Recently, we’ve been asked questions about our open coverage of events that take place in the world of Pro Wrestling. Many of the questions surround it’s validity and place within the world of fighting sciences. Some people have insisted that it is ‘not real’ and thus should not be given any credit. This is where we start to get rather philosophical about our beliefs on the fighting arts. What is real and what is not?
Let’s talk about that for a moment. Over two thousand years ago people would cram themselves into an enormous arena in the capital of the Roman Empire to watch slaves (considered Gladiators) be tortured to death by any means that would entertain the audience. Some were fed to lions, some were slaughtered by soldiers, others would content with armored soldiers on chariots. The odds were always in the favor of the soldiers and wild animals as the slaves were given relatively meager means to defend themselves. People would bet on the odds of survival and they would be ‘entertained’ by the high stakes of this ‘fight’ for survival.
Was it real? Well, yes and no. People really died. In quite gruesome manners actually. And yes there were no holds barred combat elements that took place. Really anything was fair play. Much like the days of Pride, except far, far more limitless. Few people cared for the slaves, they were expendable and whether the odds were fair for each side was irrelevant. But did the fact that everyone knew the slaves had little to no chance of survival change their interest in the activities taking place? Could it have been argued that, to a degree, the challenges had a predestined outcome, that they were perhaps, almost scripted?
I believe a solid argument could be made for that comparison. But then, why did people continue to watch a ‘sport’ that was unfair, had a predictable outcome and was cruel and violent? Because, at the time, they considered it “entertaining”. And the slave masters and senators and everyone who had anything to gain by patronage at the Colosseum in Rome knew this. They would advertise the events, promote them much in much the same way we do with combat sports today, and they would even charge for admission, food, beverages, souvenirs, etc. Merchants could be found everywhere during these events. It was commerce and it was a tourist attraction for the wealthy and most privileged classes in Rome.
Fast forward two thousand years. How much has really changed in society? Quite a bit actually. We’ve learned not to be tolerant of unfair violence leading to death. We protect those who are weaker and do not enslave others. We have rules and regulations for sporting contests that attempt to ensure every athlete is on fair ground when competing. But one fundamental thing has not changed about our society. The desire for “entertainment”. In fact, we have ‘colosseums’ all over the world now. Massive sporting events, that are even broadcast simultaneously to homes in all parts of the world. Yet one other thing still persists, the perception that the higher the stakes the better the entertainment is, remains rooted in our society as it was over 2 millennia ago. But with our evolved ethics and sense of morality this is when you start crossing over into the blurry lines of what is and is not acceptable in society today.
The fact is, to some, the stakes of a boxing match will always be too high. They will prefer to watch a sport like Brazilian Jiujitsu or Judo. Something considered gentler than it’s father art Japanese Jiujitsu. They may even avoid MMA entirely and focus purely on the IBJJF tournaments simply because the former sport is too bloody, too violent. Others may insist that it’s not worth watching unless the stakes are as high as in the days of Pride. In some regions of the world, you can still find unsanctioned events that have fights with almost no rules. The stakes are higher and that attracts audiences.
That fact that combat sports, while still quite popular, are struggling to find the right balance of high stakes and acceptable risk is undeniable. The arguments are presented over and over. And this is no different in any ‘contact sport’. Look at the debates that occur in professional and college football. The injuries sustained by many have prompted studies and activism to rise among concerned citizens who do not wish to see their children or anyone elses children permanently injured by a sport.
Thus you have controversy. And oddly enough, controversy adds to the appeal. The more controversial, the higher the stakes, even if those stakes matter not to the impact of the event but to the overall existence of it. “Watch it while you can before it’s gone!”
Back to Pro Wrestling. Why does it exist, what is the point, and why do we even talk about it here at the Science of Fighting? I think it would be easiest to highlight key points that will help bring this home for those of you who’ve read through this article.
Pro Wrestling is entertainment “based on combat”. The fact that outcomes are predetermined does not change the stakes due to the athleticism involved. Injuries can and have occurred in the ring. Unplanned outcomes have caused massive disruptions, that have sometimes added to the excitement of the events and other times been cause for grief. Thus if you consider that at one time we had largely predetermined outcomes in the Roman Colosseum, how is this any different? Does someone need to die in the ring for you to be truly satisfied by a contest?
On May 23, 1999, Professional Wrestler Owen Hart fell to his death in Kansas City, Missouri during the Over the Edge pay-per-view event. While being lowered into the ring, Hart fell 78 feet (24 m), landing chest-first on the top rope (approximately a foot from the nearest turnbuckle), throwing him into the ring. Are the stakes high enough? Is that real enough? Certainly few, if any, people today want to see someone die at a sporting event, scripted or not. But risk is there for anyone performing a dare devil stunt, and it’s undeniable many Pro Wrestlers do so on a daily basis.
Oh wait, that’s right, the Wrestlers are just actors, not fighters. Well first of all, anyone can be a fighter, they just need to choose to fight. It doesn’t mean you’ll be a good fighter, but if you want to get in the ring, there’s bound to be an amateur event somewhere that will let anyone in just for the hell of it. Besides that, how many Pro Wrestlers have crossed over to MMA? As a matter of fact, I do believe we have an article or two on just that topic.
Back to to the realism of the fight. How many of the people that fight in MMA or Boxing or any combat sport truly hate each other? Some perhaps, but not all. The pre-fight hype is just ‘that’, hype. It’s there to entice you to watch it, and it’s fun to watch. The banter, the intrigue. For example, we watch action movies all the time, and some of us may argue over how real this or that was. But at the end of the day, it’s a damn movie, who cares if it’s real. Were you entertained? Yes? Well then, it served it’s purpose.
Now let’s talk about Mixed Martial Arts. How many fighters would you say are “True Martial Artists”? Some, but not all. Some MMA Fighters are sloppy martial artists, and many modern MMA athletes and enthusiasts have little to no formal education on the philosophy or traditional art forms that comprise the excellent and diverse sport of Mixed Martial Arts. Their technique is off, their movements are sloppy and erratic, and In fact, if they were to be judged by technique alone, many would fail every contest. But we don’t judge the outcome of an MMA fight based on how perfectly a fighter extends their arm and twists their torso to perform a jab. We focus on the damage done to the opponent. As long as they can inflict damage and their actions fall within the rules of the ring, cage or octagon, it’s all fair game.
But when you talk about traditional Martial Arts. You get into territories that are far more esoteric than the average spectator, who just wants to be entertained, cares to delve into. Technical Form competitions often take place and are especially popular among academies, dojos and students who are progressing through their belt ranks in Martial Arts. Technical Form competitions do not focus on the outcome of a fight but rather the “style” of an individual martial artist. It is considered by some “Artistic Form” but is very real and very much a part of true Martial Arts.
Evaluation of Technical or Artistic Form has been a staple in martial arts dating back far, far longer than any of the previously mentioned activities. Yes, the practice is even older than the Roman Colosseum. Masters would evaluate Artistic Form to determine if a pupil had mastered the art sufficiently to be permitted progression to a higher rank among the other pupils in the dojo. Mastery of form over function was regarded equally as important as success in competition, in fact to some martial artists, the notion of using martial arts for combat sports is against their philosophy.
Bruce Lee, for example, never entered competition. Never had a professional fight. Was he a martial artist? Absolutely! A teacher, a master? Without question! But was he a fighter? It is unknown, that part of his persona was never publicly exposed, and we can debate all day how good he would have been in the ring, cage, or stage, but all we have are his teachings and his films to remember him by. Does this devalue him in some way? I’m willing to bet, there’s a vast majority of supporters to his legacy that would draw blood upon the notion that he was anything less than a legend in martial arts. But for certain, we know he was a true Martial Artist and even developed some of the key philosophies and foundations, through Jeet Kune Do, for what we now consider Mixed Martial Arts.
Speaking of martial arts, is it any coincidence that the term “Art” is in the word “Mixed Martial Arts”? Well isn’t that a surprise. So does the fact that there is an “art” to the sport make it less real? Does it make it any less valid a form of entertainment?
These questions are not meant to be answered for you, you should examine this yourself. Ask yourself what you think it means and what it means to you. The fact is, Professional Wrestling requires technique, talent and athleticism. The drama and the scripting may not be to your liking and that is entirely ok. Quite frankly, there are plenty of martial arts and formal martial arts competitions that are so dry, and so technical that I might find them boring.
We all look for something that resonates with us when we watch these contests. However, in knowing that it is important to remember that this is a personal choice for many. So next time you see an article about a particular sport or event you don’t resonate with, ignore it if you choose, but there is no need to interject to criticize the activity being discussed, as there are just as many, if not more people out there who’d gladly hand you the same criticism for your interests.
The facts are, Pro Wrestling is an art form that has it’s roots in many different combat sports and martial arts. It is relevant if only for the display of those in scripted context and we would cover that as we would cover a martial arts film, technical competition, or pure evaluation of Art and Style. The Science of Fighting is more than just MMA, it’s more than just Competition, the Science of Fighting is about the truth behind combat. And martial arts are just one portion of that. Take a look around the website and you’ll find articles about real combat, PTSD, weapons, history, martial arts, mixed martial arts, competition, drama, health, fitness, conditioning, medicine, technology, training, the list is tremendous and we are JUST GETTING STARTED!
As always, we welcome your feedback. In fact, I personally welcome your feedback and I’ll always take your thoughts on how we might be able to serve the needs of the community better seriously. At the very least I’ll take the time to respond if not personally, then publicly.
Thanks to all of you, our loyal fans, casual readers, martial artists and spectators. We love your enthusiasm and trust us when we tell you we share your passion for combat sports. So keep the spirit strong and keep the discussion going. Only questions will bring answers.