emphasizes leg locks a lot more than BJJ tends to. Sambo isn’t mocked it’s just not really looked at and good instructors are almost impossible to find in the U.S. It’s potential power over traditional BJJ has been demonstrated most notably by Fedor in his performance against BJJ star Big Nog. So is it better than BJJ? Not necessarily, but it’s lack of representation in MMA gyms is not due to a lack of efficacy but a lack of marketing.